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The subconscious rule book in your head

Posted May 20 2009 12:00pm

It’s a while since I wrote about stopping smoking on this blog and I thought it might be interesting to write about a phemomenon that I continue to notice when I am working with people on my Become a Non-Smoker Programme.

It is a funny thing but I realise, over and over again, that many of us have a book of rules inside our heads. There are things that we think we should do and things that we think we should not do; things we have been told that we should not do by other people in authority (parents, teachers, your boss, etc) and things that violate our own ethical or moral code. Most of us have a whole lot of rules that we carry around with us in our little rule book. And we don’t even know half of what is written in that book until something happens that challenges the rules in some way.

When I am working with someone to help them to acquire the skills and habits to become happy, relaxed non-smokers, permanently, I encourage them to bring some of the clauses and sub-clauses of their personal subconscious rule book into conscious awareness.

It is fascinating for people to discover that, in fact, they may have been smoking all these years as a result of obeying a subconscious rule that says ‘You must do what your friends do’; or ‘You must not express your emotions;’ or even, ‘You must stop smoking.’ It may seem counter-intuitive but if you have a subconscious rule that says ‘You must not smoke,’ then each time you find youself having a sneaky cigarette, you’re going to feel really rubbish about yourself. You are going to feel a total failure. You are going to be getting angry with yourself or perhaps looking for someone else to blame for your smoking. You are so disgusted with yourself that you spend the day feeling irritable and angry and… guess what? You are not allowed to be angry and irritable and so, before you realise it, you’re having another cigarette because you’re telling yourself that it will help you to feel calmer… And so on.. and so on…

And then a rule that I come across lots of the time is the rule of ‘Noone tells me what to do.’ It’s the No Rules For Me Rule. Lots of people out there are smoking (or drinking or overeating) because of their subconscious rule that says: “Noone, not anyone, nowhere, no way, tells me what to do.”

When they discover that, in fact, they really want to stop smoking, for themselves and so this Breaking All the Rules Rule is not really working for them, that’s incredibly liberating.

The essential point about all of this is that I am utterly convinced that the best way to make a positive change in your life is from a place of feeling completely good about yourself. When you like yourself and think that, actually, you are a pretty OK person, it’s very easy to choose positive healthy changes. When you are torturing yourself with old, outdated, possibly unrealistic rules from your rule book, you are probably being very, very hard on yourself.

Now I am not saying that it’s time to chuck out all the unhelpful rules from your rule book. But next time you catch yourself telling yourself that you can’t do something, you may want to ask yourself the following question: ‘Says who?’

I can’t stop smoking. Says who?

I can’t stop eating junk food. Says who?

I won’t be able to get that new job. Says who?

I can only look and feel good when I have lost three stone. Says who?

If it is just you in that rule book inside your mind that is saying that, is it time to throw out that particular page right now? If it was your Auntie Mavis when you were seven or your mum or your teacher at school who made up that rule for you and you have dutifully transcribed that helpful little gem into your subconscious rule book of what you are or are not allowed to expect, deserve, achieve then isn’t it time to recognise that particular little pearl of wisdom for exactly what it is: a lot of useless nonsense.

I can still remember thet ‘lightbulb’ moment in my very early 20s when I realised that I did not have to look like Cindy Crawford on the cover of Marie Claire magazine in order to feel good about myself.

Ha, ha. If you have met me you will realise what a very good thing it is that I discovered that. Because I could not look any less like Cindy Crawford if I tried.

So I threw out that particular rule and I can tell you that it has helped me to avoid years of dissatisfaction and disappointment at myself.  8-)

So what rule will you throw out today?

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