“Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you.” HENRY WARD BEECHER

As I write these words, I’m looking out over the deep blue Pacific from my room at the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. I’ve just observed something that won’t happen in North America again until the year 2017: a total eclipse of the sun. Becky and I got up this morning at 5:30 a.m. so that we, along with thousands of other visitors, could witness this rare astronomical event. As crowds of people gathered at the viewing site, I began to entertain myself by watching the diversity of people who had come to share this occasion: everyone from top businessmen to vacationing families, from scientists lugging dozens of telescopes to hikers who’d pitched their tents in the lava pits overnight, and little children who knew this was an exciting event only because their parents had told them so. Here were hordes of people who had flown in from all over the world, at a cost of thousands of dollars, just for the chance to see something that would take about four minutes! What were we doing here? We wanted to stand in a shadow! We’re an interesting species, aren’t we?

By 6:28 a.m., the drama had begun to unfold. There was anxiety in the air, not just the anticipation of seeing the eclipse, but the fear of disappointment. For on this unique morning, the clouds had begun to gather, and the sky was becoming overcast. It was interesting to see how people were dealing with the possibility that their expectations would not be met. What they had come to see was not merely a brief flitting of the moon over the sun, but a four-minute total eclipse—when the shadow of the moon would completely block the sun’s rays and envelop us in darkness. They even had a name for it: totality!

By 7:10 a.m., the clouds had increased and were getting larger by the minute. Suddenly, the sun broke through a hole in the clouds, and for a moment we could all see a partial eclipse. The crowd greeted it with excited applause, but soon the clouds rolled back in, thicker and thicker, completely obscuring our view. Nearing the moment of totality—utter darkness—it became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to watch the moon overtake the sun.

Suddenly, thousands of people began to run over to a big-screen television set that one of the many TV crews had erected. There we sat, watching the eclipse on national television, just like everyone else in the world! In those moments I had a chance to observe an unlimited range of human emotion. Each person responded according to their rules: their beliefs about what had to happen in order for them to feel good about this experience.

One man behind me started cursing, saying, “I spent $4,000 and traveled all this way, just so I could watch this for four minutes on television?” A woman only a few feet away kept saying, “I can’t believe we missed it!” while her bright little daughter enthusiastically reminded her, “But, Mom, it’s happening right now!” Another woman sitting just to my right said, “Isn’t this incredible? I feel so lucky to be here!”

Then a dramatic thing happened. As we observed on TV the last sliver of sunlight disappear behind the moon, in that instant we were engulfed in darkness. It was completely unlike nightfall, when the sky darkens gradually. This was immediate and total darkness! Initially there was a roar through the crowd, but then a hush fell upon us. The birds flew into the trees and became silent. It was a truly amazing moment. Then something hysterical happened. As people sat in the dark, staring at the eclipse on the television screen, some of those who had brought their cameras and were determined to get their outcome began taking pictures of the screen. In a moment, we were flooded with light again—not because of the sun—but because of all the flash bulbs!

Almost as soon as it had begun, though, totality was over. The most dramatic moment of the whole event for me was the instant that a thin sliver of the sun slipped out from behind the moon, instantly bringing full daylight with it. It occurred to me then that it doesn’t take very much light to wipe out the darkness.

Within moments of the return of sunlight, a large number of people got up and began to leave. I was puzzled. After all, the eclipse was still happening. Most of them were muttering complaints about how they’d “come all this way and missed out on the experience of a lifetime.” A few enraptured souls, however, lingered to watch every minute, feeling great excitement and joy. The most ironic thing of all was that within fifteen to twenty minutes, the trade winds had cleared all the clouds from the sky.

It was now blue and clear, and the eclipse was revealed for everyone to see. But few people had remained; most had already returned to their rooms disgruntled. They continued to give themselves the sensations of pain because their expectations had not been met.

As I usually do, I started interviewing people. I wanted to find out what their experience of the eclipse had been. Many people talked about how it was the most incredible, spiritual experience of their lives. One pregnant woman rubbed her swollen tummy and shared with me that the eclipse somehow had created a feeling of stronger connection with her unborn child, and that this was just the right place on earth for her to be. What a contrast of beliefs and rules I noticed today!

What struck me as most humorous, though, was that people would get so excited and emotional about something like this, which was merely a four-minute shadow. If you really think about it, it’s no more of a miracle than the sun coming up each morning! Can you imagine if every morning people from all over the world got up early so they could watch the sun come up? What it national and international news ardently covered every phase of the event with in-depth reports, passionately tracking the sun’s rise into the sky, and everybody spent their mornings talking about what a miracle it is? Can you imagine the kind of days we’d have? What if CNN opened every broadcast with, “Good morning. Once again, the miracle has happened—the sun has risen!”? Why don’t we respond this way? Could we? You bet we could. But the problem is that we’ve become habituated. We’re so accustomed to the miracles happening around us every day that we don’t even see them as miracles anymore.

For most of us, our rules for what’s valuable dictate that we covet things that are scarce, instead of appreciating the miracles that abound. What determined the differences in these people’s responses, from one man who got so upset he destroyed his camera on the spot, to those who not only experienced joy today, but would experience it every time they told others about the eclipse in the coming weeks, months, and years?

Our experience of this reality had nothing to do with reality, but was interpreted through the controlling force of our beliefs: specifically, the rules we had about what had to happen in order for us to feel good. I call these specific beliefs that determine when we get pain and when we get pleasure rules. Failure to understand their power can destroy any possibility for lifelong happiness, and a full understanding and utilization of them can transform your life as much as anything we’ve covered in this entire book.

