Embrace Your Positive Deviant and Get More Out of Life with Less Stupid Rules

I talk to a lot of people who are bored with life, feeling stuck; and want a change. Some people get so fed up that they want to lash out…. In this article I advocate for breaking the rules in a positive way.  I am developing a quiz to determine what kind of deviant you are when life gets in your way of being happy and fulfilled – stay tuned for that!

A little positive deviance and throwing unnecessary rules by the wayside (positive aspects of rule breaking) will serve you in expanding your perspective and seeing life through the joy and light that true freedom offers!


It’s okay to break the rules. Just don’t get arrested – that is the only rule. Okay, maybe I am joking and I often do say this before a girls weekend trip somewhere like Vegas or San Francisco…. But seriously though – I want to give you this quick warning before I launch into my spiel about how breaking the rules can be incredible, fulfilling and uplifting. I am not advocating for breaking laws or hurting anyone. That’s where I draw the line in my rule breaking.


Let’s talk about what it means to be a deviant. A rule breaker. The word deviant comes from two Latin words; de which means “from” and via which means “road” (Spreitzer & Sonenshein, 2003). So “to deviate” literally means to go off the road or off the beaten path. Deviants tap into that element of surprise because they are often doing things that are unexpected or unconventional. We can think about how our behaviors might fall into a normal distribution – most behaviors fall in the middle, nothing unconventional or extraordinary there. The media on the other hand, likes to focus on those extreme negative behaviors that deviate from the norm such as theft or murder where some deviant behavior results in a negative outcome. We might say that those behaviors fall on the far left of the normal distribution. The media and society in general have grossly discounted those deviant behaviors which lie on the opposite end of the spectrum – such as positive deviance resulting in outcomes of good intention, that focus on virtuous behaviors highlighting the good in people and the moral extraordinary of every day people. Sometimes these are just simple living in the moment and doing the right thing (intuitively or morally) despite what the rules dictate we should be doing.

I despise the words: shoulda, woulda, coulda.  I want to make sure that we eliminate these demeaning words from our vocabulary moving forward as we strive to create a future full of possibilities, creativity, and reaching for our dreams and creating the life we truly wish to be living today.

Even breaking the small rules sometimes can give you a bolt of energy, enlighten you, and inspire you to start stepping out of your comfort zone more often.


So often times when I think, especially for women, we are told we should or shouldn’t do this or that, or that’s not allowed, and that’s not lady like. I don’t know how may times my great aunt (she was practically my grandmother) told me – “that’s not lady like”.

In the third grade, I was even sent to an all girls training called Pretty As A Picture and it literally instructed young girls on societal rules about what you should or shouldn’t do. It instructed you on how to behave at a dinner party. Which fork to use and how to correctly cross your legs.

To this day, when I sit down and cross my legs at the knees I think OMG this is so not lady like. Some one is gonna see me. Some one’s grandma is going to see me and call me out. I really should be crossing my legs at the ankles and tucking my feet under the left side of the chair. That’s the appropriate way (the right way) for a lady to cross her legs.


In some deep way I’ve always thought this was ridiculous. I went through eight weeks of this training as a young girl – so I’ve been conditioned to think this is important. I think a lot of individuals have been similarly conditioned to think there are certain things in life that we are not supposed to do.


So, I want to challenge you right now = think of a rule that you can break. Cross your legs wherever you want to cross them. Sit like a man. Sit like however you want to sit. However makes you feel alive, comfortable, or beautiful.


Stop worrying about what people think.  


Individuals are faced with many daily choices that require us to either follow the rules or to deviate. A recent study (Dahling. Chau, Mayer, & Gregory, 2012) discussed three forms of pro-social deviant behavior. I propose another level of pro-social deviant behavior – one that is purely for the sense of please, enjoyment, and living in the moment. With no expected financial or instrumental gain or destructive intentions of any kind. The authors of that paper also found that conscientious individuals are more risk-averse and do not break rules… but I challenge this notion and believe that you can be BOTH a rule breaker and a conscientious person. I personally test very high on the conscientiousness personality trait, yet I love breaking the rules and see first hand how it has served me well in living a fearless and exuberant life that I am simultaneously surprised by and proud of.


I’ve been through a lot of things in my life and at the end of the day – one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it ultimately doesn’t matter what people think and the only person you are going to have to really live up to – is yourself. So follow your heart, follow your intuition. Ignore the “rules” if you will.


I have a lot of fun this way – by breaking the rules. I always tease my friend when they say “oh your not allowed to do such and such” – you can’t have this or that. You’re not supposed to bring alcohol by the pool, your not supposed to go swimming after you eat, (INSERT OTHER STUPID RULES). You can’t wear white before Memorial Day. Ummmm…. HELLO?! Like, where and who makes up these ridiculous rules – and after all, they wouldn’t have these rules if they weren’t worried that people were going to break them.
I think this fear that people will break the rules is the FUN part about rules. You can start looking at it like – that’s why we actually have rules. We have rules because they are made to be broken. And this is how I approach life.


Actually, this reminds me of a fun story – this past New Year’s and the photo I have attached to the beginning of the article is indicative of this very life premise that I choose to live by. It’s a fun photo and mind you I am somewhat intoxicated in this photo – not illegally so of course, but yes I have had quite a few drinks. Its 1am on new years day so you can imagine I’ve been drinking quite a lot of champagne this particular evening.


