When breaking rules is the smart thing to do


Kevin Mangelschots

Sometimes, breaking rules is the smart and sensible thing to do.

In my opinion, there are two kinds of rules. Good, useful regulations with utility that serve a vital purpose, and bad rules that have no real role other than attempting to micromanage other people, or trying to take away their power.

If we are going to break governs, then we need to make sure we only break the bad ones that aren’t useful. Let me explain the difference.

When is breaking the rules smart?

Image of a smart woman writing instructions on a blackboard.

Breaking rules is no small feat and, thus, should not be attempted without careful consideration unless you have very good reasons for breaking them. Regulations often serve an essential function and are necessary to create and maintain a productive and civilized society, workplace, or group.

And even though you might not immediately see the function or goal of the rule you’re about to break, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t serve a purpose.

Before you refrain from following the rules, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you smart and mature enough to figure out if the command serves an essential purpose?
  • Why are you breaking the rule?
  • Is the regulation constraining you because it’s trying to reel in your freedom or harming your rights? Or are you trying to break the rule because you simply don’t like it and want to do whatever you want?
  • Will society, the workplace, or another group collapse if you break this instruction? Or will it improve it in the long run?

These are some examples of possible questions you should think through very carefully before even attempting to break certain rules. Because the only goal of breaking them should be to improve your life and that of those around you. It should allow you to reach a certain goal. Not to simply gain more power for yourself.

You should fully understand and master the rules before you should even consider attempting to break them.

A sign saying, “to break the rules, you must first master them”.

If you want to live life on your terms and be as authentic as possible, then you will have to break some norms that society deems necessary. The patterns you should break are the ones that make no sense and have no purpose other than controlling and constraining your freedom, or violating your human rights.

Always make sure to consider the potential purposes of each rule, even when you don’t necessarily see its immediate purpose, for it might still have one. You want to make sure that you only break the foolish directions that don’t serve a clear purpose.

If you want to reach any goal in life that is unique, and requires hard work and dedication, then you will have to break some rules. Because most people will say that it can’t be done, that it’s not a normal dream to chase, or even that you’re not allowed to do that. How are you going to respond? By listening to these people because they say so, without thinking things through yourself? By yielding to the naysayers who don’t believe in you or your dreams?

If you believe in something while trusting yourself, and if you have carefully examined all possibilities, then there is no reason you can’t reach your goal(s). It’s up to you to ignore the naysayers and attempt to reach your goals your way. Still, that doesn’t mean that doing things your way should hurt others, because that’s not good either.

Are rules made to break?

First up, let us figure out if rules are made to be broken or not.

In my opinion, regulations should only be broken if they don’t serve a good purpose for all the members of society or the group you’re currently residing in.

The purpose should be to protect all citizens or members of the group, and not just a select few. They should defend everyone’s rights while contributing to a peaceful, cooperative atmosphere.

The conducts that should be broken are those that only safeguard a select few while harming the rest of the inhabitants. The governs that serve no function other than offending your rights, or limiting your freedom without any purpose other than attempting to control, and gain power over you shouldn’t be followed either.

The differences between good and bad rules

A green thumbs up emoji on the left and a red thumbs down emoji on the right.

Based on the above paragraph, you might have noticed that I differentiate between two kinds of rules.

Important to note is that both good and bad rules serve a purpose. The motivation to enforce those rules is just different.

But the general purpose of good rules is to protect all people in society. The purpose of bad rules is to protect the enforcer, not the people whom the rules are enforced upon. Bad rules might also serve to empower the enforcer in an attempt to gain even more power.

  • Good rules

    Young woman giving a double thumbs up.

    Good rules are rules that are useful and necessary to create and maintain a cooperative, peaceful society. Beneficial rules protect the safety of all the citizens in a society or group.

    So, in other words, good rules serve some kind of higher purpose that improves society as a whole.

    A couple of examples of good rules are speed limits, which serve to protect people. Or that we are not allowed to kill other people, which also protects all people in society.

    Another example is freedom of speech, which paves the road to a civilized debate and makes it, so everyone can voice their own opinions. This enables us to learn from each other’s thoughts and ideas.

