If you Google “rules for life” you get 863 MILLION returns (in under 2/3 of a second). There are whole books written on the subject. You can find lists with as few as three rules and as many as 75 rules. Every now and then as I surf the Internet (and life), I come across something having to do with “rules for life” that catches my eye. This one – Seven Rules of Life – was a meme I saw, read and thought about. I was compelled to share a few thoughts.
Rule 1: Make peace with your past so it won’t disturb your future.
Another way of saying this is, “Don’t let your rearview mirror be bigger than your windshield.” Let’s face it, we ALL have something in our past we wish we could change. Setting aside the transcendental geophysical hyperbolic philosophical (you get my meaning) discussions about how going back to change one small thing might create HUGE and unpredictable changes in our future, reality is we can’t.
The past is the past and we should leave it in our past. We should LEARN from it, but not dwell on it. That’s sometimes easier said than done because we also all have that event in our past that haunts us in some way. If we think about it long enough we realize that it was a matter of place and time and if either were changed then the event wouldn’t have occurred – or at least not in the same way. It’s easy to think about it faster and faster in smaller circles until we give ourselves a migraine and our blood pressure gets to unhealthy levels.
Let it go. Make peace with it. Never forget but never stress. You absolutely can’t do a single thing to impact the past. What you CAN do is change how you react to it when you remember it and if you make a positive change then you CAN change your future in a positive manner. Leave the past in the past so your future is free of the unnecessary litter.
Rule 2: What other people think of you is none of your business.
As a general rule, what other people think, unless they see fit to share it with you, is none of your business. That said, those who think about us in any judgmental fashion are all too eager to share that judgment; to voice their criticism; to offer up an insult or other demeaning comment. When they do that we can allow ourselves any number of reactions. We can get angry. We can get hurt. We can get defensive. OR we can ignore them; dismiss them; not care what they have to say.
Unless the person offering up a criticism is someone whose opinion I actually value and am concerned about, my reaction to criticism is generally the last option – I listen politely and then dismiss what they had to say from my mind. It’s nice that they think about me and spend any part of their day considering me, my actions, my statements, my thoughts, my feelings… but ultimately, their outlook is FAR more valuable to them than it is to me, because frankly it’s not of any value to me at all. And if I don’t care then it isn’t my business. That simple.
Rule 3: The only person in charge of your happiness is you.
I have written several previous entries on this topic/rule. I’ve known several people – and still do – who hold everyone but themselves responsible for their happiness. They always blame someone else if anything goes wrong in their day or life. Most recently I witnessed a man (a 30-year old “adult”) completely ignore his boss at work for almost two weeks, and then he acted angry and surprised when he got fired “for doing nothing.” Well, yes, actually; that’s exactly why he got fired – for doing nothing. As an adult, he should have recognized and accepted his own responsibility for his actions AND the results which impacted his happiness. Instead, he blamed everyone else: the boss and coworkers.
The saddest part is this: if everyone else controls your happiness then you are 100% at risk of total sadness leading to depression every moment of every day. However, if YOU are 100% responsible for your happiness, the chances of you being sad and/or depressed are FAR lower and, instead of being controlled by the whim of someone else, under the control our YOUR outlook. In fact, your outlook can completely change how you perceive an event. Man gets fired from job and is angry because he blames others OR Man gets fired from job and celebrates because life has presented him a new opportunity to improve his circumstance. Which do you choose?
Rule 4: Don’t compare your life to others. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Why would we do this? I mean… we ALL do it in some way, shape or form. I’m older than many, but younger than a lot. I’m in better physical condition than many, but not in as good of condition as a lot. I’m married, not single. I’m a parent and grandparent. Others, if I compare myself to them, are younger, more fit, single, childless, carefree, more financially flexible… The list can go on.
But why would I compare myself to others? None of them are ME. The really cool part is that if I compare THEM to ME (instead of the other way around), then THEY should be really disappointed that they’re NOT me. After all, my life rocks! (But not if I spend my days pouting about how someone else’s life is better.)
Rule 5: Time heals almost everything. Give it time.
This is a truth and misleading at the same time. Consider that it says “almost everything” and recognize that directly means there are SOME things time can’t heal. What has to heal? Wounds; whether they are physical or emotional, the answer is wounds. Have you ever had a cut that needed stitches? It did indeed heal with the passage of time. There is no argument or doubt about that. As we get older, the amount of time needed to heal gets longer (that sucks), but our confidence in the fact that a wound (of any kind) WILL heal grows.
What’s the side effect of a healed wound? Usually a scar. Smaller wounds leave smaller scars and larger wounds leave larger scars. This also applies to emotional wounds and the bigger the wound, the longer the heal time.
The bottom line is that while time does heal almost everything, how BIG that thing is and how well you manage the hurt ultimately determines how much time it will take.
Rule 6: STOP thinking so much. It’s alright not to know all the answers.
When my youngest son hit the age of seven he started asking questions about everything under the sun. Some of the answers I knew; a lot of them I did not. I developed a strategy for answering the questions I didn’t know the answers to. What I did was give him a partial answer that would lead him to another question. I’d offer another partial answer and get another question. This would go on until he asked a question I felt either 1) no one could answer, or 2) the answer was too advanced for his age. Once we reached that point he got one of two answers: “I don’t know. You have to ask God,” or, “You’re too young for me to answer that right now. Ask me again when you’re twelve.” (Age used as an example.)
Of course, if he asked God and got an answer, he never shared it, and when he hit twelve he had always forgotten all those questions he’d never gotten answered in the first place… or he had discovered the answer for himself. My point is that, as parents, we tend to want to have all the answers for our children. It just won’t happen and we should accept that we are imperfect that way.
As a boss, supervisor, manager, leader or other figure in charge of anyone else day to day, we should also recognize that we won’t always have the answer to questions asked. However, if we DON’T know the answer then a perfectly acceptable replacement answer is, “I don’t know but I’ll find out and get back to you.”
Rule 7: SMILE. You don’t own all the problems in the world.
And if for no other reason in the world than that I don’t own all the problems, I can smile. Sometimes smiling is difficult but a lot of the time when we aren’t smiling it’s because we’re busy managing a difficult or challenge someone else created OR someone else should be facing. Because we love and care about our family members, we often try to manage their problems, or minimize their exposure to the challenges. They might be appreciative but not if THEIR problem is causing US grief or aggravation. Usually that’s when they feel bad.
Solve your own problems. Manage your own worry. SMILE – because YOURS is all you have to carry and everything else is optional.