I am fascinated by rules.  I haven’t run across a rule yet that doesn’t make sense or have some relevance in a particular circumstance or situation.

Rules are always relative.  They depend on who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and how you want to do it.  Rules are, I think, a fundamental part of every structure, every process, every game, and every lifestyle.  Humans have used the power of rules to build religions and construct philosophies and organize sciences.

If you set them up right, rules are a way for you to just do it – whatever it is – without having to re-think every step every time.

Ideally, you should be able to use your rules to remind yourself of the choices you’ve already made so that every time you come to a crossroads the direction you’re going to take has already been predetermined.

“Rules” by Marcin Wichary via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Rules are a kind of shorthand for all the choices you’ve made among the various ways you can (or want) to act when you interact with the world around you.

The biggest benefit to you in having well-defined set of rules connected to a variety of situations is that you don’t have to waste brain power trying to decide which way to go whenever you come across something you’ve done before.

You don’t have to power up your brain neurons.  They’ve been there; they’ve done that.  All you have to do is go.

Look all around you and all you see are rules, rules, and more rules.

Ancient wisdom guys just pile on the rules, assuring us that following this or that set of rules will get us to a good place.  (They know this works, they say, because of all the precedents and traditions and stuff which are just other names for rules.)

The guys in the lab coats will all tell you that making up rules is how us humans make sense of this very confusing world.

If we didn’t make up rules for ourselves — belt ourselves up and box ourselves in — we’d be so overwhelmed by all the incoming data from the world around us that we’d just stand there paralyzed and unable to move.

We are hard-wired to cringe away from uncertainty.  The chance that our very next step is likely to pitch us off a cliff or into some very toothy predator-mouth makes us want some guidelines, some maps…something or somebody telling us what to do.

“Follow My Leader” via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
It’s an important survival trait for us humans.

Whether any of the rules we adopt as our own are effective or not will often depend on the people around us (also known as Society or Family or Friends) and how well their sets of rules mesh or interact with our own.


My fascination with rules does not mean that I’m going to follow every durned rule I encounter.  It just means I like looking at them, deconstructing them, seeing the why behind them and watching where following them takes you.

I think this is probably a legacy from my Grandma, the Rebel-Without-A-Pause, who raised me.

It is ironic in a way.

The woman was a force of nature who did what she wanted when she wanted and how she wanted.  There was not a rule made she could not dismantle by using some other rule as a lever.

She was an impossible woman and I loved her dearly.

“Our Get-Along Shirt” by James H. via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
For me, growing up, she was The Rule Factory.  Mama had more rules on tap than anybody else I knew.  I was the wild child she tried to impose them on.

Her ground rules were very simple.  There were only two.

  1. Stay safe.
  2. Do no harm.

From that foundation flowed an incredible variety and array of rules and sub-rules and precepts and corollaries and such that could make your head spin if you actually stopped to consider them.

Living and dealing with Mama and her rule-making propensities taught me one very important lesson:  In any game, if you set up the rules, you can always win.


For most people, their life-rules are just a given.  These rules are subconscious — unexamined bits of an assortment of hints and allegations, life-hacks and commandments — often imposed on us (when we are way too young to defend ourselves) by the people around us.

Somebody or other once pointed out that most people live from rules and standards and expectations they received before they were six years old.

These rules are rarely systematic and are often contradictory with little built-in flexibility.    Sometimes these rules can be self-sabotaging and self-defeating.  Sometimes they can be positively toxic.

(Hey, when you’re little, what do YOU know?  Everybody knows better than you, right?)

There’s an old Jesuit maxim that goes, “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.”

“Follow Me” by Lestexian via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
This saying is widely attributed to Ignatius of Loyola, the Spanish Basque Catholic priest and theologian who founded the Jesuit religious order.

Saint Iggy lived from 1491 to 1556, but the idea that by the time a child is seven he or she has been loaded up with all the rules and such that will pretty much determine how that individual will behave and react to the world is an ancient concept.

Everybody you will ever meet carries around a whole backpack of rules – ideas of how the world works that determine and dictate how they (and you) are supposed to act and how they (and you) are supposed to feel as you make your way through the world.

Few people recognize what most of the rules they live by are.

They hardly remember that many of these hard and fast rules are actually ideas and constructs imposed on them by other people.

They probably don’t even notice whether these rules support or prevent them from experiencing emotions they consider most important or living the life they want to live.

