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The fine line between rules and excuses

I’m all about mottos like “create your own rules” and “know the rules so well that you can play around them”. These two mottos get my vote. But there’s a chance that you’re going to create rules so you can have more excuses. And you do it without knowing.

Ask yourself this: “When was the last time you created a rule but used it as an excuse?”

You know clearly the rules you create for yourself, but when you think of ways you used them as excuses, your brain stops.

“I have no excuses” is what you tell yourself.

I’m there as well and we’re all doing it.

The last time when I thought I created a rule but it was an excuse was last week. I created the rule that I’ll stop eating sweets.

And it worked.

The first day I was doing so well and I didn’t eat any sweets.

The second day, things said the same, and I was feeling good about myself.

On the third day, I ate a chocolate and kept eating after that.

Therefore, what happened with the rule?

I remember telling myself “I stopped eating sweets for two days, maybe I can eat something again.”

I was using my rule against myself, as an excuse. I was saying to myself that the rule of not eating sweets had been implemented for two days and that was my excuse to stop applying the rule.

We’re tricking ourselves to believe that we’re doing something good, even when we know we shouldn’t do it.

Having this said, let’s explore a bit more the fine line between rules and excuses.

  • What makes rules different than excuses?
  • Let’s define the fine line between rules and excuses
  • What makes you sabotage your rules and come up with excuses
  • How to strengthen your rules and weaken your excuses
  • The downsides and upsides of your saboteurs
  • Let’s have a short chat about your saboteurs

What makes rules different than excuses?

As you already noticed, something that’s a rule can be used as an excuse.

The rule “I’ll stop eating sweets” is a rule that can easily be turned into an excuse. All you have to do is to get creative and work around it.

Also, I mentioned that this rule wasn’t smart.

The same way goals can be smart, rules can be smart too.

If we look at the above rule from a smart (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and in time) point of view, we can redefine the rule as follows: I’ll stop eating sweets from Monday to Friday, for the next two months.

This rule is:

  • Specific: I know when I’ll stop eating sweets.
  • Measurable: During these two months, I’ll be able to track if I’m eating sweets during the week or only in weekends.
  • Attainable: This is different from one person to another. If I give myself the space to eat sweets during the weekend, then I believe I can stay away from them during weekdays.
  • Realistic: Sure, it’s realistic for me to do it for two months. Knowing my past experiences with eating sweets, I think I’m able to do it for two months.
  • In time: I’m doing it from Monday to Friday, for two months. Time is really specific here.

Now that our rule is smart, can we still use it as an excuse?

Sure, because the way we make the rule smart is entirely our decision.

My brain decided that I will eat sweets during weekends and I didn’t realize it until I looked back at the initial rule.

My brain used the smart framework to make the rule in such a way that I can use it as an excuse.

The main purpose was to not eat sweets at all but I made it smart and created a loophole where I’m allowing myself to eat sweets on Saturdays and Sundays.

You may say “But that’s ok. It’s ok to eat sweets from time to time.” and I totally agree that it’s ok. But that wasn’t what I intended. That wasn’t what I wanted. And I created a rule that allows me to have excuses.

Knowing all these, what makes rules different than excuses?

There are two things.

1. A good rule always has a backup plan

Let’s review our smart rule.

It goes like this: I’ll stop eating sweets from Monday to Friday, for the next two months.

All right, but what if on Wednesday I start craving sweets? What do I do?

There’s nothing mentioned about that. This means I can use my cravings as excuses so I can eat sweets.

A good rule always has a backup plan.

In this case, the rule would change to this: I’ll stop eating sweets from Monday to Friday, for the next two months, and if I start craving, I’ll drink 0.5 liters of water and make myself one tea. If I still crave, I’ll meditate for 2 to 5 minutes and focus on the sensations of my body.

As you can see, I created a pretty strong backup plan. I know myself well and I know what works in my case. I know that in most cases, only drinking 0.5 liters of water will stop the cravings. But if that doesn’t work, I’ll keep doing things until the cravings are gone.

2. A great rule has a clear why

Until now, I didn’t mention why I want to stop eating sweets and that’s a mistake.