So my girlfriend and I walk outside of the hotel party – we had enjoyed such a fabulous night and I was literally feeling ON TOP OF THE WORLD. Literally. On. Top. Of. The. World. So in that moment, I saw this beautiful cop car and I thought – OMG this would make such a great photo opportunity. So yes. Now, while I don’t think I would have been arrested if the police had actually walked out.


Maybe actually – if it was a female cop I wonder what would have happened compared to if it was a male cop. I never saw the officer who’s car this was but I totally just said FUCK IT. Here take my phone, I need this photo – and I jumped on the hood of the car. It literally took two seconds to snap the photos and I really didn’t break any rules, I didn’t damage any property. I didn’t hurt anyone. These are the rules worth breaking just for the sheer fun of it.


That’s perhaps the most important point when deciding whether or not to break any rules – will this physically or emotional damage anyone? More on that in another post I’m working on.


I was probably somewhat publicly intoxicated but you know what – it was worth it! I took a small risk. And it was fun. It was exciting. I inspired my friend to jump on the hood with me – and if you scroll down you will see the photo of us both at the bottom of this post. This was one of the best moments of the night – and was a hard night to top at that point.


We felt so free, creative, excited and we GOT ATTENTION. This was an attention grabber. People looked at us like OMG you aren’t allowed to do that! And I think so many times we limit ourselves and we limit the opportunities that are presented us to feel alive, free, and excited by not following our hearts and instead following the rules. I want to challenge you to follow your heart and not the rules today. Step out of your comfort zone, do something radical, take a silly selfie somewhere public, each cake for breakfast if you want to, dye your hair a funky color, or whatever it is that sparks JOY for you.


A recent study on deviant behavior in the workplace (Morrison, 2006) found that 64% of participants could give an example of rule breaking that they had committed. What are the consequences of NOT breaking the rules? What limitations are those individuals operating within? My sister is one of these people and our family never quite understood how – for example we once stayed in a no pets allowed hotel… and my family has a few pets that often accompany us on road trips. This particular time, my mother decided it would be okay to leave the big dogs in the mini van but to bring the tiny dog into the hotel. My sister couldn’t’ stand this idea – she actually went to the manager and told them that my mother had a dog in the room. This is maybe an extreme example, but I think represents the limited thought process going on in those individuals who believe that you need to follow all of the rules- or else! Don’t live like this – its not fun and you deserve better.


Another article published recent by one of my favorite psychologists, Philip Zimbardo, and his colleague, Boniwell, (2015) investigated important factors contributing to the success of psychotherapy and/or counseling.  They found that encouragement of risk taking and mastery are important relational based factor in determining the success of psychotherapy and are among other relationship-based factors that together account for over 30% of the variance in therapeutic outcomes. Thus, embracing a pathway of curiosity and exploratory behavior can lead to a broader sense of personal resources among individuals, students, teachers, and athletes. When one has the support of a understanding and approachable partner (i.e. teacher, parent, coach, therapist) our worries about fitting in or what other people think about us are minimized. By satisfying our desire to fit in and be accepted or belong in a social circle allows us the freedom to take more risks and engage in novel, creative, and challenging endeavors – ultimately this leads to grater fulfillment in our likes and inspires us to take appropriate risks and pursue goals in the face of potential failure, rejection, or ridicule. Despite what the rules might dictate.


Another example that I’ll give you quickly… my friend and I were in Santa Monica… I’m not sure what the rules are exactly on the beaches there but this was a beautiful November evening and I was living a few blocks from the beach. It was a particularly warm fall evening and the temperature of the water happened to be warmer than the temperature outside. It was just one of those glorious moments where you dip your toes in the water and you cannot believe of how warm the water is. I looked at my friend and I knew we were thinking the same thing in that moment – like we should have brought our swimsuits…. But we didn’t and we weren’t about to let that hold us back from experiencing the ocean for all she was offering in that moment.

So I said, you know it would be really fun to go swimming right now. She said yeah we should totally do it. And this was one of those situations where my friend decided it was time to break the rules. In that moment we could not sit back and let this opportunity for joy pass us by without grabbing life by the horns because of some silly rule that says you have to wear a swimsuit when its PITCH BLACK at night on the beach when there is no one around…. So yeah she stood up, she stripped down and she looked at me and said – “if we don’t do it now – when are we gonna do it?”

I love this girl, she is an amazing and special person in my life. I admire her on so many levels and this moment will forever stick in my mind as one of those reasons why we are such great friends. And I’m sure we will share so many future nights like this together breaking rules.


So she started to strip down and before she even got her shirt over her head – I felt this wave of energy and excitement. And I think this was the same wave of energy that my other friend felt when she saw my posing on the hood of the cop car on New Year’s morning.


So, my point is – you can be both the inspiration for people to start living fearlessly and living to their potential by grabbing life and opportunities by the horns – and you can also be the person who is inspired to break the rules. But you have to keep your eyes open for these opportunities. They do not come around every day – but when they do they will change your perspective and spark joy in a profound way – this I promise.


Now, let me be clear – I am not encouraging you to rob banks, hurt anyone, or break rules that are imperative like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. OR anything risky that could put your health and your life or the lives of others at risk.


Keep your eyes open though because there are so many opportunities out there in this giant world to make a statement, to take a stand against something, to stand up for what you believe and to BREAK THE RULES. That’s why they have rules. Because ultimately they really are meant to be broken – so get out there and break some rules.




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