The Rectangle

Life Continuum Diagram – The Rectangle

There is a simple diagram that I first saw drawn and explained by my friend Terry Slattery.  The first time I saw the diagram and the explanation that went with it I knew it was going to be important in my life because of the insights it provided in to my own life.  I will take you through the diagram and how it has had an impact on my life.  My hope is that it will bring understanding, inspiration, and hope to your life in the way it has done that for me.


The diagram is a rectangle and each corner of the rectangle is an important aspect of a continuum of who we are, how we deal with life, and gives us an indication of where change is needed.

The first corner (upper left) will represent who we are.  This is the “person” that we think we are and that through which we have allowed perception to become our reality.  You could label this corner our “self-definition” or “Rule Book”.  This is where the perceptions about ourselves, whether right or wrong, true or false, real or perceived reside.  These perceptions are the rules from which we make decisions. Whatever is in this corner is very important, not only to understand, but also to be able to honestly evaluate and ultimately to change our definition from perception to reality.  This corner is the most powerful of all of the corners.  It is the driving force of our lives.  There are things inside of all of us that drive the decisions that we make, the risk we are willing to take, the love we are able to give; these things and more are hidden in this corner.  This will be the corner of our concentration.


The second corner (upper right) is our behavior.  It is what we do, how we perform, applying what we have learned to life.  It is much easier to change our behavior than to change who we are.  There is a strong concentration of material (books, tapes, and seminars) that focus on changing behavior but ignore the Rule Book contained in our self-definition.   The famous ad that says “Just do it” only deals with our behavior.  There are many times when people don’t understand why we have difficulty doing something.  It comes easy for them, but for us, the same thing is difficult.  It is not just a matter of “doing it”, it is a question of what our self-definition allows us to do and not do.


The third corner (lower right) is our emotions or our comfort level.  When we do something (our behaviors) our emotions can make us feel good about it (comfortable), not good about it (uncomfortable) or neutral.  Most of the time “neutral” is not in the picture but it is a possible outcome.  Our emotions are a barometer of what rules are in our Rule Book and what our self-definition is saying to us subconsciously.


The fourth corner (lower left) of our rectangle represents the outcomes or results that we get.  Outcomes are dependent upon what we are doing.  If we are selling something, it is the outcome of our sales efforts.  If we are working on a relationship with someone, it is how we are doing in that relationship.  If we are at our job performing our duties it is not only how we perform, but also our attitude about what we are doing.  If we are trying to motivate people, it is our success in motivating them.


Now that we have the four corners simply defined we need to understand that this is a continuum.  What we do, how we feel about it, and what outcomes we are achieving are all related to our Self-definition.  Think of our box now having arrows that show how this happens.


When we view this as an interactive continuum we see that our Rule Book drives our behavior.  We can go outside our self-defined Rule Book and change our behavior, but the behavior changes will not last unless we change the rules in the book (who we are).  Our emotions or comfort level will either reinforce our behavior (being comfortable) or make us uncomfortable with our behavior.  Our outcomes are a product of our behaviors; what we did in a given situation.

In addition to the continuum there are some diagonal relationships within the Life Continuum rectangle.


There is a direct relationship between our behaviors and our outcomes.  If we behave in a certain way, we will get certain outcomes.  For many people, this is the focus of their lives: behavior and outcomes.  For many people in sales, they know that if they make so many sales calls they will get a sale.  If you work at nurturing a relationship, the relationship flourishes.  If you have a great attitude in your job and do your job well you will get satisfaction and be rewarded.


There is also a relationship between our self-defined Rule Book and our emotions (comfort level).  Our emotions are our barometer of what our Rule Book is telling us.  When we perform according to our Rule Book we are reinforced by our emotions.  When we engage in behaviors that are outside our Rule Book – our emotions (comfort level) are our indicator that we are not comfortable with what we are doing.

Now that we have an understanding of what this is and how it operates, let’s talk about our lives, how this affects our lives, and what we can do to make changes.

How this works

Most of our efforts and the efforts of those around us tend to focus on our behaviors.  If we want to learn how to become a better person, a better time manager, a better money manager, a better worker, to have more self-confidence we all tend to focus on behavior.  I think of speakers, books, and tapes that are designed to motivate us.  I have attended motivational seminars and speakers.  We listened to what someone tells us to do and then we leave, all pumped up, with some new things to do, or at least some new enthusiasm to do the things we knew we were suppose to be doing but haven’t been doing.  We hit the road running… saying “I can do this”.  I can talk to my friends about Jesus, I can make that phone call I need to make to build my business, I can bring up that hard subject to talk about.  We play out how wonderful life is going to be in our minds because now we have the inner strength to accomplish what we need to accomplish.  We set goals or reaffirm the goals we have already had and then proceed to implement our new plan.  We go through a week or two of working the plan, still excited but with our excitement waning.

The timetable may differ, but sooner or later we wake up one morning and say to ourselves “This isn’t me. (This can be a conscious or subconscious voice – the outcome is the same.)  I’m not comfortable with how I have been acting.  And we start the process of reverting back to where we were before we started this whole process.  In the process of reverting back, we start to reinforce all of the things we knew about ourselves all along; all of the “rules” we have in the Rule Book we have allowed to be written come back to us.  Sayings start to come to our mind like “I don’t have the confidence I need to really succeed” or “I really never will make anything of myself” or “ I never will get that promotion” or “I will never be able to talk to people with confidence”.  For a lot of us we don’t even consciously hear these types of sentences in our minds because, although we know them inherently, they are too painful to listen to and so we keep them deep down inside of us.  If we let these kinds of thoughts into our minds, it is nothing but a reinforcement of what we already knew about ourselves; a reinforcement of what someone has told us about who we are and that is a painful process that we avoid at all cost.