  • Bad rules

    A boy giving two thumbs down in disapproval.

    Bad rules are rules with the sole goal of manipulating other people or their behavior to better the enforcer’s life. Improving the enforcer’s life can be in the form of gaining more power, and status making more money while paying peanuts to their employees, or reducing the power of the people or employees. However, gaining more status and money are also forms to gain more power.

    Examples of bad rules are having to listen to your superior without being allowed to voice your own opinions, just by merit of your boss being a superior rank in the company than you are.

    Another example of bad rules is that “the rules apply to everyone except the powerful people with money and status.” Because this is straight-up discrimination and an attempt to reduce the power of those lower in status.

Important to note is that not following rules is not a thing to be taken lightly and should always be performed thoughtfully and carefully.

What rules to break in life?

Recovering freedom: a man breaking a chain. Digital illustration.

  • “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”

    Just because something isn’t necessarily broken doesn’t mean it can’t be improved either. You should continuously strive to better yourself in life. Both physically and mentally.

    And sometimes, that means going against some established guidelines and the current norm. That’s not to say that these rules don’t have any value. But what I am saying is that these rules aren’t always flawless since they’re made by imperfect people.

  • “The grass isn’t greener on the other side”

    The quote, “the grass is always greener, until you have to mow it” written in white letters, with green as the background

    If you’re unhappy at your job, or with your current life in general, then you should be looking to switch jobs shortly or to change the things that should be modified in your opinion.

    The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s not. But if you’re unsatisfied with your work, and you can’t alter it, then I would say that it’s still better to try something else than remain miserable without any hope of the situation improving.

    Just because there’s a chance of failure or that the new job suits you even worse than the previous one shouldn’t hold you back from attempting to improve your existence.

    Ultimately, you’ll get that job that you want. Maybe not the first time, but eventually you will, and you’re going to be glad that you dared to attempt something new, and that you didn’t give up in the process.

  • Living for the weekend

    A group of people drinking multiple different alcoholic beverages together.

    Living for the weekend is a rule to break in life.

    Just think about it for a second. Chances are that if you’re solely living for the weekend, you’re unhappy at your job, social life, or life in general. Our existence is, and should be more than simply living to enjoy a few days off each week.

    While there are hardships and hurdles on all of our paths, and we all like to de-stress on the weekend, you should make it a point to try enjoying life during the week as well. If you can’t, then there are some things that you should alter. Be it changing your job, searching for new hobbies, or seeking out new friends to enjoy hanging out with.

These are just some examples of rules to break in life. But there are many more examples out there.

Examples of breaking the established rules

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

We all know examples of rules that are so stupid that it makes us wonder how, and why, they even exist.

Instructions without any utility other than serving the goal(s) of the enforcer(s). Those are regulations that I view as being bad.

  • Example 1:

    Children in school are obsessed with wearing clothes of a certain brand because the other kids say that “only one particular brand is good, and other brands are bad and ugly”.

    Of course, this is not true, as there are plenty of different brands that have pretty clothes in the world. Furthermore, it’s a given that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so what I find pretty isn’t necessarily what you, or others, find good-looking.

  • Example 2:

    A boss giving feedback to his employee.

    Another bad rule to break is that your boss is correct by default, just because their status in the company is superior to yours.

    We are all human, and everyone makes mistakes. The goal is to learn from each other no matter what your position in a company, or life in general is. We need to work together if we wish to get better and to succeed.

    That’s why combining our strengths to improve our own lives and those of those around us is such a powerful tool that we should all utilize.

  • Example 3:

    An example of a useful rule is that killing other people, or aggression towards other people, is not allowed while being punishable by law. This is an important part of the foundation of a civilized and cooperative society.

    Could you imagine a society functioning peacefully long term when violence is an option whenever you so desire? It wouldn’t take long before certain folks start abusing their physical power and ruthlessness to get what they desire.

The rule breaking personality

Image of the big 5 personality traits: conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and neuroticism, and the symptoms of them.