Let met ask you a question before we go any further. What has to happen in order for you to feel good? Do you have to have someone hug you, kiss you, make love to you, tell you how much they respect and appreciate you? Must you make a million dollars? Do you have to hit below-par golf? Do you have to be acknowledged by your boss? Do you have to achieve all of your goals? Do you have to drive the right car, go to the right parties, be known by the right people? Do you have to be spiritually evolved or wait until you achieve total enlightenment? Do you have to run five miles a day? What really has to happen in order for you to feel good?

The truth is that nothing has to happen in order for you to feel good. You don’t need an eclipse to feel good. You could feel good right now for absolutely no reason whatsoever! Think about it. If you make a million dollars, the million dollars doesn’t give you any pleasure. It’s your rule that says, “When I hit this mark, then I’ll give myself permission to feel good.” In that moment, when you decide to feel good, you send a message to your brain to change your responses in the muscles of your face, chest, and body, to change your breathing, and to change the biochemistry within your nervous system that causes you to feel the sensations you call pleasure.

Who do you think had the worst time the day of the eclipse? Those with the most intense rules about what had to happen before they could feel good! There’s no doubt that the scientists, and the tourists who saw themselves as scientists, probably had the most pain. Many of them had huge agendas they were trying to complete in those four minutes before they could feel good about it.

Don’t misunderstand; there’s nothing wrong with being committed to accomplishing and doing everything you can. But years ago, I made a distinction that changed the quality of my life forever: as long as we structure our lives in a way where our happiness is dependent upon something we cannot control, then we will experience pain. Since I wasn’t willing to live with the fear that pain could shake me anymore, and I considered myself to be intelligent, I redesigned my rules so that when I feel pain and when I feel pleasure is whenever I feel it’s appropriate based on my capacity to direct my own mind, body, and emotions. Specifically, Becky and I enjoyed the eclipse immensely. We were in Hawaii for other reasons anyway (to conduct my three-week Certification program), so coming here a few days early to watch the eclipse was a bonus for us.

But the real reason we enjoyed ourselves was not that we had low expectations; we were looking forward to it. The key to our happiness could be found in one key rule we shared: we decided that our rule for the day was that we were going to enjoy this event no matter what happened. It wasn’t that we didn’t have expectations; it was that we decided that no matter what happened, we’d find a way to enjoy it.

Now, if you adopted and consistently applied this rule to your own life, can you see how that would change virtually everything you experience? When I tell people about this rule, some of them respond, “Yeah, but you’re just lowering your standards.” Nothing could be further from the truth! To adopt this rule is to raise your standards. It means you’ll hold yourself to a higher standard of enjoying yourself despite the conditions of the moment. It means you’ve committed to being intelligent enough, flexible enough, and creative enough to direct your focus and evaluations in a way that allows you to experience the true richness of life—maybe that’s the ultimate rule.

In the last chapter, you began to design for yourself a hierarchy of values to refine and define the direction of your life. You need to understand that whether or not you feel like you’re achieving your values is totally dependent upon your rules—your beliefs about what has to happen for you to feel successful or happy or experiencing love.

You can decide to make happiness a priority, but if your rule for happiness is that everything must go just as you planned, I guarantee you’re not going to experience this value on a consistent basis. Life is a variable event, so our rules must be organized in ways that allow us to adapt, grow, and enjoy. It’s critical for us to understand these unconscious beliefs that control when we give ourselves pain and when we give ourselves pleasure.


We all have different rules and standards that govern not only the way we feel about the things that happen in our lives, but how we’ll behave and respond to a given situation. Ultimately what we do and who we become is dependent upon the direction that our values have taken us. But equally, or possibly even more importantly, what will determine our emotions and behaviors is our beliefs about what is good and what is bad, what we should do and what we must do. These precise standards and criteria are what I’ve labeled rules.

Rules are the trigger for any pain or pleasure you feel in your nervous system at any moment. It’s as if we have a miniature court system set up within our brains. Our personal rules are the ultimate judge and jury. They determine whether or not a certain value is met, whether we’ll feel good or bad, whether we’ll give ourselves pain or pleasure. If I were to ask you, for example, “Do you have a great body?,” how would you respond? It would depend on whether you think you meet a certain set of criteria that you believe constitutes having a great body.

Here’s another question: “Are you a great lover?” Your answer will be based upon your rules of what’s required to be a great lover, the standards to which you hold yourself. If you told me, “Yes, I’m a great lover,” I’d discover your rules by asking the key question, “How do you know you’re a great lover? What has to happen in order for you to feel you’re a great lover?”

You might say something like, “I know I’m a great lover because when I make love with a person, they usually say that it feels great.” Others might say, “I know I’m a great lover because my lover tells me so.”

Or “I know I’m a great lover because of the responses I get from my partner.” Others might say, “I know I’m a great lover because I feel good when I’m making love.” (Doesn’t their partner’s response matter at all? Hmmm.) Or your answer might just be, “Ask around!” On the other hand, some people don’t feel that they’re great lovers.

Is this because they aren’t great lovers? Or is it because their rules are inappropriate? This is an important question to answer. In many cases, people won’t feel that they’re a great lover because their partner doesn’t tell them that they’re a great lover. Their partner may respond passionately, but because they don’t meet the specific rule of this individual, the person is certain they’re not a great lover.

This predicament of not feeling the emotions we deserve is not limited to relationships or lovemaking. Most of us have rules that are just as inappropriate for defining success, making a difference, security, intelligence, or anything else. Everything in our lives, from work to play, is presided over by this judge-and-jury system.

