Psychology 101 for Change Agents, Session 6: What "Rules" Do You Live By?

Uncategorized Apr 07, 2021

Mapping Your Psychological Wiring Diagram: What Rules Do You Live By?

When it comes to your psychological system, chances are you have some key operating rules that are so hard-wired you're not even fully aware of them.

An important step in understanding and evolving your psychology as a change agent is to take a closer look at your “operating rules.”  That's the focus of this sixth session in this self-guided coaching curriculum. 

Most of us accumulate a detailed set of psychological "standard operating procedures" over the course of our lives.   We need these mental shortcuts not just to keep ourselves safe and meet our basic needs, but also to save time and energy.  In previous sessions we've talked about the distinction between System 1, the fight or flight part of our brains, and System 2, our higher faculties of reasoning and logic.  When we use System 2 to make decisions it takes a huge amount of caloric energy. Having a set of standard operating rules running in the background lets us run on autopilot most of the time without switching on System 2.  But just because these rules are running in the background doesn’t mean that we should forget about them.   These automatic thoughts are a huge factor in our daily happiness because they include detailed instructions for “doing” all of our various feelings.


Mapping Your Rules is the First Step to Re-Writing Them

The worksheet that accompanies this session is an invitation to explore the rules you have for experiencing the feelings you value most, as well as the rules you have for those feelings you value the least. 

Be prepared that some of what you surface may be challenging

Sometimes we have rules for the positive feelings that we highly value that are incredibly specific, and maybe also hard to satisfy as often as we'd like.   For example, how often are you going to feel the love if this is your rule:  "In order for me to feel truly loved and appreciated by my teenage kids, I need for all of them to jump up and give me a hug and a smile first thing every time I walk through the door..."   

On the flip side,  sometimes your rules for experiencing negative feelings might be surprisingly easy to satisfy.   How about this: "I will feel anxiety anytime I have unfinished work hanging over me at the end of the day..."   

The bottomline: if you're experiencing the feelings you want to feel very much, or  if you find yourself frequently stuck experiencing feelings you don’t want, it’s worth taking a close look at the rules at the heart of your psychological operating system.

Why Do We Have Some Rules That Don't Serve Us Very Well?

You may well be asking yourself at this point: why do we set up cognitive rules that make it so hard for us to experience the feelings we actually want more of in our lives?  The answer lies in the overwhelming power of our fundamental drives—or what you could also call our human needs or basic instincts. Whatever you choose to call them, we all are oriented to satisfy these needs on a routine basis NO MATTER WHAT.   One of the complications is that these needs may not always be in harmony. Further, your vehicles for satisfying these needs may sometimes conflict with each other.  More on this here.   But the needs themselves are so powerfully felt that if you ever have an experience that causes you to get worried that you will not be able to meet a certain need you will set up a cognitive subroutine to ensure that you do, no matter what.   That subroutine will be permanently written to your hard drive, hardcoded, and running in the background continuously from that point forward, damn the consequences and damn the conflicts. 

How well do you think your computer’s operating system would function if you tried to keep it running continuously for years on end without ever rebooting?

Becoming conscious of your rules is the first step towards changing the ones that don’t serve you... Download the worksheet and get started!  In upcoming sessions we’ll work on re-writing these rules so that they better serve our impact and our joy.


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These are the same materials we use with the social entrepreneurs in our accelerator program and the funders we coach one on one.  The world has never been more in need of a new, greatest generation of change agents and that's why we're opening up free access to these materials to anyone who's ready to make use of them!