The other day, at Whole Foods buying groceries for dinner, I passed by a display of chocolate bars. “Maybe I’ll bring one home for Kaya and Ty,” I thought, and began inspecting the labels. I decided on my favorite – dark chocolate with sea salt (yum!).
By the end of the week, the chocolate had disappeared– but they’d never touched it. I don’t know if they even knew about it. Piece by piece, it had been my little treat.
This wasn’t the first time that had happened. But recently it dawned on me how ridiculous it is, that I have this rule: I don’t buy chocolate for myself. I can buy it for my kids, though – even if they don’t get any of it.
It makes no sense, and yet it’s dictated my shopping choices for years!
We all have our own “rules.” They dictate our behavior. They reflect our beliefs. And they help – or hurt – our goals. Sometimes, like my chocolate rules, they’re unconscious – we don’t even know we have them.
Rules are linked to our identity—how we see and define ourselves. For instance, part of my identity is “I’m a healthy person.” I love exercise and clean, nutritious foods. That means I have some rules that serve me, such as “I exercise at least five times a week.” That one is so deeply part of me that I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to convince myself to go to the gym, because chances are, I’m already there.
That identity also serves me because it gives me rules like “I don’t eat fast food.” I know people who have a fiery inner debate every time they see a McDonald’s – “Should I? I shouldn’t. But I’m hungry. Maybe just one thing. I’ll go for a run later to make up for it.” But for me, it’s just a given – fast food? no thanks.
But while that identity has given me some helpful rules, it’s also given me this really bizarre one: “I can’t buy chocolate for myself. I can buy it for my kids, though.” It’s okay if I eat it as long as I bought it for them. What is that about?
Rules are funny. They’re full of these convoluted little paradoxes. Which is why it’s important to shine a light on them – to make sure they’re serving us. To make sure they’re in alignment with who we want to be. We have the power the change them, and to use them to get where we want to go. If we don’t know what they are, they might be making our lives really difficult.
There are two big ways that our rules can sabotage us:
1) When we’ve changed, but our rulebooks haven’t.Ten years ago, my friend Sarah wanted to lose weight and start a new career. She succeeded in losing forty pounds, but she still had trouble job-searching because of her old rule, “I can’t have an in-person interview first; it has to be by phone.” She’d developed that rule around her identity as a person who was overweight and afraid to be seen. It wasn’t until she changed her rules to fit her new identity – “I choose in-person interviews instead of by phone” – that she was able to really launch her new career.
2) When our rules aren’t even ours. This often happens with a dream or a job. “It’s impossible, I can’t do that, I must have job security, I have to have a professional career, I can’t be an artist.” Those rules might have come from a parent or spouse or someone else. And they might be holding us back from what we really want.
In those cases, our rules aren’t in alignment with what we really want.
If you want to make a change, look to someone who already has what you want, and see what they do. What is it that they believe? How do they operate in the world?
For example, I would love to keep growing in business. My husband is an excellent businessman. So I asked myself, what is it that he does that’s so exceptional? What exactly does he do?
One thing is that he handles tough things immediately. He doesn’t procrastinate. When I asked him, he wasn’t sure how he did it. But I pressed, and it turns out he has a rule around it: “If it’s hard, it has to be done immediately.” He doesn’t want difficult tasks hanging over him, so he does them first.
That’s something I struggle with. If something’s hard, I’ll inevitably push it off until it becomes a bigger problem that I have to deal with.
Now, when I look at my list of things to do, I ask, “what’s the hardest thing? Let me do that first.” And let me tell you, it’s made me a lot more productive.
It’s crucial that:
So let’s turn to you.
What is your identity in the different areas of your life?
What rules do you have that are holding you back, or moving you forward?
Who is someone whose behavior you can model?
Go out with that beautiful identity, and shine.
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