The point here is simple: our rules are controlling our responses every moment we’re alive. And, of course, as you’ve already guessed, they have been set up in a totally arbitrary fashion. Like so many other elements of the Master System that directs our lives, our rules have resulted from a dizzying collage of influences to which we’ve been exposed. The same punishment and reward system that shapes our values shapes our rules. In fact, as we develop new values, we also develop beliefs about what it will take to have those values met, so rules are added continuously. And, with the addition of more rules, we often tend to distort, generalize, and delete our past rules. We develop rules in conflict. For some people, rules are formed out of their desire to rebel against rules they grew up with. Are the rules that guide your life today still appropriate for who you’ve become? Or have you clung to rules that helped you in the past, but hurt you in the present? Have you clung to any inappropriate rules from your childhood?

“Any fool can make a rule—And every fool will mind it.” HENRY DAVID THOREAU

Rules are a shortcut for our brains. They help us to have a sense of certainty about the consequences of our actions; thus, they enable us to make lightning-quick decisions as to what things mean and what we should do about them. When someone smiles at you, if you had to engage in a long, tedious.

set of calculations in order to figure out what that means, your life would be frustrating. But instead you have a rule that says if a person smiles at you, then it means they’re happy, or they’re friendly, or maybe they like you. If someone frowns at you, then it triggers another set of rules for what things mean and what you should do about it. For some people, if someone frowns at them, then their rule is that the person is in a bad state and should be avoided. Other people, however, might have a rule that says, “If someone’s in a bad state, then I need to change their state.”


I remember reading an intricate story in Gregory Bateson’s book 5teps to an Ecology of Mind. It was a transcript of a conversation he’d had with his daughter years ago, and I’ll paraphrase it for you here. One day she approached him and asked an interesting question: “Daddy, how come things get muddled so easily?”

He asked her, “What do you mean by ‘muddled,’ honey?”

She said, “You know. Daddy. When things aren’t perfect. Look at my desk right now. Stuff is all over the place. It’s muddled. And just last night I worked so hard to make it perfect. But things don’t stay perfect. They get muddled so easily!”

Bateson asked his daughter, “Show me what it’s like when things are perfect.” She responded by moving everything on her shelf into individually assigned positions and said, “There, Daddy, now it’s perfect. But it won’t stay that way.”

Bateson asked her, “What if I move your paint box over here twelve inches? Then what happens?” She said, “No, Daddy, now it’s muddled. Anyway, it would have to be straight, not all crooked the way you put it down.”

Then he asked her, “What if I moved your pencil from this spot to the next one?”

“Now you’re making it muddled again,” she responded.

“What if this book were left partially open?” he continued.

“That’s muddled, too!” she replied.

Bateson turned to his daughter and said, “Honey, it’s not that things get muddled so easily. It’s that you have more ways for things to get muddled. You have only one way for things to be perfect.”

Most of us have created numerous ways to feel bad, and only a few ways to truly feel good. I never fail to be amazed at the overwhelming number of people whose rules wire them for pain. It’s as if they have a vast and intricate network of neural pathways leading to the very states they’re trying to avoid, and yet they have only a handful of neural pathways that they’ve connected to pleasure.

A classic example of this is a man who attended one of my Date With Destiny seminars. He was a wellknown Fortune 500 executive, beloved by his community for his contributions, a father of five who was very close to his children and wife, and a man who was physically fit—a marathon runner. I asked him, “Are you successful?” To the astonishment of all present, he quite seriously answered, “No.” I asked him, “What has to happen in order for you to feel successful?” (Remember, this is the key question you’ll always ask to discover your rules or anyone else’s.)

What followed was a litany of rigid rules and requirements that he felt he must meet in order to be successful in his life. He had to earn $3 million a year in salary (he was currently earning only $1.5 million in straight salary, but an additional $2 million in bonuses—this didn’t count, though), he had to have 8 percent body fat (he was at 9 percent), and he had to never get frustrated with his kids (remember that he had five of them, all going in different directions in life). What do you think are this man’s chances of feeling successful, when he has to meet all of these intense and arguably unreasonable criteria simultaneously? Will he ever feel successful?

By contrast, there was another gentleman who we had all noticed was practically bouncing off the walls because he had so much energy. He seemed to be enjoying the seminar and life to the utmost. I turned to him and asked the same question: “Are you successful?” He beamed back at me and said, “Absolutely!” So I asked him, “What has to happen in order for you to feel successful?” With a huge grin he explained, “It’s so easy. All I have to do is get up, look down, and see that I am above ground!”

The crowd roared. He continued, “Every day above ground is a great day!” This rule has become a favorite of the Date With Destiny staff, and now at every program we display it to remind each of us how successful we are the moment we pull back the covers each morning.

Like the CEO who wasn’t meeting his own rules, you could be winning and feel like you’re losing because the scorecard you’re using is unfair. Not only is it unfair to you, it’s also unfair to your spouse and children, the people you work with every day, and all the others whose lives you touch. If you’ve set up a system of rules that causes you to feel frustrated, angry, hurt, or unsuccessful—or you have no clear rules for knowing when you’re happy, successful, and so on—those emotions affect the way you treat the people around you as well as how they feel when they’re near you. Also, whether you are aware of it or not, often you are judging other people through a set of rules that you may never have expressed—but we all expect others to comply with our rules, don’t we? If you’re being hard on yourself, you’re likely to be hard on others as well.

Why would anyone impose such strict regulations on themselves and the people they love most? A lot of it has to do with cultural conditioning. Many of us are afraid that if we don’t have very intense rules, then we won’t be driven to succeed, we won’t be motivated to work hard and achieve. The truth is that you don’t have to have ridiculously difficult rules to keep your drive! If a person makes their rules too intense, too painful, pretty soon they’ll begin to realize that no matter what they do, they can’t win, and they begin to experience learned helplessness. We certainly want to use the power of goals, the allure of a compelling future, to pull ourselves forward, but we must make sure that at the bottom of it all we have rules to allow us to be happy anytime we want.


