Creating Rules to Support Your Client’s Goals

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Creating Rules to Support Your Client’s Goals

Pyramid w/ engagement rules

Last week we talked about the ‘rules’ that run your clients’ life…Remember THIS?

Pyramid w/ engagement rules

This week you’ll discover how to coach your clients to escape these rules

…so they are free to move toward their goals…

…faster and more efficiently than ever.

Take one of my favorite clients…

…who came to her session one day…

…upset because she wasn’t making progress toward her goals.

She told me she didn’t have time…

…because her husband and kids were not picking up after themselves in the kitchen…

…and the house was a mess.

She was so angry…

…that she couldn’t see her options.

I had to agree with her…

…that her family was breaking the rules…

…but they were HER rules.

A quick sample:

  • a rule about how everyone in the family needed to keep the home neat and tidy (which would fit nicely in the “Perfectionist” rule category)
  • a rule that she had to control her family’s activities in the house (which was a pretty “Reactive” rule)

I had to help my client understand that this whole situation was just a game she was playing

…and that the rules of the game set her up to lose PERPETUALLY.

“But Colette, how can you tell her she’s playing a GAME? She’ll be offended!”

Let me clarify:

I don’t mean ‘game’ in the malicious sense of the word.

Every game has a variety of aspects:

  • Goals
  • Players
  • Rules
  • Boundaries
  • Strategies

…and we could go on.

Regardless of how these aspects are defined… they are present in every game.In these same respects, your client’s life is just like a game.

board game

Your client plays the game of life every day.

Doesn’t their life have goals, and boundaries, other ‘players’, etc.?

The goal of their ‘life’ game might be to ‘feel happy’, or ‘make a difference’ or ‘succeed’.

Regardless of the goal of the game…

…your client also has RULES of their ‘life’ game.

RULES about what should be allowed…

RULES about what needs to happen for your client to feel a certain way.

Every client you’ll ever work with has these ‘rules’.

Anyway, back to MY client : – )

My client was giving away her power to achieve the goals in her ‘game’ (i.e. her life)…

…because of the rules of her ‘game’.

And, although I’m sure she learned many of these rules from somewhere…

  • Other people
  • Media / stories
  • Life events

…at some point, SHE had to adopt those rules.

These rules became HER rules for HER game (i.e. HER life).

Make sense?

THIS is exactly what I explained to my client.

And then I told her, “When you complain to me about your messy house, I’m hearing all your rules.”

“…and, as a result, you’re wasting time feeling angry…

…instead of working on your goals.”

“Maybe you won’t manage to keep your home neat and tidy at all times…

…especially considering that your family has their own agenda…

…and their own rules.”

“What do I DO?”, she cried.

“There are only 3 steps to transform this,” I assured her.

“And you’re already past the first step.”

Pyramid w/ escape rules

Then I continued to take her through…

The 3 Step Process to Help Clients Escape Their Limiting Rules:

STEP ONE: Identify the disempowering rule

The first step in changing a rule is awareness, but it’s often hard for clients to admit their ridiculous rules.

Sometimes you can help your client identify which category of rule is interfering with their progress…


You may even want to share all these possible rule categories, and let your client decide which category describes their offending rule.

For example:

  • Is one of their rules keeping them from feeling how they want (a Value Rule)?
  • Does one of their rules trigger a negative emotion (a Trigger Rule)?
  • Is their identity and self-worth dependent on an external source (a sign of an Identity Rule)?

STEP TWO: Unravel the rule

The goal in this step is not to ‘destroy’ your client’s rule.

The goal in this step is not to ‘destroy’ your client’s rule.”

Your client might object intensely to that.

Let them keep their rule.

Instead, the outcome here is to gently ‘unravel’ the hold this rule has on your client.

Your client has likely gotten ‘tangled up’ in this particular rule…

…and if they were only to unravel that mess…

…they’d be free from the limitation of that rule without feeling deprived or judged in the process.

To support the process of unraveling your client’s rule, help them to discover the weaknesses of that rule:


If you can show your client how their rule makes no sense (or it’s obviously false) then that rule will start to unravel.

Some questions you might ask to point out ‘rule nonsense’ include:

  • “Do you think this rule is too idealistic?”
  • “Can you think of a time when you succeeded despite not following that rule?”
  • “How is that rule unreasonable, unrealistic, or unattainable?”
  • “Does that rule apply to everyone who is successful?”
  • “Isn’t that rule just impossible / unachievable?”


If you can help your client see how their rule…

  • causes suffering
  • withholds joy or fulfillment
  • causes otherwise bad consequences

…then they’ll start to unravel that rule.

Some questions you might ask to point out ‘rule consequences’ include:

  • “Does this rule cause you to be hypersensitive or reactive?”
  • “What would be possible if that rule didn’t exist?”
  • “What kind of pain does that rule cause? How much suffering would you escape if you didn’t have that rule?”
  • “What will be the future consequences you’ll experience if you continue to live by that rule?”

STEP THREE: Create a new (and more empowering) rule

Once you’ve unraveled the old rule there’s a vacuum that your client can fill with a new empowering rule.

The new empowering rule should:

  • Eliminate or reduce the suffering that the old rule caused.
  • Make life easier for your client (without compromising their standards).
  • Support important exceptions to the old rule.
  • Be more flexible (which should create more flexibility in your client’s life).

A few questions that could provoke a new set of rules:

  • “What aspect of your old rule do you need to let go of?”
  • “What could you choose to believe instead?”
  • “How can you give yourself what you need NOW, instead of waiting for your circumstances to change?”

Once your client has answered a few questions like these, the new rule should begin to emerge in the coaching conversation.

After I used this tool with my client…

…she sighed deeply with relief.

She realized that she was trying to control everything…

…except her own perspective.

It was exhausting.

Those rules were robbing her of her energy…

Those rules were stealing away her time…

Those rules were killing her goals.

Together we created new rules that made it easier to succeed

…and harder to fail.

She let go of rigid rules about what she needed to do…

…to be a good wife…

…and a good mother.

Suddenly she was free to be herself…

…to reach for her own dreams…

…without having to be perfect.

Why does this strategy work so well?

Because the key to helping your clients achieve their goals is…

…to inspire them to keep taking action.

…to help them avoid pitfalls when possible.

…to pick them up and dust them off when they fall down.

Because the key to helping your clients achieve their goals is…to inspire them to keep taking action…to help them avoid pitfalls when possible…to pick them up and dust them off when they fall down.”

Some of your client’s rules hold them back…

…like a teenager who is driving with the parking brake on…

…using fuel…

…and burning up the tires…

…without knowing it.

The biggest problem?

Just like a teenager confronted with their error…

…your client isn’t ready to hear you…

…especially when they are wrapped up in their story.

That’s because they see their current reality

…through the lens of their rules.

Once you help them see the rule…

…they can remove that lens…

…and you can easily lead them into clarity.

Then, instead of arguing with you…

…they’ll move out of their pain…

…and find some freedom.

(…and they’ll probably think you’re the best coach ever!)

Colette “Unraveling Rules” Coiner

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