breaking the rules we create for ourselves

words & photo by Brian Thompson.

have you ever noticed how we all seem to create an unspoken set of rules, unique to us alone, that we all try to abide by?

i'm not referring to ethics or anything moralistic, but those subtle personal codes of conduct we use within our normal day to day lives. you might not recognize them at first because they appear to be more habits of routine rather than rules, but they are rules nonetheless. if we break them, we probably feel a guilty. we might even chastise ourselves, or be overcome with worry or regret.

i have oodles of these rules. for example, i have a “rule” that my phone must always go in my right pocket, while my card wallet goes in my left. if i break my rule, the world just don’t feel right. it’s something i’ve become used to, and i refuse to have it any other way.

do you still avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk for fear of breaking your mother’s back? probably not, but i’m sure you once did as a kid. i used to have this thing where i could only hang a shoulder bag over my left shoulder, otherwise i was convinced my day would somehow be struck by horribly bad luck.

many of our rules are probably more like personal superstitions, while others probably lean more towards obsessive compulsive tendencies.

i have rules about how i brush my teeth. i have rules about how i organize the applications on my desktop. i have rules about how i sliver my onions and cube my tofu. i have rules coming out the wazoo, most of which i’m probably not even aware of. many of these rules are absolutely harmless, but i use them to illustrate a point. after all, it’s a good thing i take my daily vitamin while i brew my morning coffee. this way i’ll never forget it, it's a part of a very specific wake-up schedule i’ve created for myself. it does me good.

our rules however are actually an attempt for us to try and gain control of an otherwise out-of-control world.

i know that if a certain type of situation goes smoothly for me, then the next time something similar arises i’ll try to repeat the exact same process i used last time, as accurately as i possibly can. i think that my rule will somehow keep me on the good side of luck or fortune. for some, this behaviour might materialize as a favourite pair of shoes they wear when attending an important meeting, or a lucky shirt they wear when going on a first date. for others, it might be a specific routine they use to never forget where they placed their keys.

we believe our personal rules will keep us on-point with all of our objectives and goals, but if we’re not careful many of these rules will actually begin to eliminate our free will.

we become slaves to our habits of routine. the rules are always running in the background of our mind, always dictating our actions somehow, and we remain unaware of just how much power they actually hold over us.

the problem is in how they negatively limit us. if we’re not aware of their controlling nature, they can keep us confined within the boundaries of our existing comforts. they can prevent us from experiencing new things. they can prevent us from growing. they can stand in the way of all that we hope to gain and accomplish in life.

we all have rules on who we think we are, and on the types of things we do and don’t do. if you've ever heard yourself say, “i’m not the kind of person who does that”, then that’s a rule you’ve unfairly limited yourself by.

it goes beyond mere limitations however. our rules can also cause us undue stress and anxiety. for example, i have a certain set of rules for how i do my work and conduct my business online. i’ve somehow convinced myself that there is only one way i’m allowed to do certain things. it's a strict framework i've forced myself to adhere to and i punish myself mentally if i somehow fall short, even though there’s no negative consequence. i stress myself out for no reason whatsoever.

sure, this guideline might keep me productive and on schedule with my goals, but at what price? what am i sacrificing by not allowing myself to entertain new ideas or to try new things? how am i harming my peace of mind by being so stiff and rigid with my routine?

look within. what rules have you created for yourself? what limits are you unknowingly placing onto your work, your relationships, your leisure, your life?

be brave and begin to break your rules one at a time — it’s okay, no one will notice but you.

the world won’t fall apart and you’ll be amazed at the relief you feel when you realize just how much more free you feel without the chains of your very own mental oppression.

it's okay to poke through the other side of the fence. it’s okay to go outside all the walls you’ve accidentally built around yourself. the world won’t end.

experiment, try new things.