This post was co-authored with Marie-France Bolduc . Marie-France is an incredibly warm and compassionate ACT therapist and trainer based in Quebec. In a recent training session, her partner, Benjamin Schoendorff, described a lovely metaphor Marie-France has developed and I wanted to share it with you:
Our mind is a rule-making factory. It constantly tries to make sense of the world. It does this by developing rules that tell us what to do next; what something means; how we should feel; what we should think…
These rules can be helpful. They can save us time and energy.
For example, I have recently made a rule that I will walk 10,000 steps every day. It is a good rule that will help me to stay healthy. But what if I become overly rigid about that rule? What if I insist on walking 10,000 steps, even when I am sick? Then the rule becomes like a ruler – rigid and inflexible. I will also tend to beat myself up when I don’t follow it (like those teachers from my childhood, who used their rulers to wallop disobedient pupils!).
To give you another example of how this works in practice. I have a rule that, before I raise a concern, I need to have worked out how I contributed to the problem. This is another ‘good’ rule. It stops me from blaming people unfairly. But if I apply it rigidly, it can hold me back from being authentic. What if, try as I might, I can’t work out my part? Or, if actually no one caused the problem – it just happened? If I follow the rule rigidly, I am paralysed, unable to raise my concerns and sometimes as a result; my silence actually damages the relationship.
You might want to start to notice where rulers and ribbons turn up in your life.
What does it feel like when you turn a rule into a ruler? What is it like when you apply it more flexibly and gently like a ribbon?
The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.
George Bernard Shaw