It’s so easy to forget that every one of us is influenced by our individual, unique set of ‘inner rules’, values, precedents and social norms – some of which we are conscious of, and some that are unconscious.
In either case, they drive our thinking, our behaviour, our decisions – virtually everything about how we do life. And it’s because they are often running unconsciously and under the radar that we forget this simple truth.
I was in my late 30’s before I realised how uncomfortable I felt about doing better than others. My rule was that being more successful or well off or fit (or basically more anything) can make someone else feel bad about themselves and so I shouldn’t do it. It’s complete baloney of course, for a ton of reasons beyond this article. But here’s the thing, we can consciously rationalise about these unconscious beliefs/rules all we like, but our unconscious mind is still running them back there on the hard drive until we thoroughly change them. (That is the Jedi work we do in coaching).
I can see now how much havoc this ‘rule’ has wrought over the years. It had me sabotage my finances. It stopped me stepping out in my business. It slowed me down in my personal life and it zapped my energy because, frankly, playing smaller takes a lot of energy.
Just think about how it feels to have to keep your mouth shut in front of someone in a meeting or at a family gathering. Keeping it down takes a lot of effort. And so too, playing small in life is EXHAUSTING.
Playing small in life is EXHAUSTING.
Given our rules are often unconscious or totally familiar because they’re our already-always-way-of-being, they can take a bit of spying on to really understand them. There are two kinds of rules. I think of them as either ‘high quality rules’ that were either positive and helpful from the get-go or that have been carefully vetted or chosen by our mature, balanced adult self, or the ‘low quality rules’ that we collected (mostly unconsciously/ without realising it) through our childhood and upbringing that have us now playing small or feeling fearful, stressed or hopeless. Or maybe even just subtly hesitant, but stymied in some way all the same.
It’s amazing what rules we live by now that we’ve forgotten we even set for ourselves. Like that decision Jan made back in her childhood after the ’87 stock market crash when her parents had consecutive meltdowns. She decided that you can’t have your money anywhere but the bank, and still feels anxious in her 40’s about her money even when she has a good level of financial security and could be growing it.
Or David who decided back in high school that keeping his head down and his mouth shut was the only way to survive boarding school – except that he didn’t cancel that rule or set a new one when he went into the workplace and is now a frustrated, underrated leader who could be having a powerful impact on others. And really wants to be!
We have rules that say stuff like –
I have to stay employed because running a business is too risky.
I have to work a forty hour week because that’s responsible.
My partner doesn’t ask a lot of me, so I shouldn’t ask for so much myself.
I can’t relax at work because I won’t look like I’m working hard enough (I’ve had many clients spot this one).
I should just be grateful for what I have.
I shouldn’t take liberties like going for a midday run just because I work from home. Really?
I can’t change my job/relationship/home/friend even though it’s no longer right for me because I made a commitment and I have to stick to it. Ooof, that one packs a punch.
Many of our ‘rules’ were set when we were very young when most of our conditioning was established. For instance, the rule to not be too ‘big-headed’ and appear too full of your self is a popular one that prevents many people from stepping into their full potential and shining brightly – which is a pity because the world needs as many of us shining as possible!
Our internal rules can be so familiar to us that they’re like water for fish – we don’t really see them.
These old (unhelpful) rules often lurk in the background and can be completely outside our conscious awareness. They can also be so familiar to us that they’re like water for fish – we don’t really see the rule. It’s just part of how or who we are, it’s the lens we look through. It’s how things are.
Except that’s it not. It’s just an old idea, perhaps a very repeated and familiar thought in your head, but it’s not ‘how things are’. How things are can be changed in the flick of a synapse. A new thought. A new decision.
It’s a matter of spotting those dodgy thoughts (rules) and making a new choice. Sometimes it takes a bit of excavation to figure out what those rules are, but it’s always worth it.
So … give yourself permission to change your own rules.
On the other side is liberation.