10 Important Life Laws
by Dr Phil
“Life Laws are the rules of the game. No one is going to ask you if you think these laws are fair, or if you think they should exist. Like the law of gravity, they simply are. You don’t get a vote. You can ignore them and stumble along, wondering why you never seem to succeed; or you can learn them, adapt to them, mold your choices and behavior to them, and live effectively. Learning these Life Laws is at the absolute core of what you must master in this book to have the essential knowledge for a personal life strategy.”
– Dr. Phil, excerpted from Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters.
Life Law #1: You either get it or you don’t.
Your Strategy: Become one of those who gets it.
In almost every situation, there are people who get it and there are people who don’t — and it’s really easy to tell them apart. Those who get it are enjoying the fruits of their knowledge. Those who don’t spend a lot of time looking puzzled, frustrated, and doing without. People who don’t get it can often be found beating their heads against the wall and complaining that they never seem to get a break. People who get it seem to be tuned in and not just playing, but actually controlling. They don’t make foolish mistakes, because they have figured out that there is a definite formula for success, and they have broken the code. They have the formula. These people are invariably successful because they have acquired the knowledge they need to create the results they want. In short, they get it.
Life Law #2: You create your own experience.
Your Strategy: Acknowledge and accept accountability for your life. Understand your role in creating the results that are your life.
You are accountable for your life. Good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, happy or sad, fair or unfair, you own your life. You are now accountable; you have always been accountable, you will always be accountable. That is how it is. That may not be how you want it to be, but that is how it is. If you don’t like your job, you are accountable. If you are overweight, you are accountable. If you are not happy, you are accountable. Whatever your life circumstance is, accepting this law means that you can no longer dodge responsibility for how and why your life is the way it is.
Bottom line: You are not a victim. You are creating the situations you are in; you are creating the emotions that flow from those situations. Whatever choices you make in this world, those choices have results. Your thoughts are behavior too. If you choose to stay with a destructive partner, then you choose the consequences of pain and suffering. If you choose thoughts contaminated with anger and bitterness, then you will create an experience of alienation and hostility. When you start choosing the right behavior and thoughts — which will take a lot of discipline — you’ll get the right consequences.
Life Law #3: People do what works.
Your Strategy: Identify the payoffs that drive your behavior and that of others. Control the payoffs to control your life.
Even the most destructive behaviors have a payoff. If you did not perceive the behavior in question to generate some value to you, you would not do it. If you want to stop behaving in a certain way, you’ve got to stop “paying yourself off” for doing it. Payoffs can be as simple as money gained by going to work to psychological payoffs of acceptance, approval, praise, love or companionship. It is possible that you are feeding off unhealthy, addictive and imprisoning payoffs, such as self-punishment or distorted self-importance.
You are shaping your own behavior by the payoffs you are getting in life. Find and control the payoffs, and you control the behavior, whether it’s your own or someone else’s.
Life Law #4: You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.
Your Strategy: Get real with yourself about life and everybody in it. Be truthful about what isn’t working in your life. Stop making excuses and start making results.
If you won’t take ownership of your role in a situation, then you cannot and will not change it. In fact, self-destructive behaviors will only grow worse and become more entrenched in your life, if you don’t acknowledge them.
If you hope to have a winning life strategy, you have to be honest about where your life is right now. Your life is not too bad to fix and it’s not too late to fix it. But be honest about what needs fixing. If you lie to yourself about any dimension of your life, an otherwise sound strategy will be compromised.
Life Law #5: Life rewards action.
Your Strategy: Make careful decisions and then pull the trigger. Learn that the world couldn’t care less about thoughts without actions.
People don’t care about your intentions. They care about what you do. Commit to measuring your life and its quality based on results, not on intentions. Until knowledge, awareness, insights and understanding are translated into action, they are of no value. Life rewards action – not intention, not insight, not wisdom, not understanding.
The difference between winners and losers is that winners do things losers don’t want to do. People who win take purposeful, meaningful action; they don’t just think about. To have what you want, you have to do what it takes.
Nothing in your life will change until you begin to do different things. Pull the trigger. Get up off your knowledge and do something different with your life. Decide that you are worth the risk of taking action, and that your dreams are not to be sold out. Take action, and insist on results.
Life Law #6: There is no reality, only perception.
Strategy: Identify the filters through which you view the world. Acknowledge your history without being controlled by it.
This is a law so profound that it determines whether or not you are happy, satisfied, and at peace. Accepting this law means that you embrace the fact that, no matter what happens in your life, how you interpret that event is up to you. Whatever meaning or value a particular circumstance has for you will be the meaning or value that you give it. You have the ability to choose differently from what you are currently choosing, if you wish. When it comes to how you see things, you do have a choice.
