Have you read your own rule book?

How our self-made rules can limit us

As a coach I have the very privileged opportunity to see my life through the experience of others. Their choices, challenges and successes reflect my own. Just as I’ve started to explore my own ‘operating system’ through the lens of the rules I have created in my own life by, I was confronted with life’s rules in my coaching conversations.

Two separate, yet powerful, conversations yesterday pivoted when we started to see how the problems we were exploring were due to self-made rules. How we perceive ourselves and others is so often based on a set criteria that we (un)knowingly put in place. One of my clients told me that a fear of being judged was holding them back from being all they could be. A fear, they said, that stemmed from childhood.

At an earlier time in our lives something memorable happened to us and it stuck and shaped us. We lamented, reconsidered and pondered. We created stories, rationalised, justified and connected hidden dots. We made assumptions based on what we knew then – not thinking about what we didn’t know. We wrapped it in emotions and post-event processing and put it in a high-viz jacket on a shelf never to be forgotten. These incidents shook us deeply but also they created us. They joined other rules we inherited from parents, society and other incidents. These rules became our operating system.

Whether it was my father telling me I was not good enough, a teacher shaming a pupil in front of the class for not being smart enough or a kid overhearing her parents fight about the cost of her medication. These short experiences can last forever. They can become the pivotal moments that shape our way of viewing the world, love, relationships, our value and our selves.

How do you seek approval? How do you want to be loved? What do you fear people finding out? What do you avoid doing? How do you hold yourself back?

These are deep and difficult questions but, as I found again yesterday, our unconscious rules can lock us up in a reality that we may not actually want to be in. The key to unlocking the gate lies in realising that we don’t have to follow all the rules… we created them so we can challenge and dissolve them.

It takes courage to ask and insight to answer these questions about the rules that we have assumed. But when we do dig in we can explore the grip that these rules have on us. This is an opportunity to grow, to be bigger and better versions of what we already are.

Is it time to break or change your own rules? When last did you read your own rule book?