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Strict life rules?

We are all aware of societal and cultural rules such as don’t speed, form an orderly queue, don’t steal and so on, but what about the hidden life rules we absorbed from our care-givers or authority figures when we were really young? Do any of these sound familiar?

· Don’t leave any food on your plate!

· Don’t express your anger!

· Always do as you are told/ respect authority!

· Work hard/ get a good job!

· That’s not good enough!

· Don’t show off!

· Don’t cry!

· Don’t be lazy!

· Get it right!

· Don’t be weak!

· Don’t be so selfish!

· Don’t be such a slowcoach!

· Don’t be greedy!

Undoubtedly, we all pick up direct and indirect messages which may then shape our decisions or behaviours as adults without us even being aware of it. They may be positive or negative, but we can only choose which rules we live by if we are aware of what they are.

This came to my attention on a training course when we were invited to reflect on principles (or rules) we live by. Some of mine included:

· Don’t be lazy

· Always work hard

· Don’t get caught relaxing, especially watching television

· Never let your anger show

· Expect the worst (and you will be pleasantly surprised if all goes well!)

· If in doubt, wait

· Do not fail

Now, to be fair, not all of those are negative but the trainer then suggested we consider what rules we might prefer and choose to live by. My list looked a bit like this:

· Be kind to yourself, treat yourself with respect

· Rest well and work hard (a balance of each)

· Be authentic to your emotions (find healthy ways to express them all)

· Assume the best in people

· Resist the temptation to make assumptions when we feel insecure (“The story I am telling myself about X who did not reply to my voicemail is…”)

· Live as if the best might happen

· If in doubt, seek advice from trusted people and wait until you have had time to think it all through

This may sound a bit whacky but he then invited us to write a permission slip allowing ourselves to live by new rules. Here are some examples:

· Watch TV if you feel like it

· Try something new even if you might fail, just for the joy of learning something new!

· Choose not to do something you feel resentful about and take responsibility for your feelings

· Phone a friend if you need support

· Take a bath or an early night if you need it

· Try your best and believe that your best is good enough – it does not need to be perfect.

To conclude, he asked us what emotions came up for us whilst doing this exercise – for me, I was surprised by how many self-imposed restrictions I was living by and how freeing it felt to consider behaving in a different way. I am now choosing a more enriching way of living that feels balanced. Of course I sometimes slip back into the old way of doing things from time to time, but I am more aware now.

What might your inner rules be? I would love to invite you to do this exercise for yourself.

We can choose to change the rules, change the story we are telling ourselves and have a "brave new ending" (Brene Brown 2015)

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