Every so often I work with a client who gets quite irritated by the things that people are doing around them. For example, one client I worked with used to get extremely irate at his flat mates. He used to go barmy when he’d be the last one to get up in the morning and all the curtains in the house are closed, the rubbish is sitting in the corner of the kitchen or the bin is overflowing, food and dirty plates would be left on the counter top from last night’s dinner. He’d leave the house after cleaning up after his flatmates and with every step he’d mentally spit and fume about his flatmates and their disgusting habits. Then he’d arrive at work…ready to start the day. You can imagine how things would go from there.
Some of you reading this might be thinking he’s right! Who’d want to live with such inconsiderate people? Others might be thinking he needs to lighten up and take a chill pill. So who’s right? The answer is, as it is in most cases of human behaviour, it depends. All events that occur in our lives are emotionally neutral until we put a meaning on them and it’s this meaning that gives it the emotional intensity we feel. In some cases this meaning comes from our “rules”. Like values and beliefs we all have guiding rules that govern our behaviour and most of us aren’t even aware of where they came from or the impact they have on us and our emotions. Our rules tell us what’s good or bad and what’s right or wrong, they determine what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable to us in any given situation. These, like other aspects of our behaviour, are heavily influenced by our culture. They act like shortcuts in our brain that allow us to make decisions very quickly and without expending very much cognitive energy. Because they occur at the unconscious level we rarely question them…or are even aware of them to question them in the first place.
The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. ~ Ray Kroc
So where do our rules come from?
Generally we pick these up over the course of our lifetime by seeing or experiencing things we like or experiencing things we don’t like. If, for example, you were treated harshly as an employee and you were made to feel inadequate you might create a rule that, as a manager, you should never shout at or belittle an employee. We have rules about every aspect of our lives; how we communicate, how we dress, how we drive, what we eat, how often we exercise, what we drink or if we drink at all. Generally our rules fall into “Must rules” and “Should rules” and the impact these have on our lives can be enormous. Must rules are those rules that cannot be broken, not by us or by others. If they are broken they cause us emotional upset and may lead to us getting angry or disappointed at someone else or even ourselves! Should rules are less intense and, although we might get a little peeved, rarely do they cause us to respond emotionally.
So our rules are like our standards for living. It’s important to have standards, it’s important to have rules for those things that are important to us. However, the more Musts you have in your life the more rigid you will be and the more you’ll invite stress into your life. The trick is to become conscious of your rules and balance your Musts and your Shoulds so that you achieve happiness and balance in your life. Here’s a simple formula worth considering: For those things that are outside of our control they should be Shoulds. Things like public transport, other people, government policies all fall into this camp. For those things that are within your control and you feel passionate about, these should be Musts. For example, if you want to lose weight and get into shape then you can create Must rules about what you eat and how often you exercise. How we respond to someone who is being rude or arrogant could also be a must rule because this is within your control.
How do we identify our Rules?
Whenever we get upset about something it’s likely that someone or something has violated one of our rules. If you ever get upset at yourself you’ve probably broken one of your own rules, one of your own standards. Ask yourself what you’re getting upset about and then analyse why it’s so important to you. Here’s an important point… Any emotional upset you’ve ever had is a rules upset. Any time you’ve become upset by the actions of another person know this… It’s not the other person that’s the cause of the upset, it’s your rules! Now you have a choice. You can decide, what’s more important, my rules (which are arbitrary and made up) or my relationship? If you’re just becoming aware of your own rules I wonder if the other person even knows what your rules are…and do you know theirs? It might be worthwhile taking a moment to explore this. So what are your rules?
If you’d like to know more about rules and how to use these to change your life, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.