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Feeling Boxed In? Time to Break Your Own Rules

shutterstock_3559155 no entry sign When I was in training as a creativity coach I was also working on a jewelry show. I had been a jeweler for many years and I liked offering a spring show of all new work. The only problem was that at that point I had no ideas. So when I say I was working on a jewelry show, what I really mean was I was giving myself a bad time for not working on it.

I began to realize how much I limited my creativity. As soon as I would get an idea, I would shoot it down. It started to dawn on me how many rules I had for myself ― rules that were keeping me from starting to work.

I sat down one day and started a list of rules that I had absorbed from my family, my teachers, my culture. I paid particular attention to my rules around my creative work. Here are a few:

  1. Don’t waste materials.
  2. Only make things that people will want to buy.
  3. Save the very precious items for a “really good” project, if using them at all.

Looking at my list, it became quite clear to me why I wasn’t starting: I had boxed myself in. I couldn’t make a move that wouldn’t go against (or have a strong potential to go against) at least one of the restrictions I put on my creative work. Creating, like living, requires some experimentation and that means being willing to risk doing something that bombs.

Nearly all of us have internal rules we follow. I don’t just mean the ones laid down as laws in our society ― I mean “made up” rules we’ve picked up from those around us or created for ourselves after getting hurt (“I won’t ever do THAT again!”). Our rules often come from fears and are held in place by fear.

Here are some other rules we commonly try to abide by in our lives:

  1. Don’t look like an idiot in front of other people.
  2. If you can’t do it perfectly, don’t do it at all.
  3. You can’t call yourself an expert in anything unless you have a certificate or diploma for it.
  4. Don’t make other people uncomfortable.

Attempting to stay in line with all our rules can keep us from starting a project ― as it did for me ― or it can keep us from seeing options. Usually when we have the sense that we don’t have any choices in a situation, it’s because we’ve semi-consciously ruled out all the options before they even make it to full awareness.

Promise Necklace

Promise Necklace ~ part of the collection I created after breaking some of my own rules.

Once I had my list of rules, I re-evaluated each one and gave myself permission to break or ignore some. I still keep to wearing my seat belt while riding in the car, but I’ve completely broken my “don’t write in books” rule. It’s been tremendously liberating! And you know what else? I started a whole new collection of jewelry that spring that felt like the most original work I had ever done.

You can play, too. I think you’ll be amazed (1) how many rules you have and (2) how much energy it frees up when you are able to let go of some of those rules. Even just having the awareness of the way you restrict yourself in your life, your relationships, your work, the way you express (or not) your emotions, and more can help you to make a conscious choice about how you react, instead of being automatically lead by these rules.

What are the rules you live by?

  1.  _________________
  2.  _________________
  3.  _________________
  4.  _________________
  5.  _________________

Reflecting on each one, is this a restriction you want to continue following?

If not, give yourself permission to let it go. I found it easier to start by deliberately breaking little rules like the one about not writing in books. Once you discover that these rules are made up, it gives you more confidence in breaking them.


Dreams that point out we are limiting ourselves:
Your Higher Self communicates to you each night through your dreams. Dream symbols that show you are limiting yourself or holding back in some way are:

* boxes (from being “boxed in”)
* the number 4 (similar to a box, like four walls)


“Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”
― Rosamund Stone Zander, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

Wishing you freedom, choices, and love,
Susan