We all live by a set of beliefs that inform how we see ourselves, see others, and function in the world. These beliefs may be helpful, contradictory, conscious or unconscious, but they turn into rules we live by: people are good (or bad), life is a struggle (or I won’t have to deal with than I can handle), I have to do everything on my own (or I can ask for help and receive support).
The rules aren’t complicated but they’re often not conscious either. When I was quitting smoking, my dad took me through a process he used with his psychotherapy patients. You examine what you’re telling yourself about something, in this case my beliefs about what cigarettes did for me. I smoked when I was hungry to quell my hunger and when I was full to help digest the food. I smoked when I was sad, angry, or experiencing other emotions I didn’t want to feel. And I smoked when I was happy or satisfied (after a meal, after sex). Could all of these contradictory things be true? Examining my beliefs about cigarettes helped me quit smoking. When I was hungry and went for a cigarette instead of food, I realized I was still hungry. When I was sad and smoked a cigarette instead of crying, I hadn’t processed my sadness; I had buried it.
On a larger scale, we use our internal set of beliefs to create rules for how we function in every area of our lives. The belief that you can’t count on help might inform your push for your child to be independent early: he’s going to have to handle everything on his own so he better start now.
I wanted to stop operating out of my conditioning—my childhood, my hurts, my past— the rules that I lived by but that didn’t serve me, many that I wasn’t even aware of. Becoming conscious of my beliefs about myself, others, and the world gave me the room to question whether or not those beliefs were true.
Do I have to be friends with someone because we’ve been friends since junior high? Do I have to keep gifts someone gave me whether I like them or not? Do I have to do something because I said I would? What message is running through my head? Is it true? Do I have to? Do I want to? What are my other choices?
Looking at the rules I live by frees me to make new rules, to decide I believe in something and will keep doing it or to acknowledge it’s ridiculous and I will no longer live by that rule. I can change how I’ve done things or who I believe I am. Getting rid of the clutter in my mind is the same as letting go of the clutter in my home. It makes space for how I want to live.
What are the rules you live by? Are they true? Do they help you have the life you want or be who you want to be?