We want to develop rules that move us to take action, that cause us to feel joy, that cause us to follow through—not rules that stop us short. I’ve found that there are an amazing number of men and women who set up rules for relationships that make it absolutely impossible for them to succeed in this area of their lives. For example, some people’s rule for love is, “If you love me, then you’ll do whatever I want you to do.” Or “If you love me, then I can whine and complain and nag, and you should just accept it.” Are these appropriate rules? Hardly! They’d be unfair to anyone you were sharing a relationship with.

One woman who attended Date With Destiny told me that she really wanted to have a close relationship with a man, but just hadn’t seemed able to maintain a relationship with one past the initial “thrill of the chase” phase. As I began to ask her, “What has to happen for you to be attracted to a man?” her rules helped us both instantly understand what her challenge was. For her to feel attracted to a man, he had to pursue her constantly, even though she continued to reject him. If he kept working hard, trying to break down the barrier, that made her feel incredibly attracted to him; to her this meant he was a very powerful man. But what’s interesting was her second rule. If he kept on for more than a month, she lost her respect and therefore her attraction to him. So guess what normally would happen? A few men would take her rejection and keep on pursuing her, but of course most would give up after a short period of time. Thus she would never have a relationship with them. Then, the few who persisted would secretly have her favor for a while, but after an arbitrary period of about a month, she’d completely lose interest. She found herself unable to stay attracted to any man for more than a month because no man was able to anticipate her complex timetable.

What rules do you have that are equally unwinnable? For some people, in order to feel like they’re in control in any context, they have to know what’s going to happen in advance of its occurrence. For others, in order to feel like they’re confident in some area, they have to have experience in doing it. If this were my rule for confidence, I couldn’t accomplish most of what I’ve done in my life! Most of my success has come from my ability to get myself to feel certain I could achieve something, even though I had no references for it. My rule for confidence is, “If I decide to be confident, then I’ll feel that way toward anything, and my confidence will help me succeed.”

Competence is another interesting rule. Some people’s rule for competence is, “If I’ve done something perfectly over a period of years, then I’m competent.” Other people’s rule is, “If I’ve done it effectively once, then I’m competent.” And for others, competence is, “If I’ve done anything like it, then I know I can master this as well, and therefore I’m competent.” Do you see the impact these kinds of rules would have on your confidence, your happiness, your sense of control, the quality of your actions, and your life?


In the last chapter, we devoted a great deal of time to setting up values. But as I’ve already stated, if you don’t make the rules achievable, you’ll never feel like those values are being met. When I first started to develop my ideas on designing destiny, I had only the concept of values and not rules, so whether or not a person felt like they were on track was completely arbitrary. The day I discovered rules, I began to understand the source of pain and pleasure in our experience. I understood that rules are the triggering device of human emotion, and began to evaluate how I could use rules more effectively.

As I’ve mentioned before, it quickly became clear to me that the majority of people are wired for pain. Their rules make it very, very difficult to feel good, and very easy to feel bad. Let me give you a powerful example. Here are the values of a woman we’ll call Laurie who attended one of my earliest Date With Destiny seminars:














At first glance, these values look wonderful, don’t they? You would think that this person is probably loving and healthy and freedom-oriented. With a closer look, though, we can already see a few challenges.

Laurie’s third value is security, and her fourth value is freedom. Do those two sound like they go well together? The reality was that this woman was wired for massive pain. She was frustrated in every sense of the word, and was literally becoming a recluse, hiding out from people. No therapist she’d visited could figure out why. They were all working on her behaviors, her fears, and her emotions, instead of looking at the way her Master System of evaluating every event and experience of her life was wired.

So I began to elicit her rules for each of her values: “What has to happen in order for you to feel ?” For her to feel love, her answer was, “I have to feel like I’ve earned it. I have to feel like all my beliefs are accepted and approved of by every person I meet. I can’t feel like I’m loved unless I’m perfect. I have to be a great mother, a great wife,” and so forth.

Instantly we began to see the problem. Love was the highest value on her list, the greatest source of pleasure she could possibly feel in her body. Yet her rules did not allow her to give herself this pleasure unless she met these complex criteria which she couldn’t control! If any of us made our ability to feel loved dependent on everyone accepting our views, we wouldn’t feel love very often, would we? There are just too many people with different ideas and beliefs, and therefore too many ways for us to feel bad.

How do we know if a rule empowers or disempowers us? There are three primary criteria:

1. It’s a disempowering rule if it’s impossible to meet. If your criteria are so complex or varied or intense that you can’t ever win the game of life, clearly you have a disempowering rule.

2. A rule is disempowering if something that you can’t control determines whether your rule has been met or not. For example, if other people have to respond to you in a certain way, or if the environment has to be a certain way, you clearly have a disempowering rule. A classic example of this is the people waiting to view the eclipse who couldn’t be happy unless the weather—something they couldn’t control—acted according to their specific expectations.

3. A rule is disempowering if it gives you only a few ways to feel good and lots of ways to feel bad. Laurie had managed to meet all three of these criteria for disempowering rules, hadn’t she? Having to feel that all her beliefs were accepted and approved by people was an impossible criterion. It required the outside environment, something she could not control—other people’s opinions—to make her feel good. It provided lots of ways to feel bad, and provided no clear way to feel good. Here are some of the rest of her rules for her values hierarchy:


Love: I have to feel like I’ve earned it, like all my beliefs are accepted and approved. I can’t feel like I’m loved unless I’m perfect. I have to be a great mother and wife.

Health: I have to feel like my diet is perfect by my strict standards. I have to be completely free of physical pain. I must feel like I’m healthier than everyone I know and be an example.

Security: Everyone must like me. I must feel that everyone I meet is certain I’m a good person. I must be certain that there will be no nuclear war. I must have much more money in my savings account than I already do.

