The #1 Tip You Need To Improve Any Relationship In Your Life: Drop the Manual

“If she would just help out a little more around the house, things would be so much easier.” 

“He should tell me he loves me at least once a day; that’s how good relationships work.”

“They shouldn’t ask me to do this extra project; now I’m so stressed out.”

Do you ever hear yourself thinking similar thoughts?

If you interact with other humans, chances are you do.

Here’s the deal.

We all have these unspoken rules and guidelines for how people “should” behave.

And over time, we build up pretty thick manuals for the important people in our life. 

While these rules are great when the other people follow them…

There are also times when they don’t.

And when that happens, we often let ourselves feel pretty terrible. 

If you can relate, then I think you’re going to love episode 80 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

Because in it, I share one of the most powerful things you can do today to improve any relationship in your life.

Yes, really.

So if you’re ready to strengthen your relationships and feel a greater connection with the people in your life, be sure to check out episode 80 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast now.

You can listen to the episode below, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

Listen To The Podcast Here!

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • Why we have manuals for people in our life
  • What your manuals are
  • How to drop your manuals and exponentially improve your relationships

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #80: The #1 Tip You Need To Improve Any Relationship In Your Life (Transcript)

Hey, everybody! Welcome to episode 80 of the podcast. 80 podcasts! That’s 20 months of podcasts each week. How fun is that? I love it. 

So. We’ve reached February. Can you believe it? I…can’t. In fact, I didn’t actually put this together until I was at the bank the other day and noticed they had a bunch of red streamers and hearts everywhere for Valentine’s Day. And this visual reminder of Valentine’s day had me thinking about relationships more broadly this past week. Relationships with our significant others, with our families, with our friends, and our co-workers. 

I’ve been thinking more specifically about how our relationships have been stretched and pulled in many new directions as we worked through changes and challenges over the past year. And I’ve been thinking about what has been especially useful for me and my own approach to relationships in my life.

As I thought about this over the past few days, I realized that one of the most powerful tools or approaches that really transformed the way I look at relationships is the concept of the manual. 

What Is A Manual?

So what the heck is a manual? Well, just like a manual that comes with your appliances or your television or your printer to tell us how they work, we also have manuals for other people. It’s basically a set of instructions that we create in our minds for how everyone else in our life should behave. And we think to ourselves that if they would just do this thing or that thing…if they would just say thank you or if they would just take out the trash, we think it would make everything so much easier and it would make us feel happy. 

What’s more, these manuals are generally unwritten, meaning we don’t tell the other person in our life what’s in it. Instead, we just expect them to know how they’re supposed to show up, and when they don’t, we tell ourselves it’s their fault that we’re feeling so frustrated. They’re the ones who are making us feel bad. And of course, as we’ve talked about before, intellectually we know this isn’t true. We know people can’t make us feel different emotions, it’s really what we’re thinking. But we often tend to forget this, and especially when it comes to manuals. 

So we have our manuals, we expect the people in our life to follow them, and when they inevitably don’t, we allow ourselves to get super frustrated or annoyed or whatever other negative emotions come up. 

We All Have Manuals

Now, I first want to say that we all have manuals. We all have these unspoken – and sometimes spoken – guidelines for how people should show up in our lives both on the small scale with individual people and on a larger scale in terms of how society should show up as a whole. 

So on an individual level, this might sound like: my partner should tell me they love me at least once per day. My best friend should call and wish me a happy birthday every year. My mom shouldn’t make comments on how I raise my kids. It might sound like my boss should recognize my hard work more often. Or my kids should be grateful for everything I do for them.

We might also have manuals for general groups of people. My students should want to participate in class. My team should be eager to reach our sales goals for the quarter. Or my family should want to spend Friday evening doing game night. Parents should always be supportive of their children. People on Facebook should engage with my posts. 

And finally, we have manuals for ourselves, which ties back to last week’s episode about being a robot. I should be more efficient. I should never get frustrated with my kids. I should always check everything off my to-do list. I should be more helpful and volunteer more often. Etc.