When we start changing our behavior to embrace our inheritance in Jesus and our emotions start to make us feel uncomfortable, we should take that as an indicator that there is something in our Rule Book that needs to be taken care of.  We may or may not know what it is, because sometimes it is deep within us and we may have to understand what it is that has a stronghold in our lives.  We need to ask God to reveal what it is that is bringing our emotions to a place to cause us to feel uncomfortable and then work on exposing the root of what is causing us to feel that way and go after it.

Whether you are trying to change something in your life in a positive way or whether you are trying to rid your life of destructive patterns of behavior (and the mind games that go with them), if you work on your behaviors only, you are destined to keep coming back to the same place.  The only way to progress is to change the essence of who you are – the rules under which you operate your life.

There are times when people say to us “just do it”.  The topic is, of course, something that comes easy for them and they do not understand what prevents others from doing what comes so easily for them.  When I think about this I think about the subject of tithing.  My experience is that usually the people that get up in church and talk about the reasons and benefits of tithing are people that it comes easy for.   There is an attitude that comes forth that says “There is nothing difficult about this – just do it.”  They point to the behavior and ask people to change their behavior without understanding that there are some foundational issues (e.g. fear, doubt, and worry) that need to be dealt with in order for people to be free to tithe their income.  The issues that prevent people from tithing are usually deeply ingrained in the area of finances and a motivational talk may produce temporary results, but real, long lasting results come from changes within (rewriting the Rule Book), not outside behavior changes.

I work with the finances in our church and I have watched for years as we have spoken about tithing in the church.  When we speak about tithing the giving goes up for, at most, three weeks (usually one or two weeks), and then reverts back to the regular pattern.  Why is that?  The reason is that when we talk about tithing, and the benefits of tithing, and the Biblical reasons for tithing we are really talking about behavior changes (“just do it”).  In most cases tithing is an issue of the heart (our self defined Rule Book) and is much deeper and takes much more time to deal with.  There are usually some roots of fear in our heart that prevent us from breakthrough.

Although I have mentioned tithing as an example, the issues of our self-defined Rule Book (heart issues) come in to play in all areas of our lives.  Our Rule Book is our focus because it is the key part of who we are that drives our behaviors, our emotions, and our outcomes.

Let’s look at the diagram once more.


Think about the continuum that is contained in the outside arrows.  Can you see and understand that unless our self defined Rule Book is changed, we cannot have sustainable behavior changes.  If we cannot have sustainable behavior changes, how can we have the outcomes that we think we want?  Do you see that the start and finish of changing ourselves is wrapped around the Rule Book we have established in our lives – who we think we are at the deepest levels of our being?  Do you see that this is where we need to concentrate if we are going to become more like Jesus?  When John the Baptist says about Jesus “That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 29b,30) it is talking about rewriting the Rule Book of who we are (a diminishing of our self-defined Rule and an increasing of our God-defined Rules).

Our goal in all of this is to change our self-defined Rules (what we think and say about ourselves at the deepest parts of who we are) in to our God-defined Rules (what God says about us and who we are).  If we only learn who we are in God in our head, we will continue to let our self-defined rules have rule and reign in our lives.  As we move God-defined rules into our hearts, into the deepest part of who we are, then we will change the foundation of who we are and the rest will be easy.

In the process of changing who we are, to walk in 2nd Corinthians 5:17 (“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”), we must go in to our promised land and take the land that is rightfully ours.

Our Promised Land

Israel had a promised land that God gave to them, but in order for them to own it, they had to cross the Jordan River and go in and possess the land.  God told them that they would possess the land and He would give them every place where they set their feet (walked in and possessed the land) (Joshua 1:3).  It did not mean that the peoples, kingdoms, and tribes that were in the land would just get up and leave…  It meant that they needed to go in and possess the land, and that, even though it was theirs, they would have to battle for the land.  In the same way, we have a promised land that is inside of us – the Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20).  Our promised land is to have our God-defined rules in place so deeply in our hearts that it comes out in who we are.  When our God-defined rules take precedent and reign in our hearts, the rest of life is easy.   I can say that, because in order for our God-definition to rule and reign we have had to defeat our self-defined rule, our flesh, and that is the primary battle before us – the battle within.

Most of us who are Christians have learned about who we are in Christ.  That is, the inheritance we receive because of what Jesus did on the cross for us.  Many of us can talk about the victorious life, we know something in our heads about it, but we are not living it.  We try to be positive and uplifting but the reality is that we are not living victorious lives.  To live a truly victorious life, we need to be transformed by the power of Jesus at the very depths of our being.  It requires a humbleness and vulnerability.  To understand that we have built up protective layers over our lifetime and those protective layers need to be stripped away.  This is not a process that happens overnight, but rather it is a journey. You did not write your present Rule Book overnight.  The rewriting of the rules is not an overnight process either.

My encouragement to you is this: as you choose to walk in the journey of changing your self-defined Rules into your God-defined Rules you need to be aware of what you are doing (i.e. how you are going about this).  Concentrate on those things that will bring you down the path of changing your self-defined Rules into God-defined Rules.  Evaluate whether the path you are on at any given point in time is a behavior changing path or a path of being transformed into your God-definition.  If you concentrate on being transformed by the power of Jesus and humbly submit to Him and can echo the words of John the Baptist “He must become greater; I must become less” , the behavior changes will be easy.  If you concentrate on the behavioral changes, you will circle around and end up back where you started.  The path of humbly submitting to the transforming power of Jesus in the rewriting of the Rule Book that governs your life is not always the easiest path, but it is the best path.