Please face a simple fact about people: you can’t shape them up, so why not shape you up? Change your restrictive zones, and try being more relaxed, comfortable, pleasant.

To become aware of your own restrictive zones, consider your habits and attitudes and ask yourself: “In what ways do I act compulsively? Does that behavior make much sense?” For example, suppose you’re compulsively punctual. How did you get that way? Probably through fear feedback: “I can’t be late or else.” Maybe when you were young, your parents trained you to always be on time by scolding or spanking you whenever you were late. When that didn’t work, they grounded you socially for a month. What did you learn? ”If I’m late, awful things happen.”

So now you’re 38 or 48 years old, and you’re running a little late. You start to think, “Man, I can’t be late!” You don’t think, “Or else Dad will punish me.” All you know is “I can’t be late or else.” That compulsive, restrictive behavior prevents you from acting sensibly and realizing your potential, because it limits your behavior to a conditioned, “or else” response.

Punctuality compulsion can cause you to do irrational things. For example, if you’re a compulsively punctual person and you’re running late for an appointment, you may be driving along and see a train about to head you off at a crossing. You get the feedback “I can’t be late!”

So you race the train to the crossing. Recklessly, you risk your own life and the lives of everyone else in the car, just because you fear being late. And if the train beats you to the crossing, you act crazy: “It’s illegal for a train to take this long at a crossing! I’ll report this to the authorities!” You are so annoyed, you can’t think straight. When the train passes, you get even more compulsive, more reckless. You may drive 75 in a 35 mph zone. And if the other party is late, you’re livid. “Can’t you be on time?” Anybody’s lateness can drive you almost to distraction.

change yourself

If you have some definite restrictive zones, you won’t place yourself into environments that bother you. You’ll stay with people who are like you, people who won’t upset you.

Are some restrictive zones okay? Sure, you want some safeguards. You should feel upset if someone tries to steal from you. But you don’t want the job of policing the world: “Stop slurping your soup. Get your hands away from your face.” You’re always picking on people, trying to shape them up.

Your kids know what bothers you and when they’re mad at you, the best way to get back at you is to do what they know bothers you. So they violate your restrictive zones constantly. I used to yell at my kids, “Don’t slam the door. I’ve told you a hundred times.”

They remembered, of course, and on a cold winter day, when I was watching a football game, they’d leave the door open. So I’d yell from my easy chair: “Shut the door.”

Then they’d slam the door shut. I’d yell, “Don’t slam the door.” “Sorry, Dad. The wind got it.”

They know what bothers you. And the more restrictive zones you have, the crazier they can drive you.

You don’t need to feel accountable for everybody else’s behavior. You don’t need to allow other people to make you feel miserable and ruin your day.

First ask yourself, “What rules are necessary here?” Examine the way you conduct your family life, your career, and your social life. Identify rules you enforce that exist for no other reason than to make you feel good.

Why bother? Because if you don’t change your restrictive zones, you won’t develop your full potential as a human being and you may inadvertently block someone you love from using theirs.

When we adopted children and had foster kids, I wanted all of them to feel happy and loving around me. But I would come into the living room with all the kids there, and somebody would violate one of my restrictive zones. I would scold, “Get your feet off the couch!” “Get the dog out of here!” “Don’t eat ice cream in that chair!”

The kids would start filtering out of that room one at a time: “I think I’ll take out the garbage, Dad.” “And I’ll help him, Dad.” ”Gee, I almost forgot, Dad. It’s my turn to mow the lawn.” I’d say, “No, it isn’t. And anyhow, it’s raining!” See, they suddenly got very creative at finding things to do. Soon, I’d be sitting there alone, wanting to be a loving father but feeling that everyone hated me. To justify myself, I’d say, ”That’s just the consequence of being a good father.”

Indeed, there are consequences when you impose your will upon someone else, especially when you try to imprison them in your restrictive zone. What happens in a marriage when you argue over restrictive zones? You start off loving each other, and you end up trying to strangle each other. “Don’t let me catch you squeezing the toothpaste in the middle!” and “Don’t chew that ice around me!” are unnecessary restrictive rules that can break up marriages. Think about all the silly things you fight over. Why do they upset you in the first place? Your parents passed on some of these prohibitions to you. Be assured, unless you are aware you have them, you will pass them on to others.

We sometimes retaliate against people who violate our restrictive zones. In the days of the “Wild West,” when people felt hostile, they could solve the problem by taking out a six-gun and shooting. In medieval Europe, they could express their hostility by wielding a sword: “Off with their heads!” But in our very sophisticated, modern society, we’ve gone into the banking business to vent our hostility. We build up “IOU” accounts. When people irritate us, we tell ourselves, “I won’t let that bother me.” But, subconsciously, every time we think about it, we make a deposit in our “IOU” account: “I owe you one for that.” And soon, when our account gets full, it’s time to start paying people back what we owe them.

action change things

One way you do that is to find out what upsets them, and then do it. “I didn’t know that bothered you, dear. Heh-hehheh. I’m sorry.” No, you’re not. Husbands and wives know how to irritate each other, kids and parents know how, employers and employees know how. It’s a safe way of paying someone back for upsetting you.

A friend of mine is a warden in a federal penitentiary. He told me that in the old days, convicts had to keep the top button of their uniforms buttoned at all times. He said if a convict ever wanted to annoy a guard, all he had to do was get up early in the morning, rip the top button off his uniform, and throw it away. The guard would spot the wide open collar before breakfast, and he’d get upset: “Button your button!” The convict would say, “Can’t. Lost it.” The guard would get so mad, he’d stomp around muttering all day long. The cons would keep it up all year. Now, can you imagine torturing yourself every day over “Button your button”? Some of us do that.

Another hostile response to the imposition of someone else’s restrictive zones is withholding. When you make people feel hostile, they find out what you want or need, and they withhold it from you. Little kids withhold their toys or their cooperation. Grown-ups withhold their knowledge and experience.

In companies, when one department gets mad at another department, its people withhold cooperation. People who are habitually late to business meetings could very well be hostile people withholding their very presence from the meetings.

I once worked with a National Basketball Association team which started a season with a great surge, but finished with a crash. I called the coach and asked him, “What happened?” He said, “A few players thought some of their teammates were getting too much publicity, so they stopped passing them the ball. They’d just say, ‘I didn’t see him.'” In other words, they withheld.

So, how is it on your team, in your family, at your work? Do you see why it’s important to dissolve your restrictive zones? You can have the best superstars on your team, but if they develop hostility they will start violating each other’s restrictive zones which only compounds the problem and creates a mess.

Unless you see the underlying causes of anger and hostility, you won’t know how to treat the problems. You might fall back on ineffective “remedies” like divorce, firing people, benching them, “pushing” them back, withholding, or imposing more rules. Unless you recognize some things that are bothering you and reprogram yourself inside, you’ll keep producing unhealthy conditions.

Start setting your goals on a “want to, choose to, like to, get to” basis. Visualize the profitability in the goal and why it will be advantageous for you and others. It’s not just a matter of looking forward to something; it’s how you look forward that makes a difference. You don’t want to look forward with trepidation and fear. That’s worrying or negative goal setting. Even if you have unappealing choices, try to see the advantages, and tell yourself why it’s in your best interest to go that way. Then move aggressively into it. Focus on the value. Placing your life on a value oriented basis creates drive and innovation; it’s what makes life a grand adventure.