Personal Rules Aren’t Constraints; They’re Batched Choices

I just read the most amazing article about this that really spoke to me:

Wise People Have Rules for Themselves

In Summary:

Successful people set rules for themselves that they never, ever break.  Rules like:

  • I spend less than I earn.
  • I clear out my inbox every Friday afternoon.
  • I go for a walk every day, rain or shine.
  • I wake up at 5am every day, even weekends.

The reason for this is that your quality of life improves when you set clear standards about how you’re going to go about things.  In areas where you have no clear standards, your performance is mediocre.

A lot of people don’t like rules and think rules are “bad” when in reality rules that you set for yourself are actually really mentally freeing.

“They’re good decisions made in batches—they’re behavioral boundary markers you get to position yourself, through your own experience and wisdom. A good personal standard clarifies and simplifies, eliminating what would be countless painful decision points. You’re free from having to stop and negotiate with yourself for the hundredth time on the same issues. Should I have a third drink? Should I quit early and work Saturday instead? Should I lie and say I’m sick?…

For some reason, we tend to assume that “keeping our options open” means living with more freedom. But a range of options is just a range of possible behaviors, and personal rules are a simple way to eliminate broad categories of bad or mediocre behaviors from your repertoire—ones that reliably lead to debt, strained relationships, remorse and other freedom-destroying conditions.”

The article is really fantastic and I highly recommend taking a couple minutes to read the whole thing.

I do have some personal rules I take very seriously.   They feel so basic to me that I don’t even consider them rules.  For example, I will never, ever, go into debt for anything, ever. (This is different from using debt strategically, and paying off the balance without paying any interest or fees. I do this for the rewards.)  The two exceptions I might make in the future would be for real estate or a very extreme situation where I’m wiped out physically and financially by an unforeseen medical emergency. This rule has never been “hard” for me or a “struggle”, because I value the freedom and lack of stress from having my financial life in order worth so much more than absolutely anything that I could ever, ever, ever, ever buy that I don’t already have.

When I was heavily pursuing financial independence, I had even more rules.

I tracked every expenditure to the nearest dollar.
I avoided recurring bills/fees as much as I possibly could (subscription services like Spotify).
For every recurring bill I chose to keep, I eliminated it or reduced it as much as I could possibly stand it. (changed cell phone companies and downgraded my plan, downgraded our trash service, downgraded our Netflix, sold my car, evaluated every electric appliance and use to reduce power consumption, added faucet aerators and low flow showerheads to every water fixture, bought discounted gift cards at places I knew I’d be going to later, tons more)
I evaluated every single purchase with the question, “Is this worth it?” and decided I didn’t actually want a ton of stuff after all, or at least found a cheaper alternative.
I calculated the percentage I was able to save of my take home pay each month, and aimed for 80% or higher.
I heavily avoided activities that cost money when I thought they had really limited value (restaurant meals, driving, drinking alcohol)
I searched for ways to get things I wanted without spending money. (Collecting frequent flier miles, volunteering at a food bank which sent food home with its volunteers, went mystery shopping for a free restaurant meals for two, signed up for a free government cell phone, asking for things I wanted as birthday and Christmas gifts)
I searched for ways to make extra side income (donated plasma, did some tasks on Mechanical Turk in my down time, bought stuff on sale and resold it on Amazon for a profit)

This combination of rules led me to retiring before I was 30. I don’t follow all of these rules now as strictly, but some habits die hard. I also don’t have a pressing need to follow the rules as strictly anymore, much like someone who’s reached their goal weight can eat a few more sweets than I can. If I saw my savings deteriorating, rest assured I’d have all kinds of rules I’d start following again.

I also have a ton of personal rules that I want to take very seriously, but have been known to break, usually to my detriment.

I do not drink alcohol.
I do not keep junk food in the house.
I do not eat flour or products containing flour.
I do not eat sweeteners or products containing sweeteners, natural or artificial.
I don’t eat animal products.
I don’t snack.
I don’t eat sweets unless I’m sharing with someone else, out of the house, and paid for them.
I’m active every day.
I meditate every day.
I journal every day.
I practice Reiki every day.
I do mirror work every day.

So I think it’s not surprising that I am overweight by BMI standards and floundering when it comes to improving in my spiritual life, but because I do try to follow them as much as I can, it’s also not surprising that I’ve managed to keep off 80 pounds of weight loss and I’m generally a pretty happy, successful, and optimistic person.

I’m sure there are also areas of life where I am definitely mediocre, and have no rules, because I haven’t made it an effort to improve.

So this is my case for making a non negotiable rule that you never break.

I think I’m going to try to adhere more strictly to monitoring my home environment. I am going to stop making exceptions and never bring foods into my home that I consider to be “junk”. Ever.

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