Freedom: I must be in control of my working demands, hours, fees, opinions, etc. I must be financially secure enough not to live under stress or financially related pressure.

How likely do you think it is that Laurie will meet one of her values, much less any? What about her rules for health? “I have to feel like my diet is perfect by my strict standards.” She was not only a vegetarian, but ate only raw food, and she still didn’t feel perfect! What are your chances of being healthier than everyone you know? Not much, unless you hang out in the intensive care unit!


Rejection: I feel rejected if someone doesn’t share my beliefs, if someone seemingly knows more than I do.

Failure: I feel failure if someone doesn’t believe I’m a good person. I feel failure if I don’t feel I support myself or my family well enough.

Anger: I feel anger when I don’t feel like what I do is appreciated, when people judge me before they know me.

These moving-away-from rules are equally immobilizing. Notice how easy it is to feel bad, and how hard it is to feel good. If all it takes for her to feel rejected is someone not sharing her beliefs, then she’s in for a lot of heartache. And what are the chances in your life of having people judge you before they know you? Only about one hundred percent! With these rules, can you imagine what it would be like to live in her body? She was racked with pain, and one of her biggest sources, if you look at her rules, was people. Any time she was around people, she was risking the possibility they might not share her beliefs, or might not like her, or might judge her. No wonder she was hiding out! At one point I finally said, “It’s my guess that a person with values and rules like this would develop an ulcer.” She said, “I already have one.”

Laurie’s experience, unfortunately, is not unique. Certainly some of her rules are more intense than others. But you will be absolutely surprised when you find out how unfair your own rules are when you begin to scrutinize them! At Date With Destiny, we attract some of the most successful people in the country—people whose level of skill and influence in the culture is unmatched. And yet, while they’re successful on the outside, many are lacking the happiness and fulfillment they deserve. Invariably, it’s because of values conflicts or inappropriate rules.


The solution is very simple. All we have to do to make our lives work is set up a system of evaluating that includes rules that are achievable, that make it easy to feel good and hard to feel bad, that constantly pull us in the direction we want to go. Certainly it’s useful to have some rules that give us pain. We need to have limits; we need to have some kind of pressure that drives us. I can’t taste fresh orange juice unless I have a glass, something with limits to contain the juice. We all have limits, both as a society and as individuals. For starters, though, we should at least rewire ourselves so we can experience pleasure more consistently in life. When people are feeling good all the time, they tend to treat others better, and they tend to maximize their potential as human beings.

So what’s our goal? Once we design our values, we must decide what evidence we need to have before we give ourselves pleasure. We need to design rules that will move us in the direction of our values, that will clearly be achievable, using criteria we can control personally so that we’re ringing the bell instead of waiting for the outside world to do it.

Based on these requirements, Laurie changed the order of some of her values and completely changed her rules for achieving them. Here are her new values and rules:


Love: I experience love anytime I express love, give love to others, or allow myself to receive it.

Health: I am healthy when I acknowledge how wonderful I already feel!

Fun: I’m having fun when I find pleasure and joy in the process.

Gratitude: I feel grateful when I appreciate all the things I have in my life right now.

Freedom: I feel free when I live by my convictions and accept the choice to create happiness for myself.

Notice that fun is now a priority. This transformed her experience of life, not to mention her relationship with her daughter and husband. But even more powerful were the changes she made in her rules. Changing the values would have limited impact if the rules were unachievable.

What has this woman done? She has rewired her entire life so that she’s in control. You and I need to remember that our self-esteem is tied to our ability to feel like we’re in control of the events in our environment. These rules allow Laurie to always be in control without even trying.

Are her new rules for love achievable? You bet! Who’s in control? She is! At any moment in time, she can decide to be loving to herself and others, and she’ll now have permission to give herself the emotion called love. She’ll know she’s meeting her highest values. How often can she do this? Every single day! There are lots of ways to do it because there are lots of people she can be loving to: herself, her family, her friends, and strangers. How about her new rule for health? What’s beautiful about it is that not only is she in charge—because she can acknowledge how wonderful she feels at any moment—and not only is it achievable, but isn’t it true that if she regularly acknowledges feeling good, she’ll reinforce the pattern of becoming more healthy?

In addition, Laurie adopted some new moving-away-from values. She selected emotions she knew she had to avoid indulging in order to succeed: negativity and procrastination. Remember, we want to reverse the process of how most of us are wired. We want to make it hard to feel bad, and easy to feel good.


Negativity: I avoid consistently depending on the acceptance of others for my ultimate happiness and success.

Procrastination: I avoid consistently expecting perfection from myself and others.

With Laurie’s new moving-away-from rules, she no longer depends upon the acceptance of others. Her rule for procrastination is based on her realization that expecting perfection created pain, and she hadn’t wanted to begin projects that would create pain, so that’s why she’d been procrastinating. These changes in values and rules have redirected her life to a level beyond anything she could have imagined.

Now, here’s an assignment for you: based on the new values you’ve set up for yourself in the last chapter, create a set of rules for your moving-toward values that makes it easy to feel good, and a set of rules for your moving-away-from values that makes it hard to feel bad. Ideally, create a menu of possibilities with lots of ways to feel good. Here are a few of mine:


Health and Vitality: Anytime I feel centered, powerful, or balanced; anytime I do anything that increases my strength, flexibility, or endurance; anytime I do anything that moves me toward a sense of physical well-being; anytime I eat water-rich foods or live in accordance with my own health philosophy.

Love and Warmth: Anytime I’m being warm and supportive of my friends, family, or strangers; anytime I focus on how to help; anytime I’m loving toward myself; anytime my state of being enhances how other people feel.

Learning and Growing: Anytime I make a new distinction that’s useful; anytime I stretch myself beyond what was comfortable; anytime I think of a new possibility; anytime I expand or become more effective; anytime I apply anything I know in a positive way.

