What the fudge is the Milk Carton Rule?

We're coming back from space and landing on Earth today. We'll be pondering the Milk Carton Rule.

In order to help you work more effectively and live more happily, you can utilize psychology principles with the milk carton rule.


Using Vicky and Peter, from a psychology textbook, is an excellent way to understand the milk carton rule. A psychology textbook contains a story about two people named Vicky and Peter.


After Vicki forgets to put the milk in the refrigerator, Peter wakes up to find it on the counter when she prepares her coffee in the morning. So, when Peter wakes up the next morning, he finds the carton of milk on the counter.gh


Over and over, Peter gets frustrated and confronts Vicki about it when she returns home. Vicki always apologizes, but she continues to make the same mistake. Peter brings up the problem one day to his therapist, to show the type of behavior he has to deal with.


T: "How often does she do this?"

P: "I've lost count."

T: "For how many years?"

P: "At least 10 years, ever since she took this job."

T: "So, do you base your prediction of what will happen every morning based on what she does or what you want her to do?"

P: "I base it on what's right. And what she'd do if she truly loved me."

T: "So, let me get this straight: She's done this hundreds, possibly thousands of times."

P: "Yup. See how inconsiderate she is!"

T: "But after hundreds or thousands of times, you're still shocked at her behavior. Shouldn't you expect her to leave out the milk? Are you basing your expectation on what you want or what she's done?"

P: "I guess on what I want."

T: "Now, how would you feel differently if you based your expectation on what she actually did, instead of what you wanted her to do?"

P: "I guess I wouldn't be so angry. I'd just get two containers of milk."



As this problem illustrates, we cause ourselves unnecessary frustration when we continue to demand that reality be different from what we want.

According to the authors of the book, "people do not try to solve problems they believe shouldn't exist." If Peter believes that his wife must behave differently, he will never think of a new way to get cold milk for his breakfast. Once he surrenders the demand and accepts the reality, he can then solve the problem."must behave differently. Once he surrenders the demand and acknowledges the reality, he is freed up to solve the problem."

Rather than repeating a cycle of frustration and anger, we can focus on solving the problem by accepting that reality isn't always the way we want.


We then come to the milk carton rule, which simply says: "Ignore what you can't change, and concentrate on what you can." (E.g., buying two cartons of milk rather than getting upset and arguing over and over.)


The milk carton rules work when you're dealing with someone who has power equal to or greater than you at work, of course. Think about that opening scenario: If you're a business owner and a client doesn't pay you on time, you can get annoyed and frustrated. But where does that get you?


Instead, you can focus on what is within your control. Are they an important client? Do they bring in more revenue than others? Reframe your expectations. Plan your budget as if they were on Net-60 terms if your terms are Net-30, but they always pay 45 days late. The late payment is the same as paying early. If that hurts you financially, you can increase your rates to compensate. do have control over. Is the client an important one? Do they bring in more revenue than others? Then simply reframe your expectations. If your terms are Net-30, and they always pay 45 days late, plan your budget as if they were on Net-60 terms. (Now it's as if they paid early.) If that hurts you financially, you can increase your rate to make up for the late pay.

It is almost always your choice to choose whether to bask in negative emotions and feel sorry for yourself when you are frustrated by others...

Or, you can use your feelings as a catalyst to take a different approach to solving the problem.

And what about the problems that you simply can't fix?


This is the only way you can accept the other person's actions. It doesn't mean you approve of what he or she is doing, but you recognize you are unable to change the situation for themselves. By doing so, you can concentrate on solving other problems, which will lead to better work and a better life for you and your family.can solve, which leads to better work, and a better life.



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