The Upside of Rules

Sometimes we share our thoughts and feelings with other people, both professional and civilian. Sometimes we talk to ourselves. When talking to oneself, what might be useful to say?

Let’s make or at least borrow some rules

People often have a bad relationship with rules because they don’t understand the real function. Odious as rules may seem to the free-spirited person, they do have an important purpose. Rules are really just a starting points on which we build our psychological houses. They are useful as reference points. Like any basic architectural element, a rule can be beefed up, or modified in the other direction, whichever is appropriate to the case.

Say you have decided on three basic rules. Then, when thinking about these matters, some obvious questions will arise. For example, are rules immutable? Much as we might sometimes wish they could be, of course they are not. In society, if a person refuses to follow a rule, to the point of imprisonment or execution, there is obviously not much that any influence can do to stop them. A degree of commitment exists which is unanswerable.

But most of us are not so extreme. So, there is an obvious thinking point. It might be worth confronting one’s cognitive dissonance in this area. “If I believed this rule was worth adopting, why do I use every trick in the book to persuade myself to ignore it?” The question is worth asking.

What is an example of a useful rule?

“Face the fact that you will not acquire superpowers for the holidays.” It never happened before and is unlikely to happen this year or any time in the foreseeable future. It’s not like that. You will still be pretty much your ordinary self. Most drugs will probably not help but only worsen the situation. Eating too much, or the wrong things, or too much of the wrong things, will not help either.

We can’t be superhumans. But we can put some energy into being excellent standard humans, good to ourselves and to other people, too. Trying to be decent is within the reach of most of us.

You are worthy of consideration

A closely related rule is, “Maybe even cut yourself a little slack.” The archived post “Take It Easy on Yourself” offers excellent thoughts about controlling expectations, and a lot more.

We can each take a look at ourselves, for starters, and decide whether any of our standards and expectations could do with being a bit less rigid. We could accept, in ourselves and others, a wider range of emotional states. After all, the acceptance of feelings must be the first step toward dealing with anything, and reminds us that we can respect our feelings and also gently, and respectfully say no.

Are there customs or habits that no longer serve the best interests of everyone, or anyone, and that should be abandoned? Has your clan traditionally held a pie-eating contest for the holiday? Maybe the pie chefs could go ahead and bake a slew of pies, and donate them instead to the local soup kitchen.

How much are we obliged to cling to the past? Is it possible to do things just a little bit differently, and achieve a more pleasant outcome?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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