The Real Reason You’re Unhappy: Your Inner Rules

You can create a life of true happiness once you understand the power of your own INNER RULES.

What are inner rules?

Each person has their own set of inner rules. It makes up their blueprint if you will. The software we run in our minds every day, consciously and unconsciously, that determine how we perceive and experience life.

Inner rules are essentially our beliefs about what has to happen in order for me to feel good about any experience. And as long as an experience, trigger, stimulus, event, or incident matches my expectation (of what must happen), I remain happy.

However, the moment my expectations aren’t met, I fall into a state of unhappiness and respond from that state accordingly.

The truth is, our experience of reality has nothing to do with reality, but is always interpreted through the controlling force of our beliefs: specifically, the INNER RULES we have about what has to happen in order for us to feel good.

We call these specific beliefs that determine when we get pain and when we get pleasure “Inner Rules.”

Ask yourself a very simple question before we go any further:

“What has to happen in order for you to feel good?”

Seriously, think about it for a moment.

Do you have to have someone respect you in order for you to respect them back? And what does that respect need to look like? Do they need to always speak to you in a certain way, hug you, smile when they speak with you, always shake your hand, make eye contact, tell you how much they appreciate you, or always ask for your advice?

Do you have to be acknowledged by your boss all the time? Do you have to achieve all your goals? Do you have to drive a certain car, hang out with the right people, live in a certain area, always be included?

Do you always need to be right in an argument? Does your partner always have to listen to you? Treat you nicely? Be playful?

What really has to happen in order for you to feel good? Even if you’ve never thought about this, take a moment and think about it now.

Now, the truth is that nothing has to happen in order for you to feel good. You don’t need all the stuff mentioned before to feel good. You can feel good right now for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

But, it’s your inner rule that says, “This and this needs to happen, OR that and that should never happen, then I’ll give myself permission to feel good” (this happens all unconsciously by the way).

Here is a reality that will blow your life right open:

As long as you structure your life in a way where your happiness is dependent upon something you cannot control, then you will ALWAYS experience pain, overwhelm, and unhappiness in your life.

The key to your happiness can be found in one key rule you commit to:

when you decide that your rule (for a specific thing) is that you’re going to enjoy this moment, event, opportunity, time or season in life, person or relationship, etc., no matter what happened.

You effectively raise your standards. You choose to demand more of yourself in any given moment irrespective of what that moment throws at you.

We all have different rules and standards that govern not only how we feel about the things that happen in our lives, but also how we will behave and respond to any situation.

It is ultimately YOU that determine your emotions and actions.


It is your beliefs about what is good and what is bad, what you should do and what you must do, that determine everything. Your rules are the trigger for any pain or pleasure you feel in your nervous system at any moment. And you respond from that place.

Our rules are controlling our responses every moment of our life. If you are responding, acting, behaving, and feeling a certain way in your life right now that you do NOT like, it is because of your inner rules.

You have set them up and away where it’s a very easy for you to feel pain (overwhelmed, unhappy, stressed, anxious, depressed, angry, upset, frustrated, pissed-off) and very difficult to feel pleasure (joyful, happy, exuberant, vibrant, peaceful, calm, focused, excited, grateful).

Rules are a shortcut for our brains. They help give us a sense of certainty in any given moment, in order for us to make lightning quick decisions as to what things mean and what we should do about them.

The big question you have to ask yourself is: are the rules that guide my life today still appropriate for who I have become or want to become?

Another way of asking this question is: do your rules empower or disempower you?

Sometimes our rules are set up in such a way that it’s virtually impossible to feel happy. Ever.

Here is a quick way to discover some of your rules that might be causing problems for you right now.

  1. Ask yourself any question about who you are or what you want.
    • For example:
      • Are you successful?
      • Are you happy?
      • Are you a great partner?
      • Are you wealthy?
  1. Then ask yourself the key follow-up question:
    • What has to happen in order for you to feel …
      • Successful?
      • Happy?
      • That you’re a great partner?
      • That you’re a wealthy?

Now, look at these answers and consider how they’re impacting your life right now. What do you see?

Are they set up in a way that makes it easy for you to feel good (happy) or bad (unhappy)?

The way to victory in your life is to set the game up so you can win. Make it easy to feel good rather than bad.

A good question at this point would be, how do you know if a rule empowers or disempowers you?

There are three primary criteria:

  1. It’s a disempowering rule if it is impossible to meet. If your rule is so complicated or varied or intense or unrealistic that you can never ever win the game of life, it’s clearly disempowering.
  2. It’s a disempowering rule if something that you can’t control determines whether your rule has been met or not. For example, if other people have to respond or treat you in a certain way, or if your environment has to be a certain way before you can feel X or Y or Z, it’s clearly a disempowering rule.
  3. It’s a disempowering rule if it gives you only a few ways to feel good and lots of ways to feel bad. Again, oftentimes our rule requires the outside environment to do or be something for us to feel good. That makes it disempowering.

The solution is very simple.

All you have to do to make your life work is to set up a system of evaluating your rules and making sure that they are achievable, i.e. they make it easy to feel good and hard to feel bad, and they are constantly pulling you in the direction you want to go.

