Still ruling or making agreements already?

Leadership-Expertin Stefanie Voss. ©Annette Reidick2

Everybody knows the saying: Rules are made to be broken. But is setting up rules even wise, then? And what about self-imposed rules? Are they also meant to be broken?

Keynote speaker and leadership expert Stefanie Voss tells a story from her own personal life: “I tend to get too little sleep. So, some day I set myself a „golden rule“: a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. Initially, I was highly pleased with myself when I made it to bed reasonably early.”

But then, even a golden rule loses its power: “After a while however, quite often I didn’t go to sleep right away, even if I had gone to bed in good time. All kinds of thoughts ran through my head, I lay awake for hours or did some reading just to get tired enough to fall asleep. Bottom line: My well-intentioned rule just didn’t work out.”

So what is the result? We often feel guilty when we fail to comply with existing rules. Even rules we established ourselves may be the cause of frustration. To many people, the word “rules” is a very restrictive term. Rules seem to be very rigid and therefore quickly generate negative feelings.

Once Stefanie realized this pattern in her thinking, she applied a little trick. She explains: ”I have exchanged the word „rule“ for „agreement“. To me, agreement has a totally different connotation than rule. Agreements are negotiable. They can be modified here and there to fit the respective situation and they simply don’t seem to be as rigid.”

That way, she is experiencing an increased sense of personal responsibility. She can better adapt her wishes and needs to the current situation without the frustration of having broken a rule.

Rules unfortunately are clearly defined and therefore broken quite easily. Thus, they quickly cause a guilty conscience, discontentment and stress.

So nowadays, the experienced business coach recommends the following: “Instead of setting rigid rules, I recommend to find feasible agreements. Agreements can be frequently renegotiated if something happens and a correction is necessary.”

She is convinced, that playing with these words helps people in their efforts to improve. She states: “Drop the rules and draft agreements. You might experience a similar effect. Which of your personal rules particularly stress you out? These are the ones you should start with.”

  • Identify the self-imposed rules you break most often.
  • Come up with a new wording in the form of an agreement.
  •  If necessary, renegotiate your agreement, should the situation call for a modification.
  • Reflect on whether this change makes you more content and more accountable.

In her keynote presentations and leadership seminars, she often talks about methods of efficient self-leadership and comes back to her own experience with getting more sleep: “I pretty quickly nixed my Seven-Hours-Sleep-Rule and returned to going to bed when I felt like it. And even though I do not get my seven hours of sleep every night now, I ultimately feel much more comfortable without this rule. Now, I decide from day to day what works best for me just then. What has remained, however, is my agreement with myself to always take good care of myself.”

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