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Loosen up! Learn how to ditch your own self-imposed rules

mental healthanxietycontrol • 3 min read • Nov 17, 2023 12:15:00 AM • Written by: Kat Smith

It’s not uncommon to have your own rules for how to live your life and behave in everyday situations. After all, it’s important to consider how we regulate our own behaviors and habits to better relate to other people and manage our own health and wellbeing. However, it’s easy to take rulemaking too far, and doing so can have far reaching negative impacts in your life.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at how to identify a tendency for rigid rule following and how to add some flexibility to your life, so you can ease your stress and anxiety and better relate to those around you.

Are you a rigid rule follower?

There are some mental health conditions that are associated with rigidity in rule following, such as obsessive compulsive disorder and certain eating disorders. However, rigidly adhering to rules doesn’t necessarily mean you have one of these conditions.

You may not even realize just how much you’re sticking to a set of self-established rules. Therefore, it’s worth reflecting and recognizing your own thought patterns. For example, if you find yourself thinking in absolutes—e.g., “I must”, “I never”, or “I have to”—you may be less flexible and willing to relax when it comes to your personal preferences. You may also notice some lighthearted ribbing from friends and family members, such as joking about how you’re a perfectionist or a control freak. While these titles may be applied in a joking way, they may reflect some real issues with your rigidity.

Why is imposing rules not always a good thing?

Preferring a set structure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Strong organizational skills and adherence to various rules and guidelines may help you succeed and thrive at work and in managing your home. However, when your preference for following your own rules is too strict and rigid, you may start to experience issues with your relationships and notice an uptick in your stress levels.

When you refuse to bend the rules and go with the flow, you may experience:

  • Frustration from friends and loved ones.
  • Resentment towards others who do not follow your self-imposed rules.
  • Lack of trust in others to help offload tasks from your to-do list.
  • Inability to relax.
  • Difficulty managing change and unexpected challenges.
  • Difficulty coping with stress.

Another potential consequence of imposing heavy restrictions on your own behavior is fixation on certain activities that leads to a loss of impulse control. For example, if you restrict your caloric intake and cut out specific foods from your diet and label those foods as “unhealthy” and “off-limits”, you may find yourself craving those foods more often. Eventually, you may overindulge in those foods in a moment of weakness, rather than simply allowing yourself to enjoy those foods in moderation on a regular basis.

How can you ease up on the rules?

Loosening up and learning to be flexible can help reduce your anxiety and give you more freedom to enjoy your life and adapt to inevitable changes that may arise. Here are some strategies you can use to train yourself to let up on your own rules.

  • Keep track of your rule-following impulses – Simply recognizing your thought patterns to enforce certain rules can help you break those patterns. When you have an impulse to comply with a rule, defuse the thought by raising awareness of it and pausing to consider if the rule really needs to be followed.
  • Train yourself to break the rules – Retraining your brain doesn’t happen overnight, and it helps to start small and remind yourself that it’s okay to do the opposite of what you’re telling yourself to do. For example, try practicing with inconsequential activities like telling yourself not to touch your head as you place your hand on your head. Over time, it will become more natural to resist your urge to rigidly follow every rule your mind comes up with.
  • Practice mindfulness techniques – Breaking your own rules may make you feel anxious and uneasy at first, so adopting mindfulness techniques like breathing exercises can help you de-stress and recenter yourself.

It’s not always easy to identify our own negative thinking patterns and cope with them without a little outside help. That’s where counseling with a licensed therapist can help. With Walmart Health Virtual Care, you can connect with a therapist quickly and easily, from the comfort of your own home.

Reach the World. Giving Made Easy with Impact.

Kat Smith