To make sure I honor my rule and not use it as an excuse, I have to think of why is it important for me to have this rule. And then, I ask myself why again and again until I go past beyond the obvious and understand the deeper meaning of what I want.

Here’s an example.

Q: Why do I want to stop eating sweets?
A: Because I want to lose weight.

Q: Why do I want to lose weight?
A: Because I want to be more attractive.

Q: Why do I want to be more attractive?
A: Because the way I look right now makes me think I’m not attractive and it’s hard to find a partner.

Yes, that was me one year ago. I was trying to lose weight just so I can be more attractive. I went to therapy and fixed the way I see myself.

As you can see, the more you ask yourself why, the better you get to understand why you’re creating yourself a rule. That will help you stick to your rule and not use it as an excuse for not doing what you set yourself to do.

Let’s define the fine line between rules and excuses

As long as you can’t use a rule as an excuse, you’ve done a great job.

To create a great rule means to have a backup plan and to know why you want to create the rule.

But what does it mean to have a backup plan and to know your why?

For me, this goes back to having great energy around the rule I’m creating. It goes back to being enthusiastic about the rule and looking forward to implementing it.

If the rule is not energizing me, then it’s not a great rule. And that’s the fine line.

If you want to have a rule that can’t easily be turned into an excuse, make sure the presence of the rule in your life energizes your days.

When it comes to rules and excuses, I believe there are three important life directions where we constantly use rules to improve our lives: personal growth, relationships, and work.

I’ll take them one by one and discuss more about rules and excuses.

The fine line in personal growth

Let’s start by assuming that the purpose of the rules for personal growth is about making our lives better.

Therefore, a rule for personal growth will have three elements:

  • A backup plan;
  • A strong why;
  • The intention of making your life better.

Let’s say you want to start running and you create yourself a rule around running. Maybe you want to train for a marathon and include that in your rule.

As long as your rule has a backup plan, a strong why, and its purpose is to make your life better, then the chances to use it as an excuse will be smaller and smaller.

But there’s a fine line here and that’s connected to society’s rules.

If you set yourself to train for the marathon for only three months (with no prior running experience) and society says that you need six to eight months, then you’ll use that as an excuse.

And I’m telling this from experience.

Back in 2013, when I ran my first marathon, I had available only four and a half months to train for a marathon and I spent one and a half months in bed, recovering from an injury. I injured my hip after the first month of training. In total, before running the marathon, I had only three months of training.

I remember everyone was telling me that I couldn’t do it. That I need more time.

I didn’t care and eventually ended up finishing the marathon in 5 hours and 36 minutes. I wrote more about that experience in my books.

When it comes to personal growth, the fine line between rules and excuses is defined by society’s rules.

The fine line in relationships

Let’s start by assuming that the purpose of the rules for relationships is about setting boundaries and having remarkable relationships.

Therefore, the rule for relationships will have four elements:

  • A backup plan;
  • A strong why;
  • Boundaries;
  • The intention to make the relationships remarkable.

Let’s say you take a good look at your current relationships and start creating rules so you can transform your relationships and make them truly remarkable.

You make a list of boundaries, define what makes a relationship remarkable and connect that definition to specific actions for both you and the person you want to have a remarkable relationship with.

But there’s a fine line here connected to types of personalities and how well you can connect with others.

There are moments when all the rules in the world won’t make two people become closer.

I had moments in my life where I did the best I could to get closer to certain people and it didn’t work out at all. And I had moments in my life where I didn’t put in any effort and connected amazingly with some people.

When it comes to relationships, the rule is that there shouldn’t be any rules.

The only rule I need for relationships is more defined as a combination of guidelines and boundaries that I can be flexible around.

Imagine someone promises something to you and they don’t keep their word for whatever reason. If you have a rule that says you have to have a serious discussion with someone who doesn’t keep their word, in time you’ll create more seriousness than needed inside that relationship. You don’t want that. At least, not will all your relationships.

In this case, you’ll use your rules as excuses for why your efforts towards connecting with others are not worthy and maybe even start blaming others for not giving you a chance to connect with them.

The fine line at work

Let’s start by assuming that the purpose of the rule for work is to help you have a great career.