Manuals Are Optional

So again, we have manuals on all different levels. And we all have these manuals running all of the time. Now, chances are, you heard some of your own manuals in the short list that I provided. And if you spent time really digging into your own manuals for the different people in your life, chances are, you would find even more.

What’s more, you may have been listening to that list of manual rules I just offered and thought, OF COURSE that’s true, Paula. Of course, my wife should tell me she loves me each day. Of course, my kids should be grateful. And of course, parents are supposed to be supportive of their children. These are all general truths. 

And to that, I would say with love, how’s that belief working out for you? My guess is that it works out for you when they follow the manual. And when they don’t you feel terrible. 

Problems With The Manual

You see, this once again goes back to that annoying reminder that we can’t control other people. So while we all have manuals for how we think other people should show up, we cannot actually force them to follow those rules. And when we believe that our happiness, or whether or not we feel loved, or appreciated, or supported, depends on another person, it leaves us trying to control the situation. We start turning into unhappy people who are desperately trying to control everyone around us in order to feel good, which is – quite frankly – exhausting. Because it turns out, people don’t like to be controlled.

And that leads me to the second problem with the manual, which is that very thought error. When people follow our manuals – when our kids pick up their rooms after the first time we ask, when our colleagues pull their own weight on the project, when your husband takes out the recycling before it becomes a dangerous balancing act – that’s not what makes you feel good. What makes you feel good are the thoughts you’re having about it. 

Take Back Control

And subsequently, when they don’t follow the manual, it’s also not what makes you feel bad. It’s the thoughts that sound a whole lot like “they should be doing XYZ but they’re not” and if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while now, you all know how I feel about the word “should.” It almost always feels terrible. And this is certainly the case with manuals. When we let other people determine how we feel based on whether or not they show up in a certain way, we completely hand over our power. We’re essentially saying to ourselves, I have no control over my emotional wellbeing, it depends entirely on everyone else. 

And I don’t know about you, but I would much rather try to control myself and what I think and do than trying to control everyone else in the world. It’s just so much easier. 

Now, there is another school of thought out there, which is: let me share with you my manual, and you share with me your manual, and as long as we both follow the other person’s rules, then we can be happy. 

Make Yourself Happy

For example, if I told my husband Ryan all of my rules. If I handed over my giant binder of “how to be an amazing husband” and said, “Here. These are all the things you need to do so I can be happy.” That’s not going to feel good either. Because my brain would start thinking, “but he doesn’t really mean it. He’s only doing it because it’s in the manual.” And from there I’d probably add another line item to my list of rules. Rule number 468: Follow the rules in the manual and genuinely enjoy doing all of them, too. 

It’s kind of like when you tell a little kid to “say you’re sorry,” and they say sorry but they’re probably not really meaning it. 

And here’s what else, even if I handed Ryan my manual. And even if he genuinely wanted to follow all of my rules no matter how ridiculous they are. And even if he managed to keep up with the changing edits at the back of the manual where I constantly update, add to or amend previous rules, he’s still a human with a human brain. And he probably wouldn’t follow them all the time. And whenever those situations come up, I’ve already surrendered my ability to control my own emotions, which means I’m at the effect of his behavior once again. I’d be setting myself up to feel terrible because I don’t have control over how I feel.

Your Partner’s Only Job

In fact, I remember when I first learned about this concept of the Manual from my teacher, and she offered this – at the time – mind-blowing concept for me, which was this. What if your partner’s only job is to exist for you to love them? It is not their job to make you happy. It is not their job to follow your manual. Their only job is to simply exist so you get to love them. Because remember, when you feel love for someone else, you’re the one who gets to feel that love. You get to feel amazing because you’re the one thinking all of the loving thoughts about your partner. 

So if you focus on making yourself happy, which is the only way you can be happy anyway since happiness comes from our own thoughts. And you focus on loving those in your life for who they are because you’re the one who gets to feel the love from all of your loving thoughts, how much fun would that be?

And believe me – I know this is a mind-bendy concept. It is not what we are taught at all. We are taught that other people can make us sad or happy. We are taught that other people make us feel loved. And while it’s fine to think that when things are going well. When people aren’t following our manuals, it suddenly becomes clear how disempowering those thoughts are. And this is when we want to challenge those beliefs.

