You and I already have A Way. We live in accordance to rules. I have previously written about how rules govern our behaviours, and how those rules tend to be set – by others such as our parents, our peers, our managers and leaders. We follow those rules by default or by design.

We have been ‘brought up’ to agree with or blindly adhere to rules of conduct set by some sort of culture, be it societal, familial, hierarchical or even anarchical. Or we have chosen to comply with such rules, although that could be proactive choice (meaning we gave it some thought), choice by fear (of being seen to be less than others, of punishment or disassociation), or perhaps choice by indoctrination (such as may be exemplified by the radicalisation of youths towards terrorism). As there can be no achievements or results without rules which define those achievements or results, there must be rules.

In his excellent work ‘Awaken the Giant Within’, author and speaker Anthony Robbins goes into great deal about how rules positively and negatively influence our success. In brief, the rules we apply to our circumstances dictate whether those circumstances please or upset us. Something occurs and we place a meaning on the event. That meaning is then subjected to analysis based on a rule we have elected to apply to the event. The rule then dictates our feelings and occasionally our actions in relation to that event.

For example: I was recently on a train, which was nearly full. A mother, with two small children was temporarily left without a seat despite my efforts to give her mine. As she stood for a few minutes (before deciding that she could sit comfortably on the seats with her children) I was gripped with anger because a man on the two seats behind her had annexed an empty seat with his bag – a bag he could and should have placed in the luggage rack above his head. 

  • Event – lady needs a seat and he was not providing her one.
  • Meaning – he was rude, selfish, and deliberately so.
  • Rule applied – she was entitled to a seat and he was effectively depriving her of such.
  • Result – I was getting angry despite the fact she was not making anything of it. I wanted to tell him off, I wanted the conductor to do something about it, and his failure was cowardice.
  • Action – in this instance I forced myself to avoid conflict – but even that made me angry because I wanted to create a conflict that resulted in this selfish passenger suffering a social consequence.


In this example you can see how rules are applied to an event, and you can even see how rules can be applied to the actions considered as a result of the event – there wasn’t one rule being applied, there were several. The first rule was broken by the passenger when he failed to move his bag. The second was her unspoken rule that she didn’t care or wasn’t going to make a point. The next was the conductor’s failure to act based on his rules. The next was my rule that he should have acted. Then there was my rule that (in this case) conflict was not going to achieve a positive outcome and while it may have been called for and initially satisfying, the potential physical or legal consequences were not necessarily worth the ‘victory’ of being right.

Each party to the event had rules which they applied to their part of that event. Their rules were sourced personally (don’t start fights, don’t be pushy, I want to sit alone), societally (mind your own business, conflict achieves nothing), even corporately (don’t apply rules unless and until passengers ask, he’s bigger than me and I have no back up), and so on. In all cases, the rules applied were as real and valid to each individual as they were not valid to some of the others.

So there are two lessons here. One, be conscious of the rules you have set for yourself, where they come from and where they are taking you. If you don’t like the destination, consider changing the rules.

And the second lesson is: other people have rules, too. In their minds those rules are as valid as yours. Even when they aren’t!