Often, because they don’t even know the rules they are living, these people will do things that are detrimental to how they say they want to be walking.

Even if they are feeling the need to change the way they do things, they keep making the same old moves that they’ve already found to be ineffective over and over again.

After all, they tell themselves, this is the way the world is supposed to be, right?  Acting this way and not that is supposed to work, right?  So, why isn’t it working?

“Living in a Box” by cristian via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Good questions, huh?


If you feel life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for you, maybe those rules you are following are like a badly fitted pair of shoes.  They may be excellent, high-quality shoes, but they just aren’t right for your feet.

Let’s parse it out….

  • Let’s say the life-rules you are currently following arise from other people’s ways of seeing the world.
  • Now let’s say that the way you see the world is not the same as those other people’s perspectives.
  • Okay, now think about it: How likely is it that all of these rules you were gifted with or that you inherited are going to be the ones that will get you to where you are doing what you most want to do?



Maybe it’s time to go take a look at all those rules you’ve been following (probably from early childhood) that have not worked for you.

I do have to issue one caveat:  Nobody else is going to be able to do this part for you.  It’s your rules, after all, just as the stupid shoes that gives you blisters and bunions are your shoes.

A shoe salesman can make suggestions, but you’re the one who puts on those things and checks out how they feel on your feet.  You’re the one who decides whether they look good on you.

“Shoe Store in Trinidad” by Bud Ellison via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Also, be aware that this rule-finding expedition is an exploratory process that won’t get solved by taking a 15-minute quiz.

You didn’t grow your rules in a day, and there’s probably a whole pile of them in there, all gnarly and tangled-up in a mass.

[Look at that.  Even making your own rules has rules!]

It’ll probably help if you set up a notebook and grab something to write with when you’re doing this.

That way you’ll notice when you start repeating yourself and when you get stuck in yet another tangle of thoughts.

First, just notice the rules you are following.  Look for the default set of actions you take in certain situations.

When you’ve got a pile of them stacked up, start asking yourself why you do this and not that.  Try to find the underlying reasoning behind your actions.

When you start finding a common theme running through several sets of default actions that you take without thinking very much about it, you’ve probably discovered one of your hidden rules.

  1. Do you like how following this rule make you feel?
  2. Are the actions that you take as a result of following this rule congruent with the values and principles that you hold most dear?
  3. Do the results you get from following this rule make you feel good about yourself and the world?
  4. Do you like the places that following this rule are taking you?
  5. Are you satisfied with the life you live when you follow this rule?

If you answer “yes” to these questions about a rule, then the rule that you found is a keeper.

If the answer is “no” to each of these questions, dump the rule.  Look for alternative options.

If the answer is, “it depends,” then you have probably found that the rule you are following is layered and nuanced and you’ll need to dig deeper to ferret out all the whys and wherefores for each of the connected pragmatic moves.  It’s a sign that you haven’t reached down to your layer of ground rules yet.

Keep on running each new rule discovery through this process – dump, keep, dump, dump, keep.

Eventually you’ll start to see the shape of the rules that work for you.  You will begin to refine the collection of the ground rules that you want to govern your actions and your life.

“Explored” by Ahladini Alapati via Flickr [CC-NC 2.0]
The funny thing about all this is that as you focus on what works for you and what does not, the process will start to snowball.

You won’t even have to worry about making new rules.  They’ll just show up all on their own without fail.  (Remember my Grandma, the Rule Factory?  Rules are really easy to make up.)

“More Rules for the Teacher” via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
When these new rules arrive, you’ll be better able to decide whether the newbies might be an effective way for you to move.

Then it’s back to asking the questions and dump, dump, dump, keep, dump, and so on.  After a while it gets to be automatic.

When other people suggest rules to add to your pile, you can just run them through this process and decide for yourself whether the proposed rule would work for you and not against you.

Lori Deschene has an excellent blog about the rules she has developed for her own life walk that she first wrote published in 2009.

Click this button and you can enjoy her thoughts on the subject.  (I agree with them wholeheartedly.)



This YouTube video, “In Unorganized Baseball Games, Kids Play By Their Own Rules” was a “Sunday Closer” published by in 2017.  It’s a lovely reminder of one of the greatest benefits of playing by your own rules.

Here’s a poem:



Ask and it shall be given,

Seek and ye shall find.

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

Just manifest what’s in your mind.


Yeah, right.



When you ask Dad for the keys to the Universe,

It’s good if you already know how to drive.