Therefore, the rule for work will have three elements:

  • A backup plan;
  • A strong why;
  • A great career.

Let’s say you have a stable job and you want to make sure you also have a great career.

From my point of view, to have a great career means to have a job that gives you what you need in four important directions: enjoyment, achievement, learning, and meaning.

As long as your job can provide you value in these four directions, you’ll have a great career.

And you start creating rules for each of these four directions with the idea in mind that as long as you are in control of these four directions, then you’ll have higher chances of having a great career.

This makes total sense, right?

Except for the fact that these four directions don’t take into consideration the environment your company is part of. Not the environment inside the company, but the environment your company is part of.

For example, let’s say you reach a point where you want to get certified and that certification requires an investment of one year of constant learning (around 5 to 10 hours a week) and $10.000.

You share that with your supervisor and they say the company can’t afford that. You look at how much you earn and you realize that you can’t afford that either.

And there are two possible truths:

  1. The supervisor is lying and they don’t want to invest in your certification.
  2. The company can’t really afford it because the environment around the company doesn’t allow it.

When I’m saying the environment around the company, I’m talking about its industry, market, and clients.

The fine line between rules and excuses at work is connected to the environment your company is part of. And if you don’t pay attention to it, you’ll use your rules as an excuse for not wanting a great career anymore.

Where to draw the line

I’ve already mentioned these things, but I’ll say it again, just in case you need to have a better overview of the fine line between rules and excuses.

When it comes to personal growth:

  • The fine line is between your rules and society’s rules.

When it comes to relationships:

  • The fine line is the rules themselves.

When it comes to work:

  • The fine line is between your rules and the environment the company is part of.
Fun Fact: 0 % More Active

Did you know that optimists engage in 10% more physical activity?

What makes you sabotage your rules and come up with excuses

We’re all sabotaging ourselves in one way or another.

Our saboteurs are active all day long and the stronger they are, the harder it is for us to identify them. After all, a really strong saboteur is a saboteur that makes you believe it’s helping you instead of sabotaging you.

I discovered recently that my top saboteurs are the Hyper-Rational, the Stickler, and the Controller.

For example, the Hyper-Rational is making me believe that emotions aren’t important. It’s limiting my understanding of emotions and, because of this, I have a hard time being flexible in relationships.

While I improved this over the last years, the Hyper-Rational is still active. The great thing right now is that I’m able to identify when the Hyper-Rational becomes active and silence it.

Discover your saboteurs

Recently I joined this program for coaches where I learn to identify my saboteurs and find ways of working around them, so I can silence the thoughts that are making me have excuses.

There are a total of 10 saboteurs:

  1. The Judge

The Judge is the universal Saboteur that afflicts everyone. It is the one that beats you up repeatedly over mistakes or shortcomings, warns you obsessively about future risks, wakes you up in the middle of the night worrying, gets you fixated on what is wrong with others or your life, etc. Your Judge activates your other Saboteurs, causes much of your stress and unhappiness, reduces your effectiveness, and harms your relationships.

  1. The Hyper-Rational

The Hyper-Rational is a good survival strategy in early childhood circumstances of emotional turmoil or chaotic surroundings. The escape into the neat and orderly rational mind generates a sense of security or a sense of intellectual superiority. It also gains us attention and praise by showing up as the smartest person in the room.

  1. The Stickler

The Stickler offers a way of quieting the constant voice of self judgment and fear of others’ judgments through trying to be perfect. If you do what is right, you will be beyond interference and reproach by others. Perfection and order brings a sense of temporary relief. Might have generated a sense of order in the middle of a chaotic family dynamic, or earned acceptance and attention from emotionally distant or demanding parents by standing out as the unreproachable perfect kid.

  1. The Controller

Underneath the bravado of the Controller there is often a hidden fear of being controlled by others or life. Controller is sometimes associated with early life experiences where the child is forced to grow up fast, be on its own, and take charge of its chaotic or dangerous surroundings in order to survive physically and/or emotionally. It is also associated with being hurt, rejected, or betrayed and deciding to never be that vulnerable again.

