Life Lessons

Why You Should Break Your Own Rules

Sometimes taking a good, hard look at yourself (and your behaviors) is just what the doctor ordered. In this article, Linda Formichelli reveals how you can break your own rules by standing up to the person in the mirror.


“Why You Should Break Your Own Rules”

By Linda Formichelli


Would you…

  • Take fashion advice from a 12-year-old?
  • Pattern your eating habits after a temperamental toddler?
  • Let a virtual stranger dictate your career path? No?

The fact is, you’re probably doing all of the above every day.

Case in point: When I was 12, my best friend made fun of my “high forehead” and encouraged others to do the same. So, I hid my face behind straight, thick bangs for decades. (Maybe the phrase best friend needs quotes around it as well.)

Years later, sick of having to trim my bangs every two weeks (and never getting them right), I traded the fringe for a pixie cut that looked and felt so amazing, I wished I’d stopped obeying those bullies’ “bangs rule” years ago.

We all live by “rules” that were established, by ourselves or by others, when we were younger but that no longer serve us. Maybe a college buddy said that you looked awful in pink, and you’ve avoided the color ever since. Or you took it to heart when a high school English teacher said you’d never be a writer.

Your rules define what you do, eat and wear, and you—the smart, rational adult version of you—did not write them.

“Women are much more susceptible to the messages we get,” says life coach Rebecca (Kiki) Weingarten. “Our brains work that way. We pay attention to what people tell us and take it to heart.”

“We’re most likely to let others write our rules when we feel vulnerable or when our self-esteem is at a low point,” says Leslie Levine, author of Ice Cream for Breakfast: If You Follow All The Rules, You Miss Half the Fun. “We’re especially vulnerable during a bad relationship, after being let go from a job—and virtually the entire time between the ages of 12 and 21.”

But, who cares if you avoid broccoli and pink sweaters? You’re fine. Why rock the boat? Well, I’ve got news! You need to rock the boat because if you don’t, you may be stuck in the same old waters forever.

“Rules put fear into us and prevent us from thinking creatively, and that’s not how we grow,” says Levine. “When you break or bend the rules, it gives you a fresh perspective and shakes things up. It forces you to see life through a different lens—and that’s how you grow.”

Are you ready to ferret out the rules that keep you from living your life to the fullest and shatter them to pieces? Let’s get started.

Who writes your rules?

You like to think that you’re in charge, but sometimes it’s everyone else but you who’s dictating what you do, say, wear, and eat.

Family members

As we grow up, our families slap labels on us: The pretty one, the smart one, the athletic one, the helpful one. And we carry those labels out into the world, even when they no longer depict who we really are. “If you were, say, the one who did everything for everyone, you probably do the same around the office,” says Weingarten.


Our BFFs can write our rules, often without even knowing it. If a friend says capris make your butt look big, you’ll probably ditch that style—no matter how comfortable they are. If she says your son is too loud, you may get into the habit of shushing him in public (even though you think he’s just acting like a normal five-year-old).

Former classmates

Classmates who write your rules are usually the ones who make your life miserable. Perhaps back in the day your chunky sneakers weren’t the right shade of black, or they made you feel like a hopeless loser because you refused to smoke. Either way, your former classmates were the ones who fought over who’d have to take you on their softball team in gym.

For instance, if you started smoking way back when to look sophisticated (and still haven’t stopped, 20 years later)—and you avoid active hobbies, or take pains to wear the right brands—then these young bullies are still controlling your life.


When we’re kids, teachers seem all-knowing. If your bio teacher said you’d never learn a vein from a capillary, you likely didn’t become a doctor—even if that was your dream. “Sometimes you become afraid to try something because you don’t want to keep hearing that you’re bad at it,” says Weingarten.

Boss and coworkers

You spend a lot of time at work, the tasks can be energy-draining, and your ego is often on the line—creating the perfect environment for someone else to convince you that you’re not capable of running your own life. For example, if a coworker makes an offhand comment about how your last presentation could have been better, you may decide you’re no good at public speaking and turn down career-building speaking opportunities.


Are you running your life based on self-help books (and websites)? I have a friend who almost lost her chance at true love by taking to heart the rules from The Rules, a controversial book about how to attract a mate. She met a great guy—but held off on calling him because The Rules insist that a woman should never call a man first. Finally, she shook off that ridiculous advice and made the call.

Where are they now? Married with two kids.

Your younger self

Why do you always put the same shoe on first? Probably because that’s the way you learned to do it when you were a tot. Why do you rely on your partner to squash spiders in the house? Maybe it’s because you were frightened by one when you were a kid, even though you now grasp that they are tiny, and you are big.

Learning your laws

Recognizing that we live by certain unspoken rules is easy. Ferreting out our own rules so that we can break them? Not so much. Consider each of these life areas and compile the rules you discover into a written list. (In my next article, we’ll talk about how to smash them.)

Your looks

Do you avoid certain colors? Dress in a style that suits someone else more than it suits you? Or, apply makeup to camouflage a facial feature that your schoolmates made fun of in first grade?


Have you been slotted into a particular role in your family such as the peacemaker who always settles arguments? Or, the yes-woman who stands behind her family members no matter how wrong they are?


Do you feel like you can’t start the day without a cup of java? Follow the Keto diet even though it makes you hangry 24/7? Hate spinach because a childhood hero hated it?


Do you have people in your life who you call “friends” out of habit? Even though they no longer serve that purpose, simply because you feel awful every time you hang out with them?


Did you become an engineer/web designer/insert-unfulfilling-to-you-career-here because your family expected it of you? Do you play a certain role at work? Are you the employee who’s always five minutes late to meetings? Or, the person to text when the boss’s home laptop crashes at 3 am?


Do you always cover your mouth with your hand when you laugh? Because someone once told you that you have an obnoxious laugh? Do you keep your hands in check because your mother said that you gesture too much while talking? Do you refuse to listen to dance music because your classmates laughed at it twenty years ago?


Do you avoid painting because your art teacher said that you couldn’t draw a straight line? Do you follow NASCAR because your husband or kids are into it? Even though it makes you want to stab your eyes out with chopsticks?

To conclude, you should now have a scarily long list of rules that you’re ready to drop.

Good luck!

About the Author: Linda Formichelli is the founder and creative director at Hero’s Journey Content, LLC. Over the years, she has written for Intel, GE Healthcare, CVS, Redbook, etc. Learn more here.

Editor’s note: Check out “Saying Goodbye To The Old You” for details on how to make it happen.


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