Tell me if this sounds familiar…
You promise yourself you will eat healthy today. The whole day, you think about all sorts of foods: ice cream, candy, chips. But, you do not give in to your own impulsive urges. This brings you a great feeling of pride and accomplishment. Now, it’s 8pm and you are thrilled that you attained your goal, but then… it happens.
You break your word. You eat a Snicker’s bar. And you feel like absolute shit for it afterwards.
Now, you may have read that and thought to yourself: “Lucy, that doesn’t sound like a scenario where it would be exciting to break the rules. In fact, it sounds like it produced a lot of shame instead.” You are right… partially. Yes, after you break a rule, you are most likely going to feel a lot of shame. But, let’s look at the act of breaking the rule itself. Why do you do this? You may think it’s because you “lack willpower”, but what if this isn’t the answer at all? Dig down a bit deeper and you may discover that the act of putting that Snicker’s bar in your mouth was almost euphoric, and that’s not just because of the sugar.
That familiar euphoria that comes with rebelling
What is that feeling you get when you break a rule? Whether it’s sneaking out behind your parents’ back as a teenager, or indulging in that Snicker’s bar when you were supposed to be on a diet. This euphoria can go along with breaking any rules, even if it’s the rules you place upon yourself. The reason why you put that Snicker’s bar in your mouth because a part of you was rebelling against the rules you were placing on yourself. At first, the realization of this can be almost freeing. You did not “fail”, you were not “bad”, you don’t lack some magical willpower that everyone else seems to have. You made the choice (that’s the key word there: CHOICE) to break your own rule because you secretly resented the rule. If you refrain from labelling this rebellion as “bad” or “wrong”, it becomes a clear indicator that the problem lies within the rule itself, not you. In most situations, the rule is not something that a person truly wants, but something that they think they need to do in order to be accepted by society.
Let’s talk about rules…
We all have rules, whether they are forced on us by some authority figure, or if they are rules we set for ourselves. But, what happens when rules do not align with our core values and beliefs? What happens when we follow rules not because we believe them to helpful for our safety/wellbeing, but because of a haunting voice in our heads telling us that we SHOULD follow them.
Let me explain. There is a huge difference between: “I WANT to follow these rules because they help me become a better version of myself,” and “I SHOULD follow these rules because society/my parents/my friends told me to.” Many of the problems that teens are facing today can be traced back to the confusion between these two statements.
I believe that we underestimate the harmful effects of people (especially teens and young people) blindly following these laws like sheep. We simply follow the people around us without any knowledge of where the end destination is. It gets to a point where rules are controlling and limiting your life and your potential. And, here’s the scary part, chances are you don’t even realize whether you are one of these people or not.
So… What do I do?
You may be wondering: “Well, should I just throw all the rules out the window then? Is the solution to live life entirely based on impulse and what feels good in the moment?” Of course not. Rules are a necessary part of living as a human being. However, if you are living your life COMPLETELY based on rules, you may not truly be living at all.
Most people use rules as brick walls. When we surround ourselves with brick walls, life feels like a prison. We use rules as a way to protect ourselves from the unknown, yet by doing this we are shielding ourselves from the eternal world that lies outside our walls. The whole point of rules is to help us to live a happy, fulfilling life, but when we turn our rules into brick walls, it’s hard to know whether the inside of your walls is better or worse than the outside. How would you know if you can’t even see past your walls?
That’s why the solution is to use your rules as guidelines instead of brick walls. Guidelines are imaginary, and we all know this. They are the lines drawn on a soccer field or basketball court. The lines of longitude and latitude are guidelines, as they do not really EXIST. We use them as a means to measure where we are on the earth and where we want to go. We all know that lines of latitude were not drawn into the earth by God with a giant sharpie. The same way, when we treat rules as guidelines, we know that they are not permanent. Therefore, they are no longer limits. Instead, they act as helpful markings in our life, indicating to us where we have been and where we want to go. We create the rules, and we change them as we see fit.
From your work life to your personal life, the fundamental concepts of rules, control, and guilt show up everywhere. Many people’s relationship with rules is like that of an addict. Instead of using them to ENHANCE their life, they let rules (usually made by other people) completely control their life and their decisions. When we use rules in this way, it eventually leads to rebellion in some form, whether it be giving in to the urge to eat that Snicker’s bar, or sneaking out in the middle of the night against your parents’ wishes. The flaw here does not lie in your lack of discipline, but the way that you see your rules. If you see them as a massive brick wall towering over you, of course you will grow to resent them. However, if you see them as guidelines (made by you) to better your life and help you see where you want to go, you will slowly rediscover your freedom.
You see, you have ALWAYS been free. The only thing holding you back is yourself and your own limiting beliefs. Take a close look at your life and the rules you live by. If you don’t think you have any rules, dig a little deeper. These rules could be buried within your identity itself. The person you have been for most of your life may not really be you. This may sound scary, but once you get past the insecurity of not knowing who you are, you will discover yourself as you really are.
There may not be words for it, but you know who you are. You have always known. It’s been right in front of you this whole time, you just need to take a step back to see it more clearly. See? There you are.