Achieving: Anytime I focus on the value of my life as already created; anytime I set an outcome and make it happen; anytime I learn anything or create value for myself or others.

You may say, “Isn’t this just a game? Couldn’t I set it up so that I meet my rule for health just by breathing?” Certainly you could base it on something this simple. Ideally, though, you’ll design your rules so that by pursuing them you have more of what you want in your life. You also may say, “Won’t I lose my drive to succeed if there’s no pain motivation?” Trust me. Life will give you enough pain on your own if you don’t follow through. You don’t need to add to it by creating an intense set of rules that makes you feel lousy all the time.

In sociology there’s a concept known as “ethnocentricity,” which means we begin to believe that the rules, values, and beliefs of our culture are the only ones that are valid. This is an extremely limiting mindset.

Every person around you has different rules and values than you do, and theirs are no better or worse than your own. The key question is not whether rules are right or wrong, but whether they empower or disempower you. In fact. . .


Think about the last time you were upset with someone. Was it really about them, or was it about something they did, or said, or failed to do that you thought they ought to? Were you angry at them, or were you angry because they violated one of your rules? At the base of every emotional upset you’ve ever had with another human being is a rules upset. Somebody did something, or failed to do something, that violated one of your beliefs about what they must or should do.

For example, some people’s rule for respect is, “If you respect me, then you never raise your voice.” If a person with whom you’re in a relationship suddenly starts to yell, you’re not going to feel respected if this is your rule. You’re going to be angry because it has been violated. But your partner’s rule may be, “If I’m respectful, then I’m truthful about all my feelings and all my emotions—good, bad, and indifferent—and I express them with all my intensity in the moment.” Can you imagine the conflict these two people can have?

This was the scenario played out between Becky and me when we first began to develop our relationship. We had radically different rules about how to show respect for another person. Why? I grew up in an environment where you got a lot of pain if you weren’t honest. If you walked out of the room in the middle of a conversation, you would never live it down. The number-one rule was that you hung in there and expressed your honest emotions, knowing you could be wrong, but you stayed there until everything was worked out.

Meanwhile, Becky grew up in a family where the rules were quite different but equally clear. She was taught, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all; if you have respect for someone, you never raise your voice to them; if someone else ever raises their voice, the only way to keep your self-respect is to get up and leave the room.”

With this kind of conflict between our rules for respect, Becky and I drove each other crazy. We almost didn’t get married because of this. Rules determine everything—where we go, what we wear, who we are, what’s acceptable to us, what’s unacceptable, who we have as friends, and whether we’re happy or sad in virtually any situation.

Some people’s rule for handling upset is, “If you care about me, then you leave me alone and let me deal with it my own way.” Other people’s rule is, “If somebody’s upset, and you care about them, you immediately intervene to try to help.” This creates a tremendous conflict. Both people are trying to accomplish the same thing, which is to respect and care about each other, but their rules dictate different behaviors, and their rules of interpretation will make their actions seem adversarial rather than supportive. So if you ever feel angry or upset with someone, remember, it’s your rules that are upsetting you, not their behavior. This will help you to stop blaming them. You can get past your upset quickly by first stopping and asking yourself, “Am I reacting to this, or am I responding to the situation intelligently?” Then, communicate with that person right up front and say something like, “I’m sorry I responded the way I did. It’s just that you and I have different rules about what we need to do in this situation.

My expectations are that if you respect me, you’ll do_______ and _______ . I know those aren’t your rules. So please tell me what your rules are. How do you express respect, [love, caring, concern, etc.]?”

Once you’re both clear on what the other person wants, then you can make a deal. Ask them, “Would you be willing to do _______ to make me feel respected? I’d be willing to do _______ for you.” Any relationship—business or personal— can be instantly transformed just by getting clear on the rules and making an agreement to play by them.

After all, how can you ever hope to win a game if you don’t even know the rules?


Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you knew what the rules were, but all of a sudden exceptions started cropping up? People have the unique ability to call upon sub-rules that may be in conflict with all their other rules. A good metaphor for this might be if you and I decide to play baseball together, and I ask you, “Do you know how to play baseball?” and you say, “Of course.” Then you’d review the basics: “We’d play nine innings, the person who scores the most runs wins, you’ve got to touch all the bases, you get three outs, and so on. If you hit a pop fly and I catch it, you’re out. If I drop it, you’re safe.”

So we start the game. Everything’s going great until the bottom of the ninth, when the score is tied, I have two men on and one man out, and, I hit a high pop fly to the infield. My rules say that if you catch the ball, I’m out and the game is over, but if you drop it, I’m safe and the men on base have a chance to score, and I could win this game. I immediately run to base; you go for the ball and drop it. I’m thrilled, I’m on base, my teammate scores, and I think we’ve won the game.

But you come to me and say, “No, you’re out!” I say, “What are you talking about? You dropped the ball! The rules are that if you drop ball, then I’m safe.” And then you say, “That’s true, except when there are two men on and one man out. In that case, even if I drop the ball then you’re still out. That’s the one exception.”

I protest, “You can’t make up rules as we’re going along!” You would answer, “I didn’t make this up. It’s called the infield fly rule. Everyone knows about it.” I turn to my teammates, and they say no such rule exists. You turn to your teammates, and they all say that that’s the rule—and we all end up fighting over the rules.

Have you ever had this experience in a personal relationship? You were playing by all the rules, and all of a sudden someone said, “Yes, that’s true, except in this one situation,” and you went ballistic. People feel very intensely about their rules. Everyone knows their rules are the right rules. People get especially angry when they think others are making up rules or changing them along the way. Yet this dynamic is a part of most interactions with other human beings.


Look before you leap.