You have to really mean it, really want it,

‘Cause the old guy just won’t take your shuck and jive.


The asking has to be wholehearted,

And the granting of your wish comes at a cost.

Before you ask, be sure you know the price tag.

Is the treasure gained worth the asset lost?


You cannot ask for something that’s not righteous,

For something that will harm some other one.

If you’ve given all your heart for a falseness,

Then the Real will eat you up just for fun.


Making ultimatums and Or-Elses,

Trying to dictate how and what will be,

You’ll be all misaligned and nothing you will find,

For you guarantee your hands will come up empty.


Your arrogance will boomerang back on you

As you watch your dreams evaporate and die.

Without humility, your wants will never be

And every path you take end in a lie.



If you really want to see your heart’s desire,

Be kind and stand upright and true.

Talk softly from the heart, and really mean it,

And maybe the Real will listen to you.

by Netta Kanoho


Header photo credit:  “Anne’s Boots Rock” by Mike Baird via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

40 thoughts on “SET UP YOUR OWN RULES

  1. In a way I think that rules keep us grounded and help us from a young age to respect what is right and what is wrong!

    Your fascination with rules is interesting and really does get you thinking and if you do actually give it some thought, there are rules all around us in every aspect of life. Great article.

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Dianne.  I do appreciate it.  

      Please do come again….

  2. Marlinda Davis says:

    Hey there! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on rules. I can agree that a lot of rules are subconscious bits of a person that most don’t examine or analyze. I liked your point about the Jesuit maxim that refers to raising a child for 7 years that will stay the same as a man.

    Studies indicate that the first 7 years of our lives is what forms the foundation for us as adults. Knowing this while raising my daughter, I really do my best to encourage her to try different things, to not give up because something is hard or if she hears no doesn’t mean that she’ll never get it. I want to help build a foundation that helps her explore instead of being trapped in a box.

    My parents and people complain that I’m not tough enough on my daughter but I truly don’t want to make her clam up inside herself like I was growing up.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing. I’ve learned a lot!


    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your story, Marlinda.  It sounds like you’re on the right track with your daughter, I think.  

      It took me years to understand that part of the deal with Mama and me was that we were a lot alike — strong-willed and cantankerous and prone to running around madly getting into everything.  Most of her rule-making was meant to keep me from killing myself.  

      The best thing about her was that she actually did like me and my escapades amused her just as much as they appalled the neighbors.  (Hee!)

      Please do come again….

  3. CravenATAT says:

    This is a great post on rules, but your section on “Finding the Rules that Fit” stood out to me the most. I love the analogy of the shoe salesman , as that relates to all rules we have in life. People (or experts) can make suggestions, but it is us that decides on the best path (or shoe) that fits our needs. Also, the 5 questions you mentioned to ask seem to be mostly yes’s for me, minus the “are you satisfied with the life you live when you follow this rule.” There are some rules that need to be in place, yet others (like you have mentioned) are up to us, and I think after reading this I need to alter my default choice on a few things and find rules that answer yes to all questions. 

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, CravenATAT.  I am glad the post got you thinking!

      Please do come again….

  4. I love your poem at the end of the article, it was lovely! The thing that blow most my mind was the quote

    “Give me a child for the first seven years and I will give you a man” 

    There is so much true on that. We have all been pre-programmed with how we should behave, think, talk, and believes. All against our own will (because at that moment we are children and can not do anything) this article is like a revelation

    Thanks to you I have opened my eyes!

    Keep writing articles like this one, I would appreciate it

    1. Thanks for your visit and your comments, Fredery.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again….

  5. Life is always beautiful when we feel it in our own way. Different people have different ambition and when they face some challenge and want to come out from that situation, they set up their rules and succeed.

    In a particular situation, one can not predict everything and gain some experience and set up their mind to follow their own rules.

    Thanks for sharing this nice post.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for your comments, mzakapon.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again…..

  6. Samson Oklobia says:

    Rules are definitely a fundamental part of human existence, and by adhering to them, you don’t just feel the send of uprightness, but even a sense of fulfillment comes with it as well. Rules are paramount for any system to work efficiently, but they are those who feel rules are a limitation to them.

    Creatives will tell you “rules are made so we can break them”, but even in that, the rules have to be obeyed before you can be knowledgable enough to break them for creative purposes.

    This is a awesome read and I appreciate your effort Netta.

