It’s not uncommon to subscribe to beliefs about how things “should look” or “should be done.” As humans there is a tendency to “should” all over ourselves, and apply arbitrary rules to how we function in our lives. But what if sometimes these arbitrary Rules of Should make things harder, and aren’t really meant to be applied universally? Perhaps the Rules of Should we have applied to ourselves are in fact cognitive distortions, that is to say they are thought patterns or beliefs that tend to be exaggerated or skewed and are not based on facts.

If the Rules of Should that I am striving (and sometimes failing) to live by are sources of distress and shame, then perhaps it is time to reassess them. Who said that clothing has to live in dresser drawers? Who gets to decide that paper plates and plastic utensils are for picnics and not every day use? Who determined that the first meal of the day has to include traditional breakfast foods? Somebody somewhere developed rules that functionally worked for them in some way, and then shared those rules. Some are specific on the micro level to households or families, some are more broadly applied and become more generally accepted norms.

So what if the Rules of Should are just possibilities, one way of doing things, and aren’t really The One True Way to do things? What would it mean in your life if you could let go of the Rules of Should, and instead find ways to prioritize effectiveness and function in your life? What if using Cheat Codes, which according to the Rules of Should are against The Way, is not only allowed, but might actually alleviate some distress and increase life satisfaction?

The Rules of Should define the parameters of doing something right, the way it should be done. Cheat codes provide alternative ways we can meet our goals or objectives, whether as a one off, or a new strategy. Consider the following examples:
• Laundry doesn’t get put away, because the idea of folding laundry to put in the dresser feels overwhelming, so you live out of the clean laundry basket. Or perhaps when laundry is put in drawers it is forgotten, because out of sight is out of mind, so you tend to wear and rewash the same load of laundry. If the goal is to find a strategy that works for you and doesn’t leave you feeling uncomfortable or guilty for “not putting laundry away,” then redefining what putting laundry away means would reduce distress and be more effective. Consider alternatives like open shelving, hanging clothes, or using bins/baskets strategically.
• If the goal is to feed yourself and/or your household, the Rules of Should may demand a home cooked meal with extra points for the level of from scratch cooking done all following a varied meal plan. Cheat codes may include using a single week or one month meal plan on repeat, getting take out, having easy prep and quick cook freezer meals, using meal kits, or batch cooking and eating left overs multiple days in a row.
• Consider reframing Breakfast as Meal 1 – and for meal one you are allowed to eat anything you want. For Meal 1 you may eat left over dinner, make a quick sandwich, cook up a weekly batch of soup, eat a sweet-potato, or enjoy a big salad. Food is food, and the nutritional value of a food item is the same no matter what time of day you eat them.
• Feel overwhelmed or stressed washing pots? Hate the nuisance of washing silverware? Don’t like all the extra place setting of dishware taking up space in your cabinets for the once or twice a year you have dinner guests? Disposable baking dishes, paper plates, and plastic utensils are a great way to lighten your load, and can be used whenever you want. Entertaining guests for meals can be less overwhelming when cleaning up the dishes involves throwing everything out instead of an hour at the sink.

Letting go of the Rules of Should doesn’t mean changing things that work for you because you think you SHOULDN’T follow the Rules of Should, instead it means giving yourself permission to develop your own unique Functional Guide to Life, with permission to adjust as needed and be as flexible as you want to be. Wiping down my stove after cooking never worked for me, because immediately after cooking the stove top was too hot to clean, and while waiting for it to cool down I would get distracted and forget. Instead, I wipe down my stove top before I start cooking, because the stove top is cool to the touch and I have a built in reminder since I am planning to use the stove. Another example is having bins for clean dishtowels under my sink. When I had to fold dishtowels I frequently ended up with a laundry basket full of clean dishtowels I kept meaning to put away, because I never wanted to fold them. Giving myself permission to toss the clean towels into a bin unfolded removed that barrier, and now dishtowels get put away quickly and there is no negative impact to me in having them organized into bins instead of neatly folded in a pile. Your life is yours, and you are allowed to do the things that work for you in the way they work for you. If the Rules of Should aren’t working for you, embrace the Cheat Codes, because there aren’t any bonus points in life for playing on hard-mode.