  1. The Pleaser

The Pleaser tries to earn attention and acceptance through helping others. This is an indirect attempt to have one’s emotional needs met. It is fed by two original assumptions that are picked up in childhood: 1. I must put others’ needs ahead of my own. 2. I must give love and affection in order to get any back. I must earn it and am not simply worthy of it.

  1. The Hyper-Achiever

For the Hyper-Achiever, self-validation, self-acceptance and self-love are all conditional—conditioned on continual performance. This is often the result of either conditional or altogether absent validation from parental figures. Even with very loving and approving parents, it is easy for children to get the sense that they are loved in return for achieving, obeying the rules, having good manners, etc, rather than unconditionally.

  1. The Victim

The Victim is sometimes associated with a childhood experience of not feeling seen and accepted, coming to believe that something is especially wrong with you. Victim is a strategy to squeeze out some affection from those who would otherwise not be paying attention. The moods mimic a false sense of aliveness.

  1. The Restless

The Restless is a strategy to find constant new sources of excitement, pleasure, and self-nurturing. This could be associated with early life experiences with inadequate parental nurturing or painful circumstances. Restless indulgence not only provided substitute selfnurturing, but also an escape from having to deal with anxiety and pain.

  1. The Hyper-Vigilant

The Hyper-Vigilant often comes from early experiences where the source of safety and security (parental figure) was unpredictable and unreliable. It could also result when painful unexpected events proved life to be threatening or unreliable.

  1. The Avoider

Avoider could rise from both happy and difficult childhoods. In happy childhood, one might not have learned the resiliency of dealing with difficult emotions. In a childhood of high conflict and tension, the Avoider might come in to play peacemaker and learn to not add any negativity or tension of one’s own on top of the existing family tensions.

You can identify your saboteurs and discover more about them by using the self-assessment tool on the Positive Intelligence website.

PS: The above descriptions for the saboteurs are copied from the Positive Intelligence assessment. You’ll see the same description after you complete it.

How to strengthen your rules and weaken your excuses

Imagine you are in your car and driving towards your destination.

All of a sudden, you see the road splitting into two different roads and don’t really know which one to take. You close your eyes and involuntarily you turn left.

You didn’t make any conscious decision but there was something inside you that made you turn left.

The more you turn left unconsciously, the more you’ll end up turning left, even when you’ll want to turn right.

But if you stop right before making your decision, you’ll be able to take control over the decision and turn right.

Moving on from the metaphor and diving into neuroplasticity, during your life you make all kinds of unconscious decisions. And you end up making unconsciously bad decisions because you were in a context where you had no choice, was too much pressure on you, or you just wanted to be the good person.

All these bad unconscious decisions are strengthening the neuronal connection of making bad unconscious decisions.

And your saboteurs are part of it.

The downsides and upsides of your saboteurs

The downsides and upsides of your saboteurs

Let’s say that your main saboteur is the pleaser.

You have a hard time saying no to people and you want to constantly help them with whatever they ask of you.

You do it so much that eventually you don’t have any time for yourself.

That’s you sabotaging your need of spending time with yourself. And that’s the downside of your Pleaser saboteur.

But this saboteur has a bright side as well. That’s the Emphatic.

Every saboteur has downsides and upsides.

In my case, The Hyper-Rational is sabotaging my relationships by not letting others into my deeper feelings. But, at the same time, there’s a bright side when it comes to my Hyper-Rational and that’s my way of rationalizing processes and helping others understand in-depth things about what’s going on in their lives.

I’m using my Hyper-Rational in my coaching sessions to create great insights for my coaches. And because I’ve learned how to tone down the saboteur, I’m able to connect better with my emotions and provide even more value to my coaching clients.

Let’s have a short chat about your saboteurs

I’ve recently started my training toward becoming a Positive Intelligence Certified coach and I’d love to practice what I learned.

If you’re curious to find out more about your saboteurs and discover ways of activating your sage, click on the button below and let’s have a 15-minute conversation.

You’ll get one free 60-minute coaching session and there is no obligation to book any future coaching or work. This is an opportunity for us to find out a little about one another and whether we could work well together.

With love and optimism,

* this offer is available until 31st of March, 2023

What did you learn?

What are some valuable things you learned about rules and excuses? 

I would love to know what you think, so share your insights with me using the form below.


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