Rules help create processes and structures that keep life in order, but what happens when they start to hinder you from growth? Here are 3 ways to break the rules for the better.
BY: DANA BELLETIERE, LICSW, MSEd
Rules come in all shapes and sizes: religious affiliations, spiritual philosophies, cultural trends, or personal codes. Having these rules can play a part in taking care of the anxious parts of yourself, and are not usually overly harmful or problematic. Having a set of structures helps you feel safe, ordered, and in control.
Things get sticky, however, when a rule bumps up against some of life’s inevitable curveballs.
Those moments when you are confronted with the fact that a rule no longer applies or fits, is no longer useful, or may actually be hindering your growth as an individual.
Adapting your rules as you change and grow can both mind-blowing and panic-inducing. Nevertheless, change is often a necessity. So how do we go about changing the rulebook without breaking down in the process?
1. Give yourself compassion and kindness.
First, acknowledge how the old rules have tried to help you, and are not coming from a malicious place. Oftentimes, when we discover a rule we’ve been applying is harmful (or, at least, is no longer helpful) to us, we may decide that rule is coming from a “bad” place within us and must be banished away. This is rarely useful, and will only cause those parts to roar back at us with a vengeance.
Instead, speak kindly to the part that harbors that old rule, thanking it for its suggestions. Let it know that you are going to try things a bit differently, and tell it: “I appreciate you trying to help me out, but I think I might have a solution that’s even better than what you are proposing. Would you mind letting me try that out for a while to see how it feels?”
2. Recognize you’re always growing and learning.
Growth is a process that has no endpoint; you are always learning and changing. The way that you approach life will (and should) change over the course of your lifetime. Rules and ideas that once fit well into your life story are sometimes outgrown, and that is expected, normal, and completely okay. Just because an approach no longer works for you doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable at one point in time.
Rather than berate yourself (“what was I thinking?”) or cringe when you think about the historical rules that no longer apply, try celebrating them instead. They brought you to where you are today, and that’s something to be grateful for. And when you think positively about life approaches that no longer work for you, you are better able to let them go and move on to what’s working for you now.
3. Give yourself the freedom to always change your mind.
You are free to change your mind whenever you need to. Moved to a new state and it isn’t working out? It’s ok to move again! Entered into a relationship and it isn’t working as you expected? It’s totally fine to separate and date someone new (or stay single!). Picked a major in college that isn’t resonating as you’d hoped? Change that major!
When your life rules, decisions, or approaches don’t feel right, that’s very valuable information. Nothing more. It does not mean that you’ve failed, that you’re wrong, or that you must persevere because you’ve already picked this particular thing. You’re being given information that it’s time to change the rules. That’s valuable, so don’t ignore it!
Remaining flexible as you experience life allows for you to make up new rules as you go along. It’s about experimenting and being open to changing things up when you need to.
So go ahead and explore, and find the rules that feel right for you.
Adapted from the original post.
HEADER IMAGE: JOANNA KOSINSKA
Dana Belletiere, LICSW, MSEd, is a licensed therapist serving clients in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, in person and virtually. In her practice, she focuses on helping clients to shape their own narratives, accept and love all parts of themselves, and cultivate an authentic and meaningful life. When she’s not with clients, you can find her writing or reading in a local coffee shop. Learn more about Dana’s work and visit her at www.DanaLICSW.com.