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Rules to Follow, Rules to Ignore

By Dr. Linda Sapadin

Should you follow the rules? It depends.

We all know that some rules are made to be broken, don’t we? If you’re the owner of an obsessive personality, however, it may feel tough to ease up on any of the rules. (A 7 o’clock invite means you’re there at 7 promptly.).

Other rules, rooted in custom, are not so easily ignored without consequence. A pang of consciousness and a strong rebuke are likely outcomes if you were to forget to say something nice to your Mom on Mother’s Day.

Still other rules are new to the scene. They may quickly go viral - even when the ideas behind them are poorly-formed, misleading or harmful. Pseudo rules have so proliferated our stream-of-consciousness that you may respond with a sigh when told once again how you must “constantly reinvent yourself”, “develop your passion” and “nurture your ambition” to live a worthwhile life.

If you have been twisting yourself inside out in a futile attempt to conform to the latest rules of the game, you know something’s wrong. Though you try hard to conform to what you “should” be doing, happiness still eludes you, your ambition is still thwarted, your relationships are still conflicted. And so you conclude that there’s something’s wrong with you.

Not true. What’s wrong is this:

For rules to work, they must be respectful of your life style, your energy, your age, your history, your commitments, your interests. You must start by knowing “who you are” and “what you’re about”. Otherwise, you’ll be straining to fit your life into someone else’s rules with little success. The upshot: you’ll find yourself scattered, confused, knowing something’s wrong but not knowing what it is.

Rules work well when they function as creative guidelines, not immutable pathways. If you are trying to follow rules that feel contrary to your individual nature or at odds with your life experience, stop.

Go to a quiet space. Be still. Go within. Notice what emotions are bubbling up for you. Notice what your body is experiencing. Don’t think. Just let yourself be. Let a rule emerge that’s right for you.

How do you know if it’s right? What, are you judging yourself already? Putting obstacles in the way? No, don’t judge.

If a rule is in tune with your values, if it is respectful of your life experience, it will be right.

You may feel uneasy if the rule that emerges is vague. What does “take it easy” mean? What does “take a chance” mean? You may not know the answer right away. Give yourself time. Let your mind make new associations to your first associations. As you do, many things will become clearer. And only then will you know what rules to follow, what rules to ignore.

Copyright 2010
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her at or visit her website at

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