And for a start, you should at least rewire yourself so you can experience pleasure more consistently in your life.

In fact, research has shown just in the case of relationships, we must have five times more positive experiences than negative ones (5 to 1) in order to have a stable relationship. If that formula gets out of balance, our relationship struggles and we suffer instability.

Experiencing pleasure more consistently in your life can be enjoying something as simple as what we call the simple pleasures of life; like eating a juicy steak, enjoying fishing, eating an orange from the tree, swimming in the ocean, walking on the beach, listening to a cool song really loud, holding hands with your partner while looking out over a beautiful view, or enjoying a beautiful glass of wine etc. Or just being present and enjoying the moment.

Realise that every upset is a rules upset.

Think about the last time you were really 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?

The reality is, at the basis of every emotional upset you’ve ever had with another human being is a rules upset.

Something they did or failed to do, that violated one of your beliefs about what they must or should do.

Rules determine everything – we go, what we wear, we are, what’s acceptable to us, what is unacceptable to us, who we have as friends, and whether we are happy or sad in basically any situation.

Some people’s rules for handling upset is, “if you respect me, then you leave me alone, and let me do my thing.”

Another person’s rule is, “the only way to get respect is by being upfront, in your face, and sorting it out no matter the cost.”

This creates tremendous conflict. Both people are trying to achieve the exact same thing, which is respect, but they have different rules that dictate different behaviours, and their rules of interpretation will make their different actions seem aggressive, adversarial, and even disrespectful rather than respectful.

So if you feel angry or upset with someone, you have to remember it’s your rules that are upsetting you, not their behaviour.

How do we change this?

Well, the first thing to remember is your rules are not based on reality. Rules should be designed to empower us and our relationships, and not destroy them. You have to ask yourself, what is more important? My happiness or my rules? My partner or my rules?

It’s also important to realise that sometimes we have conflicting rules that end up hurting us.

For example, on the one hand, you have a rule that says, “if I open up too much to people, I get hurt.”

Yet, on the other hand, you have another rule or highest value that says, “Love is the most important thing in the world, and in order to feel love you must get close to someone.”

Now you have a major conflict in your life: your rules and values are in absolute opposition.

So, how do you overcome this?

The first step is to realise 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.

How do you do that?

Ask yourself a simple question: “what is the real cost of holding onto this specific rule in my life?”

Also, if you want to take control of your life, do well in your business, make an impact on your children, or if you want to be close to your partner, then you have to make sure you discover their rules they have upfront and communicate yours clearly as well.

We cannot expect people to live by our rules if we don’t clearly communicate what they are.

So, if your partner tells you that “respect” is hugely important for them, make sure you ask the key question:

“what has to happen for you to feel you’re being respected and disrespected?”

You also need to consider that there are some rules you cannot break or you will ALWAYS have pain in your life.

We call these personal standards or threshold rules. It is a rule we would never violate because we associate too much pain with it.

For example, for me personally a rule that I have my marriage is that I would NEVER cheat on my wife. It is not an idea, but a personal standard I hold myself to without fault, no matter the temptation or situation or opportunity.

Another personal standard I have now is that I would NEVER be fat again. This rule was born from a long journey of being overweight and unhealthy and almost messing up my life. So I put the rule in place that now governs everything I do and the choices I make.

What are your threshold rules? What are your personal standards? And when they are broken, what do you do about it?

When your threshold rules are violated, often, you will feel seriously unhappy. In that moment you have to make a decision, you either continue on the path your on, which means you’ll have to become OK with the pain, or, you choose to walk away.

Regardless, realise that it’s always your decision to stay or go; change or address the issue.


Begin to take control of your rules by writing down the answers to the following questions. Be 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 partner, by your parents, and by whoever else is important to you?
  3. What does take for you to feel respected?
  4. What does it take for you to feel confident?
  5. What does it take for you to feel happy?
  6. 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?
  • Are they empowering? (Remember the three criteria)
  • Have I made it really hard to feel good and easy to feel bad?

Do you have 77 things that must happen before you feel respected? Does it take only one or two things to make you feel disrespected?

If that’s true, you have to change your criteria and come up with rules that empower you and work in your favour.

Ask yourself, what do my rules need to be in order for me to be happy and successful in whatever situation?

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, happy or unhappy, respected or disrespected, fulfilled or unfulfilled. Set it up so that it’s incredibly easy for you to feel good, and incredibly hard to feel bad.

Use the following phrase to come up with a lot of ways to satisfy your new rules:

“Anytime I …”

Create a menu of possibilities of ways to feel good, irrespective of your environment.

For example, “I feel respect (self-respect) anytime I give respect, or anytime I give my best, or anytime I remain calm when somebody loses their cool, or anytime I do my job to the best of my ability, or anytime I maintain my self-respect while someone else is treating me like a dog, or anytime I can simply walk away as the bigger person.”

Do this for any area of your life that is important. And for every highest value, you have. And every rule that has hurt you before.

Then go and live your new rule. Remember the pain if you don’t.

Here’s a final thought:

the most empowering rule is to enjoy yourself no matter what happens.

Why suffer fools when there’s so much to enjoy in life?

If you have any comments or questions, please make a note of them, or email them to me, and let’s discuss them in our next session together.