I have a confession to make.

Sometimes I go and hang out in my neighborhood’s dog park, and I don’t even have a dog. I get to watch other peoples’ pets run around and enjoy life. I get much of the benefit of having a pet and have to do none of the work of raising the animal. Some people enjoy peoplewatching. I enjoy dogwatching.

Does this make me a bad person? You tell me, pet people.

I’m not exactly the world’s most rule-bound person, but I spent over a year walking by that dog park every week wondering what it was like but not even venturing in. I let my perception of “the rules” – that you have to have a dog to go in – keep me from even exploring it.

Now I spend just about every Sunday at sundown reading great fiction on a park bench while watching some beautiful, friendly animals at play. It turns out there is no rule about going to the dog park if you don’t have a dog. It turns out that dog owners really don’t care if you’re in the same space as they are, as long as you’re being a good neighbor to them and their pets. You may even strike up good conversations.

I had assumed the rules. I had assumed that going to a dog park without a dog was outside the norm (this is true) and therefore somehow improper (this is not true).

There is actually a difference between how things are done and how things can or should be, believe it or not. It’s very easy to miss that, and just like it took me two years to even explore the dog park, sometimes it takes people a very long time to question their own self-imposed limits in other areas of life.

So what “rules” are you assuming to be rules?

Maybe you’re holding back from suggesting a new way of doing things at work. Maybe you’re not being real with a customer or client. Maybe you’re not taking the next step in relationship with someone you care about. More likely than not, you’re afraid of doing it because there’s a rule you’ve internalized. But more likely than not, those internalized rules are assumptions. They may be grounded in good reasons, but you should not take them as absolutes.

After all, how do you know your rules are the rules others even want to play by? You won’t know unless you test their limits.

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