    1. Thanks for your visit and your comments, Samson.  

      I do agree with you.  I’m an old-school creative:  Apprentices learn the rules.  Journeymen follow them until they are way good.  Masters break them and fly.  

      Breaking the rules before you even know what they’re for is like trying to dance before you know how to walk.  Very often it just looks stupid.

      Please do come again.

  7. I enjoyed the concept of refining the collections of ground rules with the list of five introspective questions so they can empower us. By digging deeper to find the hidden rules that shape our lives gives us a chance to redirect our ship in the sea of life.

    Finding rules that fit is great advice. Thanks for your insight.

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, John.  I’m glad you found this post helpful.

      Please do come again.

  8. Yekeiseaya Fugerson says:

    I was much like your grandma. I always found a rule to trump the former rule, so that the situation ALWAYS ruled in my favor. 

    I was a rule breaker or bender growing up. I look back and laugh at how much my parents, aunts, uncles, older cousins and siblings were astounded at how bold I was with my rule breaking. So much so, I never got in trouble because I ALWAYS told the truth as well. 

    The concept in my family is if you tell the truth about what you did you wouldn’t get into any trouble, but only if you didn’t do it again. Honesty is the best policy.

     Any repeat offenses were grounds for a butt whooping or punishment. Your age and your offense depended on the severity of the punishment. 

    I remember breaking a rule and telling my mom, but what I didn’t know was that my mom and dad had had a conversation about me doing the exact same thing at my dad’s house the day before. Needless to say, I got in big trouble by both my parents. That day was not fun at all. 

    Now I have kids of my own and I understand why we have rules. Everything must be done in order. If you do not have order then you have chaos. And I understand how my parents felt raising me. My sons push things to the limit.  

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your story, Yekeiseaya.  It made me laugh!  

      I do notice that wild children make up really pertinent rules for their own children.  And since we were all into breaking what we considered “stupid” rules as children, we do know when we’re being played.  Hee!  

      (That used to confuse the heck out of my own kids.  They’d ask each other, “How’d she know?”  I never told them….)

      Please do come again

  9. drinkteahub says:

    Hello, and thank you for such an enjoyable read. I don’t think adults realise that they are passing on rules to their children who will take a lifetime to work out that it might not suit them, or their circumstances, or the decade they live in. 

    I suppose we don’t know any other way to live and are terrified our children will come to some harm if they don’t follow our rules. 

    And I agree, it’s important to examine these things from time to time to see if we’re following an outdated rule. I love your poem at the end!

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  10. I start by saying that I really liked the poetry at the end. 

    Then about the 7 years in my culture, it is called “the 7 years from home”. If you have responsible and aware parents, the 7 years from home will define your whole life. The rules learned in the first seven years are essential. He was right with the two rules; from them all the others are derived. 

    There are many rules in the society without which the company could not function. Their non-observance brings great disturbance or disturbance to the others. In my opinion.

    1. Carmen, thanks for the visit and for sharing your story about the “7 years from home.”  

      I do agree that rules help a community and organizations function better.  It’s also important, I think, to figure out whether the rules are a good fit for you and helps you reach for what you want in your life.

      Please do come again.

  11. Christine says:

    Rules are important. Without them, the human world would be chaos. I believe that humans need rules to function properly as a society. While some rules are ridiculous, there are many that are essential for our daily activities, to move around in town, in traffic, amongst ourselves, etc. 

    I like your advice about how to make your own rules, the questions we have to ask ourselves. I do have my own set of rules, but this is a good way to look at them again. I can certainly use your tips!

    I also enjoyed reading the poem, it makes you reflect on things, especially the part about “no or else’s”

    Very good post, thanks for sharing!

    1. Christine, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I am pleased you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  12. Mugalu Mansoor says:

    There are many parameters that we set that are the hard and fast rules. Those are the rules set forth to protect our health, safety and well-being. These rules and their outcome should be very clearly defined and it should be understood by all involved that they are there for a very important reason and that they are ‘all or nothing. Thanks for this great article.

    1. Welcome back, Mansoor.  Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please come again.

  13. Anthony Hu says:

    Thank you for your post. It is useful for me. I started my online business for a while now and never have real rules for my business. My ideas are constantly changing. It is hard to manage my business.

    Your article gives me a reminder that I need to have rules for my business. You idea to use rules are important for business decision. I particularly like your description “Ideally, you should be able to use your rules to remind yourself of the choices you’ve already made so that every time you come to a crossroads the direction you’re going to take has already been predetermined” With predefined rules, I know precisely how to deal with ever changing business condition and make sound decisions.

