How to unlock rules that don’t serve you

Our brains are filled with rules. Rules, judgements, and criticisms that we’ve piled on over time – maybe that served us once, but don’t in our current life. Or maybe something that does keep us safe (e.g. “is smart to do”) in some circumstance, but have since been sloppily expanded to broadly encompass far too much. Either way, we are the ones missing out on living, and we are the ones suffering from it.

 Our own rules are what stifles our lives. We clamp down on so many parts of our lives – individually, many of these ways are tiny and so subtle that we don’t realize it – but cumulatively, they have a huge impact and restrict our ability to ENJOY our experience of living.  For example, we rob ourselves from realizing we have imagination and creativity because we have rules that block the possibility of ‘wasting time’.  We don’t ALLOW ourselves to “go there”.  We may WANT to go, logically. But we literally CAN’T. Our own RULES block the way. Close it off for us.

JUST like this road closed sign at the end of my street. It is NOT just a metaphor.  Our subconscious rules block us from paths we could otherwise take in life. We have rules: if we did *that* then we’d be like *that type of person*.  If we did *that*, what would people think? If we did *that*, what would it say about me?   We fill ourselves with worry and conjecture. And we wonder why we’re depressed and exhausted.  We ‘think’ the rules keep us safe, but we’ve forgotten why, and also forgotten to question it. But without questioning them, these unspoken rules block us off from simply living and expressing with ease – block us off from following the flow of life. Just allowing.

Examining and unpeeling my rules has really started to change my life. The *feeling* of living is slowly opening up and changing for the better – it feels bigger somehow, more at ease, more relaxed. And that’s what keeps me coming back for more!  It feels good to get in there and clean out some old crap.

But, changing beliefs is hard. Very. I’ve done it enough times now (through slow, clumsy stumbling in the dark) that I’m starting to notice a pattern to it:

  • Identify something you want but reject or otherwise say “I can’t do that” (example: I have some old, crappy blankets from my childhood that I was going to hang up in the sliding glass door to keep the heat in. But, I found a really pretty blanket I’d love to look at for $35 dollars.  My rules block me from considering buying a blanket decoration I don’t “need”. I have lots of blocks regarding money because I didn’t have much as a kid. That’s not true anymore but I don’t ‘let’ myself enjoy it (get joy from it) because I’m still operating under the same rules).

How you do anything is how you do everything.

-famous quote from who-knows-where

How you do anything IS how you do everything IF you are operating on autopilot.  But once you observe, identify, challenge those thoughts, you can better differentiate circumstances – and create rules that protect you when you need it, and better serve your happiness when you DON’T (which seems to be the majority of the freakin’ time).

  • Examine what the block is. What do you fear? What would happen if you did that? What would it say about you? What type of person would you become? (in this example: My beliefs believe I’d become someone that always had to spend more money to be happy. I’d become a snob that is never happy with my stuff).
  • Reflect: is it true?

               -Yes, there is always an example of a case where it IS true. The mind loves to exaggerate to substantiate a point. It also loves grossly lumping things together that aren’t, necessarily, causally related.  I can argue I’m happy and get joy from a $10 bottle of wine. I wouldn’t want to be someone who is ‘snobby’ and needs a $50 bottle of wine to be *equally happy*. (note: I’m not saying or judging there to be anything wrong with this circumstance empirically… I’m saying it feels wrong for *me*, it is something I feel resistance to). Own that. Acknowledge it. It’s an endpoint, a point of calibration.

               -But, if I were to buy a blanket that was pretty to look at, to put up on my wall instead of staring at something old and ugly (just because the thing I have is old and ugly and does nothing visually for me) then wouldn’t I be “enjoying” my stuff *more*?  I’d get more JOY from my stuff because I’m allowing myself to purchase things I enjoy.  So it becomes obvious, that the very thing I ‘fear’ is the thing I’m *actually creating*.  I’m enjoying my stuff less than I otherwise could be – which is what I am judging snobby people FOR – not getting JOY from their stuff. Not APPRECIATING their stuff. If I bought something that lit me up and that I wanted to look at (even if I don’t “need” it by criteria and justification) then I’d be appreciating it more. 

Weird, right? And I’ve found this to be too often the case.  We are trapped under rules that actually do the OPPOSITE of what we think they are doing for us.

  • Expose: then, once you’ve logically explored the rule, and realize it is being more broadly applied than *what serves me* (my enjoyment of the act of living), only then am I empowered to choose differently.  But, choosing differently is UNKNOWN. Because we haven’t allowed ourselves to act that way. Maybe ever.  It is unknown and it is scary.  So, we like to stay with what is familiar. That is where the importance of exposure therapy comes in. We have to step into that discomfort. We have to take an ACTION, that is not so big that we are TOO scared, but big enough to give us some anxiety – a little discomfort. Just the right amount, however much that is. Step into it. Even a baby step.  Expose yourself to acting contrary to the engrained (and wildly misapplied) rule that governed and restricted your behavior (and in turn your reality) for so very, very long.  Once you expose, and then discover empirically that you are still safe (and you will be, because it’s a baby step, you logically know the world is not as scary or rigid as to not allow for a baby step – it’s those exaggerations we really fear, that we really are protecting ourselves from, and the only place where it *actually* applies and serves us to apply the rules in the first place.) Thereafter it becomes a little easier the next time.  Your bravery is positively reinforced because you get rewarded – life opens up just a little bit, because you are not holding back the flow of it with a rule (restriction). And that feels GOOD.
  • Rinse & repeat. Unlocking our rules is very much like peeling an onion.  One layer at a time.

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