We all view the world through individual filters, which powerfully influence the interpretations we give events, how we respond, and how we are responded to. To live effectively, you’ve got to recognize the presence of your filters, and take care that they don’t distort your perceptions so as to mislead you in your decision making. If you continue to view the world through a filter created by past events, then you are allowing your past to control and dictate both your present and your future.
Identify your filters so you can compensate for them. Not acknowledging that you have limiting beliefs, and identifying what they are, means that they will stay active, threatening to undermine the life plan you’re about to construct. You control your perceptions. Therefore, you control your interpretations of and attitudes about your life. That is power. Let your perceptions be fresh and new and grounded in fact, not in history.
Life Law #7: Life is managed; it is not cured.
Your Strategy: Learn to take charge of your life and hold on. This is a long ride, and you are the driver every single day.
You are a life manager, and your objective is to actively manage your life in a way that generates high-quality results. If you’re not doing a very good job, then you need to wake up and get on the ball. You are your own most important resource for making your life work. Success is a moving target that must be tracked and continually pursued.
Effective life management means you need to require more of yourself in your grooming, self-control, emotional management, interaction with others, work performance, dealing with fear, and in every other category you can think of. You must approach this task with the most intense commitment, direction and urgency you can muster.
The key to managing your life is to have a strategy. If you have a clear-cut plan, and the courage, commitment and energy to execute that strategy, you can flourish. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll be a stepping stone for those who do. You can also help yourself as a life manager if you manage your expectations. If you don’t require much of yourself, your life will be of poor quality. If you have unrealistic standards, then you are adding to your difficulties.
The rest of this year will go by, whether you are doing something to improve your life or not. Don’t start on this project tomorrow, or even later today. Start now. The life you’re managing is your own. The emotional life, the social life, the spiritual life, the physical life that you are managing: all of it is your own. Manage it with purpose, and manage it with knowledge. You make the choices that create your emotional state. Make them in an informed, purposeful way, and you will have what you want.
Life Law #8: We teach people how to treat us.
Your Strategy: Own, rather than complain about, how people treat you. Learn to renegotiate your relationships to have what you want.
You either teach people to treat you with dignity and respect, or you don’t. This means you are partly responsible for the mistreatment that you get at the hands of someone else. You shape others’ behavior when you teach them what they can get away with and what they cannot.
If the people in your life treat you in an undesirable way, figure out what you are doing to reinforce, elicit or allow that treatment. Identify the payoffs you may be giving someone in response to any negative behavior. For example, when people are aggressive, bossy or controlling — and then get their way — you have rewarded them for unacceptable behavior.
Because you are accountable, you can declare the relationship “reopened for negotiation” at any time you choose, and for as long as you choose. Even a pattern of relating that is 30 years old can be redefined. Before you reopen the negotiation, you must commit to do so from a position of strength and power, not fear and self-doubt.
Life Law #9: There is power in forgiveness.
Your Strategy: Open your eyes to what anger and resentment are doing to you. Take your power back from those who have hurt you.
Hate, anger and resentment are destructive, eating away at the heart and soul of the person who carries them. They are absolutely incompatible with your own peace, joy and relaxation. Ugly emotions change who you are and contaminate every relationship you have. They can also take a physical toll on your body, including sleep disturbance, headaches, back spasms, and even heart attacks.
Forgiveness sets you free from the bonds of hatred, anger and resentment. The only way to rise above the negatives of a relationship in which you were hurt is to take the moral high ground, and forgive the person who hurt you.
Forgiveness is not about another person who has transgressed against you; it is about you. Forgiveness is about doing whatever it takes to preserve the power to create your own emotional state. It is a gift to yourself and it frees you. You don’t have to have the other person’s cooperation, and they do not have to be sorry or admit the error of their ways. Do it for yourself.
Life Law #10: You have to name it before you can claim it.
Your Strategy: Get clear about what you want and take your turn.
Not knowing what you want — from your major life goals to your day-to-day desires — is not OK. The most you’ll ever get is what you ask for. If you don’t even know what it is that you want, then you can’t even ask for it. You also won’t even know if you get there!
By being specific in defining your goal, the choices you make along the way will be more goal-directed. You will recognize which behaviors and choices support your goals — and which do not. You will know when you are heading toward your goal, and when you are off track.
Be bold enough to reach for what will truly fill you up, without being unrealistic. Once you have the strength and resolve enough to believe that you deserve what it is that you want, then and only then will you be bold enough to step up and claim it. Remember that if you don’t, someone else will.