We unconsciously create rules to feel a range of different emotional states under the umbrella of the four core needs of variety, certainty, significance, and connection.
Have you ever considered that you have unknowingly stacked the cards against yourself when it comes to the emotional states you want to be feeling all the time or want to be avoiding at all costs?
For example, in the domain of relationships, we might value the feeling of love and at the same time want to avoid the unwanted state of feeling unloved. Our self-created rules are the governing body of what we will do and the actions we will take for us to feel, or not feel, the emotional states, be they positive or negative.
Everybody sets up their rules based on their own internal map of the world. This means that everybody’s rules will be somewhat different. Unfortunately, most people have unconsciously set their rules up so that it is extremely easy to feel unwanted states and difficult to feel more positive ones.1
Let us use the same example of relationships, with the feeling of love being the state we want to move towards and feeling unloved being the state we want to avoid.
A client of mine had unknowingly made rules to feel loved; one or more of these conditions needed to be met:
her partner takes her out for dinner to a fancy restaurant
her partner buys her flowers
her partner does all the cleaning in the house without being asked
her partner posts a couples picture on Instagram
So she was reliant upon these events occurring in order for her to feel the emotional state of feeling loved.
She had also unknowingly created rules that would result in her feeling unloved; one or more of these conditions would need to occur:
her partner doesn’t reply to texts or phone calls within two hours
her partner doesn’t greet her upon her arrival home
her partner notices another attractive person and comments on them
her partner is unwilling to contribute to the household as expected
Notice how everything on the above lists is external to my client that her partner needs to fulfil. Instead of achieving it herself, she is reliant on her partner to fulfil these requirements. This set my client up to regularly feel unloved. The rules she had created were self-sabotaging.
Can you see how hard my client’s rules have made it for her to feel the loved state and how easy she had made it to feel the unloved state? To find your current rules, ask yourself, “I will only feel loved when . . .” and be honest in your accounting of these rules. What really has to happen in order for you to feel loved?
If you have fallen victim to similar rules that are not in your best interest, what is great to know is that you can change the rules! To be effective, you want to design the rules to be internally driven so that you are the controller of your emotional state and not reliant on anyone else. This enables you to stack the cards in your favour.
The new rules, in order to feel love, may now be:
“I will now feel loved when . . .”
I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, ‘I love you’
I take a moment to truly enjoy that first sip of my morning coffee
I make healthy decisions for myself
I take three deep breaths before making any personal decisions
The new rules in order to feel unloved, may now be:
“I will now only feel unloved when . . .”
I consistently let myself down over two weeks
my partner avoids me for three whole days
everyone in my family tells me they hate me
all my friends turn their back on me
Can you seehow easy it is now to achieve the wanted emotional state and how hard it is to achieve the unwanted state when applying the new rules? The wanted emotional state is now internally driven, which you can move independently towards, irrespective of what your partner does or does not do. The rules created for the unwanted state, whilst mostly external, are highly unlikely to happen.
It is important to note that there can be inter-relational conflict because we have made up different rules for ourselves. After all, we are making up our rules from our individual perceptions that predicate the unique map of our world. Build a level of tolerance by keeping in mind that others are doing the same thing.
Continuing to use relationships as an example, two friends who both value connection may have very different rules for what constitutes connection. One friend may have the rule that “I must receive a reply to my text messages soon after I know my friend has read them.” Whilst the other person may have the rule, “I will reply when I can give the message the response it deserves.”
The first friend has a rule that is externally driven, making it hard for her to feel a sense of connection. The second friend’s rule is internally driven; this makes it easier for her to feel connected. Neither friend has bad intentions for the other, and both value connection highly, but their rules around connection have been created differently. Who do you think has set up the more resourceful rule? Whose rules will ultimately serve them more on a day to day basis?
What invaluable and unseen changes might happen for you if you were to become aware of the rules that you have unconsciously created for yourself?
How might you experience more positive emotional states in your life if you raised your awareness around these rules? You can actively change them to serve you better and reap the benefits!
Chapter ten of my book - “The Busy Professional’s Toolkit for Self-Mastery & Courageous Living,” covers behaviours and rules, why we do what we do in more depth. Buy now.