How Your Personal Handbook Impacts Your Life

B .

You probably read this blog title and wondered what your "personal handbook" is.

So, I'll get right down to business! 

A handbook, or manual, in general, refers to a guide or instructions to follow in order to learn or use something. Often, it contains sets of rigid rules to follow.

So, your personal handbook or manual, most simply put, is your set of rules and guide to living life. 

But, it's not quite that simple.

Why? Because life isn't that simple.

Your set of rules might be things you do for others, or ways you do things that you consider the "right thing to do."

It might also entail a "proper way" to word things and the appropriate tone to use.

Your handbook likely has a list of things you think are socially acceptable, and a list of things that are not. In other words, this is also a list of what's right and wrong in your mind.

Here's a (far from exhaustive) list of examples of things that are in people's handbooks:

Rules on how to email:

  1. What times are appropriate to email
  2. What is acceptable to email professionally
  3. How many exclamation marks are okay to use, if any
  4. Whether or not emojis are acceptable

Rules for dating:

  1. Appropriate response time for a text reply
  2. Topics that are inappropriate to discuss until you know each other well enough.
  3. Who should pay for things
  4. Who should propose
  5. How long you should be together before a proposal
  6. How long is too long to be together without getting married

Some other rules:

  1. How to address friends, coworkers, parents of your significant other, or a stranger 
  2. How you should dress for certain occasions 
  3. How you should act to be polite when walking on the sidewalk, driving in a car, riding a bike, sitting on a train, etc
  4. How, about what, and when someone should joke
  5. How your partner, friend, or family member should handle a fight
  6. How much, when, on what or where you should spend money

This list goes on almost infinitely, because humans have a LOT of thoughts and there's billions of us.

We all have a personal handbook for life, whether we realize it or not.

Some of it we learned from our culture, some from our caretakers, others from peers, your boss, friends, partners, experiences, traumas, etc. 

Because of the way some of these things are engrained in us, we are not even consciously making judgements about people who don't follow our personal handbook at times.

At best, we may judge them and move on. At worst, we take it personally, feel offended or hurt, get angry, lash out, ruminate or any other negative emotion takes hold.

It can feel like you are being wronged, because, there's a handbook to life, after all. Why aren't they following it? They must be doing it on purpose, or doing it to hurt you, or are simply careless... right?


Now is a good time for a few reminders.

  1. We all have free will, (those of us fortunate enough to at least) and we don't have control over anyone else's thoughts, feelings or behaviors.
  2. Circumstances and people don't cause our emotions. The thoughts we have about things is what causes our emotions. I'm reminded of a quote from Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, who once said, "We suffer not from the events in our lives, but from our judgement about them."
  3. Not all rules will carry the same weight. 
  4. We all get to choose our belief systems. If there's something in your handbook that you feel good about keeping there, that's completely up to you. 

With that in mind, consider your own personal handbook. It likely contains things that you perceive to be on a scale. There are likely things you think should happen a certain way, but if they don't it's not the end of the world. They're lower on the scale. Then there are probably things that if they go differently than you would have them, it's cataclysmic and those are higher up on the scale.

Everyone's scale will be different for different things.

I have some things in my manual, for example, that I am happy to keep there the rest of my life because I think they are inherently wrong. These are beliefs I have CHOSEN to hold onto. They are also higher up on the scale, heavily weighted and honestly just plain egregious, in my opinion.

But, don't forget, I've been trained to look at all things objectively and from a neutral standpoint first.

(TRIGGER WARNING) Two examples of this would be murder and rape. I will never change my mind that these are things that should not be done. Period. I'm perfectly okay with holding these values in my handbook.

Since our handbooks are likely infinite pages long and we're all unique, the possibilities are endless. What's a huge deal for you, may not mean a thing for another.

I'll give you some more examples.