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

A penny saved is a penny earned.

He who hesitates is lost.

Two heads are better than one.

Out of sight, out of mind. It’s never too late to learn.

There’s no place like home.

You can’t take it with you.

In fact, the paradox of conflicting beliefs and rules is one of the reasons people find so much frustration in their lives. In a relationship, one person says, “I love you, except when you leave the cap off the toothpaste,” or “I love you, except when you raise your voice at me.” Some of these subrules seem totally trivial, but they can be very damaging. The best way to deal with this is to remember that your rules are not based on reality. They’re purely arbitrary. Just because you’ve used them and feel strongly about them doesn’t mean they’re the best rules or the right rules. Rules should be designed to empower our relationships, not destroy them. Any time a rule gets in the way, the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What’s more important? My relationship or my rules?” Suppose your trust was once violated in a romantic relationship, and now you’re afraid to get close to anyone else again. You now have a rule that says, “If you get too close, you’ll get hurt.” At the same time, your highest value is love, and your rule is that in order to feel love, you must get close to someone. Now you have a major conflict: your rules and values are in absolute opposition. What can you do in this situation? The first step is to realize that you have conflicting rules. The second step is to link enough pain to any rule that doesn’t serve you, and replace it with a rule that does. Most important, if you want to have quality relationships with other people, whether it’s in your business or personal life, you must. . .


If you want to take control of your life, if you want to do well in business, if you want to be a great negotiator, if you want to be able to impact your children, if you want to be close to your spouse, then make sure you discover the rules they have for a relationship up front, and communicate ; yours as well. Don’t expect people to live by your rules if you don’t clearly communicate what they are. And don’t expect people to live by your rules if you’re not willing to compromise and live by some of theirs. For example, in the beginning of any relationship, one of the first things I do is let the other party know my rules for the situation, and try to find out as many of their rules as possible. I ask things like “What will it take for you to know that our relationship is working? How often do we have to communicate? What is necessary?”

For example, I was once talking with a friend of mine who is a well-known celebrity, and he shared with me that he didn’t feel like he had very many friends. I said, “Are you sure you don’t have many friends? I see lots of people around you who truly do care about you. Is it that you have rules that eliminate a lot of people who could be your friends?” He said, “It just doesn’t feel like they’re my friends.” I said, “What has to happen for you to feel like they’re your friends?” He said, “Well, I guess I don’t even know what my rules are, consciously.” After giving it some thought, he identified one of his top rules for friendship: if you’re a friend of his, then you talk with him at least two, or three times a week. “That’s an interesting rule,” I thought. “I have friends all over the world, people I truly love. But sometimes, even with my best friends, a month or more may go by before we get a chance to talk again, just because of the intensity of our schedules. Often I’ll be in seminars from early morning until very late at night, and then I may have had 100 phone calls in that day. There’s no physical way I could talk to all those people! Yet they all know they’re my friends.”

Then I asked him, “Do you think I’m your friend?” He said, “Well, intellectually I know you are, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it because we don’t talk together often enough.” I said, “Wow, I never knew that! I never would have known that was important to you if you hadn’t communicated it to me. I bet you have lots of friends who might love meeting your rules for friendship if they just knew what they were.” My definition for friendship is quite simple: if you’re a friend, then you absolutely love a person unconditionally, and you’ll do anything you can to support them. If they call you when they’re in trouble or truly in need, you’re there for them. Months go by, yet the friendship would never weaken once you decide that somebody is truly your friend. That’s it! You never question it again. I think I have lots of friends because my rules for friendship are so easy to meet! All you have to do is care about me and love me, and I’ll care about you and love you, and now we’re friends.

It’s so important to communicate your rules for any situation in life, whether it’s love, friendship, or business. By the way, even if you clarify all the rules in advance, can misunderstandings still occur? You bet. Sometimes you’ll forget to communicate one of your rules, or you may not even consciously know what some of your rules are. That’s why ongoing communication is so important. Never assume when it comes to rules. Communicate.


The more I began to study people’s behavior and the impact of their rules, the more interested I became in a dynamic that I noticed consistently, and that was that there are certain rules that people would never violate, and other rules that they would violate continuously—they’d feel bad about it each time, but they’d go ahead and do it anyway. What was the difference?

After some research, the answer became clear: we have a hierarchy of rules, just as we do values. There are certain rules that, to break them, would give us such intense pain that we don’t even consider the possibility. We will rarely, if ever, break them. I call these rules threshold rules. For example, if I asked you, “What’s something you would never do?,” you’d give me a threshold rule. You’d tell me a rule that you would never violate. Why? Because you link too much pain to it.

Conversely, we have some rules that we don’t want to break. I call these personal standards. If we do break them, we don’t feel good about it, but depending upon the reasons, we’re willing to break them in the short term. The difference between these two rules is often phrased with the words must and should. We have certain things that we must do, certain things that we must not do, certain things that we must never do, and certain things that we must always do. The “must” and the “must never” rules are threshold rules; the “should” and “should never” rules are personal standard rules. All of them give a structure to our lives.

Too many “must” rules can make life unlivable. I once saw a program that featured twenty families of quintuplets. Each set of parents was asked, “What is the most important thing you’ve learned for maintaining sanity?” The one message that was echoed repeatedly was: Don’t have too many rules. With this many bodies in motion, and this many different personalities, if you’ve got too many rules, you’ll go crazy. The law of averages says your rules are going to be violated constantly, and therefore you’re going to be in continual stress, reacting to everything.

This kind of stress affects you and the people around you. Think of the rules we have today for women in our society. They even have a name for it: the “Superwoman Syndrome.” Women today seem to have to do everything, and do it perfectly. Not only do they have to take care of their husband, children, parents, and friends, but they have to have the perfect body, they have to go out and change the world, they have to prevent nuclear war, and they have to be the consummate business person on top of it all. Do you think that could create a little stress in life, having that many musts in order to feel successful?

