Many Rule Transformations in Just 24 Hours

I recently celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holidays. Here, in the US, we go to services in more fancy-dancy clothes than I suspect the Israelis wear. Back in August, I said to Esther, “I have a great suit, but I’m not so sure about my shoes. I should wear my Merrells, so I don’t fall over. But I’m not so sure—” I didn’t get a chance to finish my sentence. Esther stopped me with a steely glare, and sternly said, “God does not care what shoes you wear.”


She’s right. That was my first rule transformation. Here’s the form of a rule transformation:

  1. State the rule, as precisely as you can. In my case, it was “I must always wear dress shoes with a suit.”
  2. Change must to can: “I can always wear dress shoes with a suit.”
  3. Change always to sometimes: “I can sometimes wear dress shoes with a suit.”
  4.  Three or more circumstances when you can: “I can wear dress shoes with a suit when I think I can stay sufficiently hydrated; when I have plenty of handholds to walk with; and when the consequences of falling over are quite small.”

That rule transformation happened quickly. In the space of that “Well.” Normally, I’m a lot slower to do a rule transformation.

That was my Rosh Hashanah rule transformation. I had much more serious rule transformations for Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a fast day. If you medically able, you don’t eat or drink from sunset the day before until set the following day. I’m not capable of that anymore. I drink and eat, because otherwise I fall over.

For the evening services to start Yom Kippur, I left my water bottle in the Rabbi’s office, and tried to go out every hour to drink. That didn’t work. I got dehydrated.

Luckily, one our friends noticed my difficulty in walking after services at the end of the evening services. She said, “You’re not doing so well, are you?” I replied that I was freezing and dehydrated. “You need to take care of yourself. That’s the first rule. Where is your water bottle?” I told her it was in the Rabbi’s office. She scolded me, “You need it here. You should bring it in tomorrow.”

But I had a huge rule about bringing water into the sanctuary on Yom Kippur. My friends, my fellow congregants were all fasting. How could I bring water into the sanctuary to drink? How could I offend them like that? But how could I not take care of myself? After stumbling into the car, and stumbling into the house and being totally exhausted when I got home at 9:30 pm, I decided I had to do something. I was in danger of doing something really stupid, such as falling down. (Falling down triggers BPPV, the whirling vertigo. I avoid this at all costs.)

I had to change what I did for the day of Yom Kippur. I asked Mark to bring up a canvas bag that could hide the water bottle, at least a little. I’d already arranged with the Rabbi that I would leave my lunch in his office. I drank my several liters of water throughout the morning and early afternoon, when I was finally too cold to stay in the synagogue. I had transformed another rule. I did not fall over.

At break-the-fast with our friends that night, another friend suggested that I sample services, instead of my previous pattern of going for the beginning and staying until the end. Before my hemorrhage, I used services to reflect on my life, listen to the sermons, pray, meditate a little, think about how I want my life to be. Now, because of the temperature and my medication, it’s more of an endurance test. Sampling services—another potential rule transformation.

These rule transformations are personal for me. Yours might be about work, not about your life, per se. Rule transformations help you create an adaptive life because they provide you more options for the here and now. Notice how they are linked to the Rule of Three, because you use three or more circumstances when you can change.

Here’s the template for a rule transformation:

State the rule precisely I must always <do something>
Change must to can Check that it is still true I can always <do something>
I can always <do something> Is it still true? I can sometimes <do something>
Select three or more circumstances when you can follow the guide I can <do something> when: Circumstance 1, Circumstance 2, Circumstance 3

Rule transformations are not easy. That’s because you’ve had these rules for much of your life, and in that time, they have served you well. But life has changed. Or, the world has changed. And those rules no longer serve you that well. It’s time for them to become guides, not rules.

If you try a rule transformation, take your time. You need to make sure you are precise about the rule. If you are not precise, you won’t be able to transform it. Experiment with it. Try it on until it resonates. Then you can transform it.

Good luck. If it fits for you, please comment and let me know if you’ve tried and what success you had with your transformations.

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