    It is kind of you sharing this useful information with us.

    1. Anthony, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad the post was useful to you.

      Please do come again.

  14. Parameter says:

    Show me a house without set rules, I will show you earth where people walk on the sun; love your write up.

    Rules set things in order and help people organize their environment in the right order. If our world was made without order and rules like you said we will standstill watching without knowing where to turn.

    The message I can deduce is that we must learn to be orderly in everything we do.

    1. Parameter, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I love your metaphor about people walking on the sun.  An impossibility, I agree.  Thank you.

      Please do come again.

  15. Hi Netta, 

    Excellent read! This is so true.  Rule learning begins before we even know what rules are and they guide us through our life.  Whether this guidance is good or bad differs with each person.  

    I had a nana that sounds just like your mama.  Lol.  She definitely drew outside the lines.  

    Some people blindly follow the rules and never question them while others veer off or do a total 180.  These are the ones that are seen as out of the ordinary and are treated as such.  However, these are the same people that have made changes in many different societies/countries.  

    It is amazing how rules do and don’t work for people and how people do or don’t react or even realize them.  

    I greatly appreciate this post! Keep up the good work!

    1. Jennie, thanks for your visit and for sharing your nana story and your thoughts.  I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.

      Please come again.

  16. Twack Romero says:

    Once again I find myself being taken on a journey, that although I know I will enjoy, will come at a price. 

    It used to be thought that the ‘built-in’ rules that have been with us since the formative years were ‘hard-wired’. Luckily for us, a few like-minded rule-breakers decided they didn’t want to play by that set of rules so came up with a plan to prove all those stuffies wrong.

    For many years I struggled, by my own design I came to realise, with my expectations of other people. I would get frustrated in situations and couldn’t understand why I was becoming agitated when they didn’t act as I thought they should. Obvious now, looking back but at the time I couldn’t see it.

    I thought that everyone was meant to adhere to my set of rules, when they didn’t, I was the one getting bent out of shape. I think I came across the revelation that my rules were for me and not others by accident. 

    I was glad I did though as it meant I was able to ‘let it go’. I realised that everyone was living by their own rules. Upon reflection, who was I to judge others by the standards I expected, which were mine. They weren’t better or worse than theirs, just different. 

    We are all just that, different and now I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Twack.  

      You point out the paradox about rule-making and rule-breakers.  Very often, the breakers are also really good at making up rules their own selves.  

      I think you’re right that letting go of judgment about other people who walk in ways that are not ours is a good first step in realizing that we are the Final Authority only of our own selves.  That can be a hard one to get right.

      Please do come again.

  17. Hi Netta, 

    What an awesome post! Thanks for the great inspiration 🙂 I really like your views on rules. 

    I am ready to try and figure out what rules are not working for me and try to set some new ones. You are your own boss and you set the rules for *you*! I just have to work on sticking to my own rules!!

    1. Anna, thanks for the post and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      Please do come again.

  18. Hey!  

    I haven’t really spent much time analysing rules to be honest until I read your thoughts there. I guess I have been one of those ducks in the line just following along quite happily. 

    I think it’s brilliant that you are questioning the rules that you don’t agree with instead of just accepting them as they are and living an unhappier life. It makes sense and I will monitor the rules of my life more from now on.

    1. Robert, thanks for your visit and your thoughts.  I think you’ll find looking at all those rules (and dumping the ones that make no sense) will probably help you move through your days more freely.  

      Please come again.

  19. Hi Netta, congratulations on your site. I have no suggestions for you; you are a web veteran. I don’t think you needed it. 

    However, you can perceive your artistic sense for the topics covered and the care in choosing images and topics; congratulations. 

    This topic is fascinating, we can stay here and talk about it, for a long time and I agree with you. Congratulations again.

    1. Admin, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  20. Interesting take on the rules that we all follow or frown upon, and why we may have developed these attitudes. I inherited a lot of rules that didn’t fit as a child and was a complete disaster as an adult.

    It took some time to recognize that I was trying to hold myself to standards that weren’t important to me. Knowing thyself is a lifelong pursuit, but a worthy one. 

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Aly.  I agree.  Trying to figure out the Big Who-Am-I? does become a lifelong pursuit.  It’s surprising how fun it can be.

      Please do come again.

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