How To Choose Which Rules To Follow And Which Ones To Break

Earlier this summer, I was reading the back of a box of cake mix and it specifically warned me not to eat the raw batter because of the raw eggs in it.

I ate it anyway.

Why? Because I deemed it an acceptable (and worthwhile) risk to take.

And it was.

Some rules can (and should) be broken.

Breaking some of “the rules” is essential to living intentionally.

But how do we know which ones to break?

RISK AWR WC T7L LosAngeles Graffiti Art
Photo by A Syn, Creative Commons

It’s all about risk assessment. For most of us it’s easier to just follow the rules, to stick to the status quo.

But I believe deep in my gut we need to break some rules to live a life of purpose and meaning. Deciding which ones to follow and which ones to break is the basis of living an intentional life.

I can’t tell you which rules you should follow and which ones you should break, but I can give you some guidelines to help you decide:

1) Question everything you feel you “should” do.

If you feel pressured to do something (or to not do something) or if you feel you are “supposed to” do something, question it. Why do you feel you “should” do this thing? Where is the pressure coming from? Perform a risk assessment of the situation. What will happen if you do this thing you feel you “should” do? More importantly, what will happen if you don’t?

2) Consider the risks.

Often what we might “lose” when taking a risk is far less consequential than we think. When Drew and I considered a move halfway across the country for the sake of doing something different, we asked ourselves what we would really be risking by moving. The truth was, we wouldn’t be risking much that we still valued. We were planning on selling our house the same year anyway. We were making career changes anyway. And we knew we could always move back if it didn’t “work out.”

3) Ask yourself: In 10 years, which will I regret more: having done this or not having done this?

Playing it safe might keep us from risking failure, but it also can lead to regret. Even if we take a risk and fail, we’ll learn more about life and about ourselves from failing than we will ever learn from living a complacent life filled with fear.

4) When you find yourself following a ritual or participating in a tradition, challenge it.

Drew and I have challenged many of our rituals and traditions, from why we put up a Christmas tree to how we want to build our family to why we go to church. It’s amazing how many things we do because it’s “just what you do.” Blindly following the status quo keeps us from living intentional, meaningful, unique lives.

5) Many times, there is no right or wrong.

I’ve taken comfort in knowing the world is a lot more gray than it is black and white. For many of our decisions that involve risk, there is only good and better. So how do we make an important decision between two or more options? This is where we have to know who we are, what we want and don’t want and what we value most. This TED Talk amplifies this point.

It’s much easier to follow all of the rules than it is to decide which ones to break and which ones to follow. But if we want to live fulfilling lives, we need to be more intentional about our choices.

And sometimes, that means breaking the rules.

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