Of course, women aren’t the only ones in society who are going through this—today’s men and children are also under tremendous stress because of increased expectations. If we’re burdened with too many musts to meet, we lose our enthusiasm and zest for life; we just don’t want to play the game anymore. High self-esteem comes from feeling like you have control over events, not that events have control over you. And when you have a lot of “must” rules, the chances of them being violated are great.

What would be a “must never” rule in a relationship? Many people might say, “My husband or wife must never have an extramarital affair.” For other people, however, that’s only a should rule: “My husband or wife should never have an extramarital affair.” Might that difference in rules have the potential to create problems down the road? It’s highly possible. In fact, when people have relationship upsets, invariably it’s because although they’ve agreed on the rules, they haven’t agreed on whether it’s a “must never” or a “should never.” It’s necessary not only to understand what kinds of rules your partner has, but also to keep in mind that both “must” and “should” rules are appropriate.

In order to achieve certain outcomes, it’s important to have plenty of “must” rules to make sure that we’ll follow through, that we’ll take action. For example, I have a friend who’s in superb physical condition. What’s interesting is her set of rules for herself in the area of health: she has very few shoulds and a lot of musts. I asked her, “What must you never do if you want to be healthy?” She said, “I must never smoke. I must never violate my body with drugs. I must never pig out. I must never go more than a day without exercising.”

Then I asked, “What must you do in order to be healthy?” Again, the list was long: “I must exercise every day for at least half an hour. I must eat the right kinds of foods. I must eat only fruit in the morning. I must combine my foods properly. I must ride at least fifty miles on my bicycle every week.”

And the list went on. Finally I asked for her “should” rules. She said, “I should exercise more.” And that was it!

Now, this woman has an overweight friend. When I asked her what she must never do in order to be healthy, she gazed at me with a blank stare. She had no “must never” rules in the area of health! She did have a couple of must rules, however: she must eat, and she must sleep. Then I asked if she had any “should” rules. “Sure,” she said, “I should eat better; I should exercise. I should take better care of my body.” She also had a list of “should not” rules such as, “I should not eat meat, I should not overeat,” and so on. This woman had plenty of things she knew she should do, but because she had very few “must” rules, she never got into the position of giving herself intense pain for doing unhealthy things.

And it wasn’t difficult to realize why she had never been able to keep the weight off. If you’ve ever procrastinated on anything, were you perhaps using some “should” rules such as, “I should start this project” or “I should begin an exercise program”? What would have happened instead if you had decided, “I must start this project” or “I must start this exercise program,” and then followed through by conditioning it into your nervous system?

Remember, we all need some structure. Some people have no clear rules for when they’re successful. Rules can provide the contextual environment for us to create added value. Rules can motivate us to follow through; they can cause us to grow and expand. Your goal is simply to create a balance between your “must” rules and your “should” rules and to utilize both types of rules in the appropriate context.


Right now, begin to take control of your rules by writing down your answers to the following questions. Make your answers as thorough as possible.

1. What does it take for you to feel successful?

2. What does it take for you to feel loved—by your kids, by your spouse, by your parents, and by whoever else is important to you?

3. What does it take for you to feel confident?

4. What does it take for you to feel you are excellent in any area of your life?

Now look at these rules and ask yourself, “Are they appropriate? Have I made it really hard to feel good and easy to feel bad?” Do you have 129 things that must happen before you feel loved? Does it take only one or two things to make you feel rejected?

If that’s true, change your criteria and come up with rules that empower you. What do your rules need to be in order for you to be happy and successful in this endeavor? Here’s a critical distinction: design your rules so that you’re in control, so that the outside world is not what determines whether you feel good or bad. Set it up so that it’s incredibly easy for you to feel good, and incredibly hard to feel bad. For the rules that govern your moving-toward values, use the phrase “Anytime I…” In other words, create a menu of possibilities of ways to feel good. For example, “I feel love anytime I give love, or anytime I spend time with people I love, or anytime I smile at someone new, or anytime I talk with an old friend, or anytime I notice someone doing something nice for me, or anytime I appreciate those who already love me.” Do you notice what you’ve done? You’ve made the game winnable by stacking the deck outrageously in your favor!

Come up with tons of ways to satisfy your rules for feeling love; make it incredibly easy to experience that pleasure, and make sure to include plenty of criteria that are under your sole control, so you don’t have to depend on anyone or anything else to feel good. Any time you do any of these things, you would feel love—not just by meeting some outlandish criterion that only occurred about as often as a total eclipse of the sun! By the way, I have a rule for you: while you’re doing this, you must have fun! Get outrageous; explore the outer edges. You’ve been using rules all your life to hold you back; why not get a few laughs at their expense? Maybe in order to feel love, all you have to do is wiggle your little toe. It sounds weird, but who am I to decide what gives you pleasure?

Now, be sure to discover the rules of the people around you. Go out and do some polling. Find out what your kids’ rules are for being a family member, or for being successful in school, or for having fun. I bet you’ll be amazed at what you discover! Find out your spouse’s rules; ask your parents; ask your boss or your employees. One thing is sure: if you don’t know the rules, you’re guaranteed to lose because you’re bound to violate them sooner or later. But if you understand people’s rules, you can predict their behavior; you can truly meet their needs and thus enrich the quality of your relationships. Remember, the most empowering rule is to enjoy yourself no matter what happens. In the past few chapters we’ve nearly completed learning about the five elements of the Master System. We know the importance of state, the way questions direct our focus and evaluations, and the power of values and rules to shape our lives. Now let’s discover the fabric from which all these elements are cut…

-Tony Robbins

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