In society, there are hidden life rules or conditions accepted as normal—“the way life is.”

Words and phrases such as “boys don’t cry” or “the early bird gets the worm” are shared throughout the world without most of us questioning whether or not they are true or helpful. More importantly we don’t consider how they actually show up in our life. These hidden rules of living can be very helpful but they can also be self defeating and get in the way of your happiness.

The question is… which ones serve you and which do not?

The rules of life we learned in childhood drive our current behaviors. They are always running whether we are aware of them or not. Like a fish isn’t aware of the water it’s swimming in, we are often unaware of these said “rules” that run our lives.

Common Rules: Which ones ring true for you?

Haste makes waste

Early bird gets the worm

Suck it up buttercup (be strong)

Money doesn’t grow on trees

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Don’t air out your dirty laundry

Boys don’t cry

Women are too emotional

The main reason for these Rules

The purpose of the rules was to keep you safe or unhurt as a child. When we are growing and developing we need help learning some boundaries, but as an adult these rules, if left unquestioned, become very limiting. You can end up frustrated and fighting someone or something because you’re not getting what you want. But what we don’t realize is, more often than not, what got you there were the behaviors that are based on a hidden rule.

For example — “The early bird gets the worm”

This well know life rule implies that we need to get up early and get things done to get ahead and be successful. Sounds innocent and true enough. The problem is there can be an unspoken “.. or else..” tagged onto it that isn’t acknowledged. So the rule becomes black or white which means ‘if I don’t do it I’ll fail, fall behind or lose out’, no question, circumstances don’t matter. So when situations come up that make it difficult or even unhealthy to get up early we’ll force ourselves. In this way the rule becomes detrimental to our goal because we’re left drained, exhausted and not able to move forward.

If you questioned it you’d realize that getting up early isn’t the only thing that makes you successful.

How to recognize a hidden rule

The key word is hidden so I know you’re asking ‘how am I supposed to see something that’s hidden?’ Good question. You can’t.

But you can start to notice the areas in your life where it’s showing up, like areas that feel difficult, stuck or painful. Often these rules will have been creating problems in your life for a long time but it seemed like circumstance rather than decision you were making.

You’ll know there’s some hidden motivation going on if you feel like your only choices are to give in or keep fighting. That’s because your awareness of possibilities is blinded or limited by the rule. Using the earlier example, if I believe the rule or truth is getting up early is my ONLY choice to be successful then my options are limited. Either I get up early or I’m not going to be successful.

Breaking free from these Rules

If you find that these rules constrain you in anyway in your life; be it relationship, career, financial or other, then it is time to re-evaluate. Notice how blindly following a rule leaves you feeling unhappy and not in control. When you become aware of the rules running your life you’ll feel in control of your choices, see more possibilities of getting what you want and feel better about yourself.

Begin by observing how you react or how you handle certain situations or people. Take a moment to reflect, look deeper and ask yourself what’s driving me to respond in that way. Dig deeper into the thoughts and words that are familiar and you will begin to uncover those deep seated “rules”.

If you want help uncovering your own personal rules, reach out and connect with me. I offer a complimentary 15 minute session that allows you and I both to discover if working together is the best option.

Liz Coleman, RTC, is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor based in Surrey, BC. She specializes in anxiety, anger, insecurity, and relationship problems. If you have any questions about this article or would like to schedule an appointment, please call Ms. Coleman at (604) 809-8947 or use the convenient form on her Contact page.