Rules lower on the scale: 
You think white should not be worn after Labor Day. You see someone wearing white after Labor Day and think to yourself, "Ooooh, she should not be wearing that. But, I guess she doesn't care that she looks ridiculous."

Harmless enough, right? Not great to judge others (which is part of my manual), but no one is perfect. You move on pretty unscathed.

FLIP SIDE: Another person feels the same way about wearing white after Labor Day, except it's actually offensive that they would wear white to your party. 

Rules higher up on the scale: 
You believe it is wrong to cheat on a partner. It is a a MAJOR offense and is almost unforgivable to you.

If you are cheated on, you cut all ties with the person. You hate them for it. You feel wronged, offended, angry, etc. You might even question yourself at this point and wonder if you're good enough, what did you do wrong, etc.

FLIP SIDE: Another person might believe it is wrong, but might be very confident in themselves and just view it as a large mistake and hurdle to work through. This person stays with their partner and works through it without condemning them.


Now that you're thinking on this, you've probably got a good idea of some rules in your personal handbook and how you react when someone deviates from them.


Next, let's talk about the mix of what's really lurking behind the scenes in regard to our personal handbooks. 

  1. Our personal handbook is ultimately a list of expectations that we believe we or others should follow.
  2. Expectations are tricky and often set us up for failure. The result of someone deviating from our manual in general causes us to think thoughts that make us feel hurt, offended, angry and more. All of these may be even more intense because there's an added shock that someone might deviate from the handbook of life.
  3. We often think people need to follow our Life Handbook or Manual in order for us to be okay.
  4. We sometimes think our handbook is the "right" way to live, and that we can help others by sharing our rules with them, so they can follow them accordingly. Then they won't do anything "wrong," so we don't have to feel any tough emotions.
  5. Assumptions go hand-in-hand with our personal rules to live by, because we often aren't conscious of the fact that we were conditioned to believe them or we have chosen to believe them. We therefore tend to assume others share the same handbook rules when no two personal handbooks are the same.

After all of that, I'm sure you have many thoughts and questions. I am frequently asked things like:

    1. So what do we do about our personal handbook?
    2. Is it okay to have one?
    3. How do I know when I'm reacting due to my personal handbook?
    4. Do I need to try to follow others so I don't offend anyone?
    5. Can I simply share mine with my partner so they don't do anything to upset me?
    6. I firmly believe in the things in my handbook, do I need to change this?
    7. Is the whole thing wrong? 
    8. Am I terrible for having one?

I'll answer all those and more by saying, IT'S ALL UP TO YOU TO DECIDE.

It's your life, so you get to decide what's forgivable or unforgivable, what beliefs you want to hold onto and what ones you want to let go of.

Before you make any decisions, though...

  1. Be aware of your personal handbook. Consider it whenever someone does something you think is bad/wrong/offensive/etc.
  2. Be aware that cultures across the world are very different, and something very offensive in one culture might mean nothing in another. An example would be respecting personal space. I HATE when people invade my space. That's my gut reaction. But, over time, I've realized that's just simply what I was taught, and I've always had it here in the US. In other countries, it is not the same. So sometimes others may invade your space simply because it was never an issue for them.
  3. Be aware that you too, will be held to the rules of other people's personal handbooks, and consider how that would feel.
  4. Never ever forget that other people's actions or circumstances do NOT cause your feelings. Your THOUGHTS about them do.
  5. Your personal handbook can absolutely change over time. I used to have a coworker who thought it was downright rude not to include a salutation on EVERY single email sent. It was just simply quicker to reply without salutations and I didn't care about them so I had no idea. Years later, she tells me she was being petty.  Point is, you are allowed to change and grow, and I hope you choose to.

Awareness is always the key to change and growth. You cannot change what you are not aware of. Reading the above is all just a primer for your self-awareness game.

What did this post bring up for you?

Have you discovered anything in your handbook that made you laugh?

Can you recall a time when you upset someone else because you didn't follow their handbook?





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