The Four ‘Rules of the Mind’ and Tips for How to Use Them

The mind is indeed a complex thing…or is it? Given the volume of information, decisions, and emotions we process on a daily basis, not to mention the incessant mental chatter, it’s largely assumed that understanding the mind might well be beyond our own comprehension.

The good news is, it’s easier than you think. Rather than being the complicated beast we perceive, the mind is in fact rather simple; and despite the social and technological evolution of humans, our minds have not evolved quite as quickly. So it’s time to get back to basics, cut through the confusion, and take a simple look at’s what’s really going on when our cogs are turning.

Following are the rules of the mind as proposed by Marisa Peer. These rules are easy to digest and give us important context around why we ‘do what we do’. Understanding the rules helps us make sense of the thousands of thoughts, decisions, actions and reactions we have every day at a subconscious level.

Rule 1: The mind does what it thinks you want it to do.

The mind’s number one job is to keep you alive. It will always do what it believes is in your best interest and it does this by moving you towards pleasure and away from pain.  This the fundamental principle on which all human behaviour is based. We are either running away from something (pain) or running towards something (pleasure). And the only way the mind knows what causes us pain is by what we tell it – based on our experiences, filters, perceptions, values and beliefs.

Tip: If there is something missing in your life that you really want and you haven’t achieved it, do a little digging into your own pleasure/pain cycle. Become a detective in your own story and see if you can identify why you are either being pulled away from, or moved towards something that is different from your desired outcome.  There is often an uncomfortable emotion lurking behind our pleasure/pain receptor.

Rule 2: Every single thought you have creates a physical reaction in the body.

Before we go any further, I would love you to try this simple exercise right now. Stand up and face forward. Take your right arm and move it behind you as far as it will go without twisting your torso around to follow. Look down your arm to a point on the wall or in your line of sight. This will be the marker for your range (how far your arm was able to move). Return your arm to a resting position. Close your eyes and visualize that your arm has turned to rubber. Imagine that it is so very flexible that it’s like a giant elastic band. It’s so supple and soft, and stretchy. See your arm in your mind being able to move further and further behind you without any strain at all.  Now open your eyes and repeat the exercise with your arm. Note how much your range has improved simply by focusing your thoughts on it.

In this exercise we can see how powerful the mind is in creating a positive physical outcome in the body. The flip side is that most of the things we say to ourselves are in the negative, and can create physical conditions that don’t serve us. And based on rule number one above, if we tell our minds that something causes us pain or discomfort, it will do everything in its power to steer us away.

Let’s look at this in action. If you are driving or taking public transport to work and thinking ‘this commute is killing me’, or you’re thinking about an upcoming presentation at work and saying to yourself ‘I’d rather die than get up and speak in public’ all your mind hears is ‘killing me’, and ‘I’d rather die’. And given that your mind is hard wired to keep you alive, it must get you away from that situation. It goes into solution mode and thinks ‘leave that with me. I’ll give you the flu, or a nice bout of diarrhoea and you won’t have to commute to that job, or do that presentation after all’.

If you have ever thought ‘Oh, I’m so tired.  What I wouldn’t give for a day in bed’, and then immediately got sick, then you have experienced the power of your mind in action.  Alternatively you might have experienced a broken heart and thought ‘I’d rather be alone for the rest of my life than go through that again’, and then woken up ten years later still single. You get the point.

Tip: If you ask, your mind will deliver. So be careful what you wish for! And remember that the ‘placebo affect’ is a real thing. The placebo quite literally means ‘the physician within’ so use your mind to create the right actions and reactions in your body.

Rule 3: The mind responds to two things only – the words you use and the pictures you have in your head.

Your mind’s job is to act on the words you use and the pictures you form in your imagination. Every word and every picture becomes a roadmap for your life that your mind turns into a reality. You will always be compelled to act in a way that matches your thinking – even if that thinking is negative, false or unhelpful. The mind doesn’t discriminate between good thoughts or bad, it simply does what you tell it.

Tip: If you want to make positive changes to your life, you need to use better words and visualize better images. And you need to use words in the ‘affirmative’. The mind is hinged on taking only positive action. So, if you say I DON’T want something, the mind interprets this as I WANT that same thing. It cannot differentiate, it just locks on to the key words. For example, ‘I don’t want to be lonely and poor’ becomes ‘I want to be lonely and poor’. Negative cycles are almost imperceptible to the mind, so we need to frame our dialogue in the positive.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed instead of saying ‘I just can’t handle my life right now, say ‘I have phenomenal coping skills’.

Rule 4: The mind loves what is familiar (its comfort zone) and dislikes what is unfamiliar.

Your mind is wired to keep returning to what is familiar and to keep rejecting what is unfamiliar. This is how we survived on the planet and it is a primal instinct. Scientists have spent years researching why people reject success, reject love, reject wealth etc. Why would we reject what we perceive to be a good thing? Because we are hard wired to return to what is familiar and if those things aren’t familiar then we find a way to reject them.

Consider the common phenomenon of lottery winners who blow their winnings within twelve months. What is familiar to them is living paycheck to paycheck. What is familiar is spending everything they earn.  What is unfamiliar to them is investing, saving, and working with a financial advisor. So lottery winners might go on a 5 star holiday and take 30 of their closest friends, or buy fancy cars and boats they don’t need, or they buy businesses that don’t succeed. But the common denominator is that they ‘spend’ everything they have because that is what is familiar to them.

Tip: If you want to improve any area of your life, you need to make the familiar unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar familiar. The point is, that we develop good habits (and bad) by doing something repeatedly. So if we want to adopt better habits we need to make them familiar. Consider a health goal like going for a walk or a run every morning. If this is not routine for you, the first few times you do it, it will feel unfamiliar. However if you continue to do it every day it becomes so familiar that it’s just part of who you are and what you do.  This same principle can be applied to any aspect of your life.