When we factor in the big five personality traits, we can come up with a theory that certain personalities are more inclined to break rules.

I hypothesize that the best predictors are low agreeableness, being high in trait openness, low in attribute conscientiousness, high in trait extroversion, and finally, neuroticism.

Disagreeable people

Being disagreeable means you’re inclined to engage in conflict, assertive, less generous and trusting, and more likely to negotiate on your behalf. It means you prefer your self-interest over social harmony.

These kinds of people are less restricted by peer pressure to maintain social harmony just for the sake of keeping the peace and will break the regulations more often if it suits their own goals or needs. They’re certainly assertive enough to do so, which is typically not the case with the very agreeable types.

Open people

A group of friends hugging on the beach.

Open people are creative, imaginative, curious, and have a proclivity towards unusual ideas and a large variety of different experiences. This desire to seek out, and test new ideas makes them more likely to break certain regulations.

They dislike the status quo and tend to engage in risky behavior while attempting to pursue self-actualization.

Low conscientiousness

Being low in personality trait conscientiousness means you’re less disciplined, dutiful, and not driven to pursue achievements. They’re less capable of controlling their impulses and more likely to engage in spontaneous behavior.

This capacity to act spontaneously without keeping their impulses in line can make them break rules without thinking things through first.


Image describing the key differences between extroversion and introversion.

Those who are extroverted enjoy external activities and engaging with other folks. They receive energy from interacting with others, while introverted individuals get drained doing the same thing.

They’re energetic, action-oriented, and enthusiastic. Furthermore, they tend to speak more and assert themselves in social situations.

That’s why extroverted folks are more likely to break rules because they’re action-oriented and likely to seek out social situations where they come into contact and have more chances to break regulations, compared to an introverted person.


Neurotic vs. less neurotic individuals scale.

Take note that I wrote neuroticism as the title instead of neurotic individuals, or less neurotic people since a case could be made that either one is more likely to break rules than the other.

Neurotic people, or being high in personality trait neuroticism, means being more emotionally instable and undergoing more mood swings. They experience more negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, sadness, and sometimes even depression.

They have a lower tolerance for stress and dislike change as a result.

On the flip side, less neurotic individuals are less emotionally reactive and less easily upset with what happens around them. They don’t mind change, and might even seek it out.

We could argue that either neurotic or less neurotic individuals are more likely to break regulations.

On one hand, neurotic individuals are more likely to be emotionally unstable and to act on their negative emotions while stressed out. Yet, this is probably somewhat mediated by their dislike for change.

While less neurotic folks are more emotionally stable and less easily disturbed, they might seek out change since they experience fewer negative emotions.

Why breaking your own rules is bad

A man with a colored sweater giving the thumbs down.

Breaking your own rules is a sign of a weak, untrustworthy character while being a hypocrite at the same time.

You can’t create a code of conduct for others, nor can you expect them to abide by those very same regulations when you can’t even follow them yourself. Because if you don’t even bother to follow these leads that you’ve had the honor to create yourself, then why should they?

That’s exactly why you should always lead by example. Thus, it’s up to you to be a leader by making sure you’re not going against the instructions that you’ve set up on your own.

The only time you should be breaking your own rules is when you acknowledge that they’re bad, or should be improved upon to be more purposeful and useful.


The quote, “time for change” written with an illustration of a frog moving out with a suitcase.

Good regulations serve to protect society as a whole. Bad rules function to protect only certain people in society while negatively impacting the rest. Breaking conceptions should only be done if they’re bad, and even then, with care and thoughtfully.

Bad instructions can be disguised as good rules and vice versa. But once you check the motivation(s) behind those regulations and the results they achieve, you’ll find that not every seemingly good one is all that benevolent, and not every seemingly bad rule is effectively malevolent.

I also want to emphasize again that breaking rules should not be done lightly, or on a whim. Breaking commands can be dangerous and should be viewed as such. That’s why you need to have a good reason to break them in the first place.

Firstly, figure out if the rule(s) you’re about to break are awful regulations that need to be broken. Because irreversible damage can be done by breaking those with real utility.