And we do this by dropping our manuals. 

Yes, really. Drop the manuals. 

This Is Important

Now before we get into dropping manuals, I want to make something really clear, which is that a point in our relationships with other people where we move from manuals to boundaries, which is a topic for another podcast. 

But if you are in a situation where you’re feeling unsafe, or there’s physical or mental abuse, or someone is saying something or doing something that is just not okay with you, this is a different situation. In other words, I don’t want you to use this concept of the manual as a way to “should” on yourself. Like, “this person is screaming at me, but I know it’s my thoughts and I should be able to just endure their screaming.” NO. That’s not at all what I’m saying. If you are in a situation that is not supportive of you and your well-being that’s a boundary issue and you walk away or end the conversation or leave the house. 

With the manual, we are talking about the smaller, everyday situations, often with people you love, and you’re looking for a way to take back control of your emotions and your experience in the situation. So I just want to make that distinction super clear. Thought work, any of the tools I teach on this podcast are only meant to empower you and are never meant as a means to shame or beat yourself up.

How To Drop The Manual

So with that said, let’s talk about dropping the manual. How do we actually do it?

Write Down Your Rules

Well, the first step is to get really clear on what your manual is. What are all of the expectations you have for that other person. So begin by writing down all of the “rules” you have for that person. 

So if you’re thinking about your kids, maybe it’s: they should always be happy. They shouldn’t complain. They shouldn’t fight. They should pick up after themselves without any complaint. I shouldn’t even have to remind them. They should thank me for making dinner each night and tell me how delicious it was. 

I mean really, allow your brain to share allllll of the guidelines it’s written for that person. And I recommend doing this one person at a time, which will really help you get clarity.

Why Do You Want These Rules Followed?

Once you have our manual written down, then it’s time to ask why. Why do you expect them to follow through on each of these tasks, behaviors, attitudes, etc. And don’t just leave it at, “that’s how kids are supposed to act,” because that’s just another part of the manual. Instead, take it further. Maybe you want your kids to thank you for making dinner each night because then you’d know your hard work is recognized. Or you want them to pick up after themselves because then you’d know you’re teaching your kids to be responsible young people. See what your brain offers you. 

How Would You Feel If They Followed Them?

Then ask yourself, how would I feel if they did these things? If my kids thanked me for dinner, maybe I’d feel appreciated or loved because I’m thinking, they recognize my hard work. If your kids picked up after themselves, maybe you’d feel proud because you’re thinking, I’m teaching my kids to be responsible. Or I’m a good mom. 

Now here’s the most beautiful information I can possibly give you.

You Can Feel That Way Now

You can think those thoughts and generate those feelings right now. You can start finding evidence that you’re a good mom right now and you can feel that pride right now even if they don’t pick up their room. And perhaps YOU can start recognizing your hard work, and celebrating yourself, and giving yourself gold stars so that you feel appreciated right now. This is all possible. And it’s all within your control. Seriously, how awesome is that?

Now here is the other pushback that I often get. So are you telling me I can’t even ask other people to do things? You mean I just have to do everything myself?

Making Requests

No. That’s not what I’m saying either. You can ABSOLUTELY make requests of other people. And in fact, for most of you amazing humans listening to this podcast, I have a feeling you could even ask for a little more help in your life rather than trying to do it all. But what I am warning against is allowing yourself to get upset or frustrated or disappointed if or when those requests aren’t met. I am suggesting that you don’t make their behavior – whether they do or don’t do the thing – about you. I’m suggesting that you decide what you want to think about it and be intentional about how you want to feel about it. Because again, that is entirely in your control.

Recap

So this week I encourage you to get curious about your manuals. How thick are yours? I can tell you that mine were QUITE extensive when I first started exploring this concept. And as you start paging through your hypothetical manuals, ask yourself those three questions: What are all the rules I have for this person? Why do I want them to follow these rules; what am I making it mean about me? And how do I think it would make me feel if they did these things? Then, decide intentionally what you want to think and how you want to feel regardless of whether they follow the rules or not. Because how you feel is completely in your control, and if you ask me, that’s some incredibly empowering news.