14 Personal Rules that Govern My Life

Affiliate link disclosure: Some of the links to various books below are affiliate links through Amazon. If you choose to buy a book through this link, I will get a small commission.

One of the most valuable tips I’ve gotten from Craig Ballantyne (among many) is to create your set of personal rules. It’s freeing to make some decisions for yourself ahead of time, decide what you will and won’t do, so that you can use your brainpower on more important things.

Craig’s rules govern a lot about how he goes about his day and how he creates content. Those rules work for him. I followed his example and wrote my own rules. I think mine are bit more generic, save a few, but they resonate with me and make me happy.

It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do consistently. — Tony Robbins

Some of them are specific and govern my day and what I eat, while others are more mindset-focused.

I want to have these so ingrained in me that if I encounter a trying situation, I can think of Rule #3 and know what that means without thinking too hard.

To achieve this, I review this list of rules every day and try to internalize them. If I don’t get up at 5, I am breaking my own rule and I diminish the power of all the rules if I do that, so I must stick to each rule for them all to have power.

Here are my 14 personal rules:

Rule #1. I am always grateful for my life, in all situations.

Gratitude is important. If we aren’t constantly reminded, we can easily forget all of the sacrifices, generosity and privileges we’ve experienced to get us to this point in our lives. If I don’t constantly remind myself that I am grateful, even for the bad stuff, then I risk taking everything in my life for granted.

“A happy person is someone who can enjoy the scenery on the detour.” — Gregory Benford

Rule #2. I react calmly, with love and empathy. I make peace.

This is inspired by Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, neurologist, psychologist, and holocaust survivor who is quoted as saying:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” — Viktor Frankl

When you get cut off in traffic, the frustration comes from the story you tell yourself. If you tell yourself a story about how that person is careless and doesn’t care about you because they are so selfish, you will get angry. On the flip side, if you tell yourself a story about how that person might be speeding to the hospital with an injured child, your reaction will be different.

“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — Shakespeare

The toughest part of this for me is to be aware of the story I am telling myself and to not let it be a negative story, but rather one framed in love and empathy.

Rule #3. I accept that my situation is a direct result of my actions.

This quote from author Robert Anthony inspired this rule:

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” — Robert Anthony

This rule helps to keep the focus on things I can control and not on things I have no control over. It also helps me to think about my future, that I’d better plan now for what I want my future result to be.

Rule #4. I question what is presented to me and seek the balance of evidence.

This is a reminder to me to stay open minded and never be completely closed off to the possibility of changing my mind. Many of the problems on earth stem from the refusal to consider alternative points of view.

1) Assume nothing. 2) Follow up and check.

I have changed my mind about many things after being presented with the evidence, in topics related to health/fitness, politics, and many others. I want my views to be challenged because that is when I learn the most.

Rule #5. I sleep at 9:30pm and wake up at 5:00am.

This might be the one I still struggle with the most. I really enjoy having a consistent, hard sleep and wake up time, weekday and weekend alike. Not sleeping in on weekends really does a lot to improve alertness and reduce lethargy on Monday — Wednesday.

Willpower is for people who haven’t made up their mind. — Benjamin P. Hardy

Rules and structure bring freedom. Freedom from mental effort in having to choose what to do. Your rule has already decided for you. With this rule, I just get up at 5 — there’s no effort expended in deciding when to get up each day. This leaves more mental room for making tougher decisions.

“The difference between rising at five and seven o’clock in the morning, for forty years, supposing a man to go to bed at the same hour at night, is nearly equivalent to the addition of ten years to a man’s life.” — Philip Doddridge

I also have found that my mornings are a fantastic time to write, meditate and exercise. Really, it’s my only time to focus on things I don’t normally have time for with two little kids in the house.

Rule #6. I never eat or use animals or their byproducts.

This is a recent rule change for me, as of May 1, 2016. Again, this is what I’ve decided — no judgment if you do not agree with this rule, but it works great for me and my family so it’s a part of our lives. I ended up this way after watching a few key documentaries: Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy and What the Health & Earthlings (careful, that last one you can’t go back on once you watch it, NSFL).

Rule #7. I focus on the present moment with all of my energy.

Single-tasking. Work on one thing at a time and you will be amazed at what you can get done. Dozens of people preach this mantra, but my conversion to the single-tasking lifestyle came from my participation in Tony Stubblebine’s Heavy Mental group. From this, I learned about continuous partial attention and email apnea, both being things I suffered from without noticing.

Sit sit, walk walk, don’t wobble. — Zen Proverb

This rule is a reminder to lock into one thing at a time and focus until it’s done — it’s much less exhausting and far more productive.

This is also not just a reminder to be present at work, but also to be present in recreation and time with family. This reminds me to put my phone down and be present with my family and friends or when I’m alone. Wherever you are, be there.

Another perspective on this is that our minds can linger on something that happened long ago, distracting us from our present-self:

“The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake. The rest of the animals pay only once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves.” ― Miguel Ruiz

This rule helps me be more present, letting go of the past.

Rule #8. I work on one task at a time, from a written task list.

Building on Rule #7, this rule helps remind me to write stuff down and cross it out as I work. I have used all kinds of to-do apps, but I’ve found the most success with a physical pad of paper, since it sits open on my desk, something I can’t close.

“If you have one ass you can’t sit on two horses” — Hungarian proverb

For home to-do lists, we have a (nice looking) dry erase board in the kitchen that lays out the week and what we plan to do as a family each day. There are fun and not so fun things on there, but we put them up so we can all see them and not forget what we planned to do.

Rule 9. I get out of my comfort zone to have real experiences and grow.

I am an introvert, so my tendency is to stay secluded if left to my own devices. This rule is a reminder that great things happen when you interact, meet new people and have new experiences.

“Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined. Comfort kills!” — T. Harv Ecker

This is why I joined Toastmasters and have volunteered for many other opportunities, both at work and in my personal life.

Rule 10. I strive to add 10x more value than I take.

I always want to over deliver, in everything I do. I don’t participate in everything, but the things I do sign up for, no matter how small, I want to do the hell out of those things. Not just at work, but in every area of my life.

Hard work is undefeated.

(I can’t find the original source for this, but I heard about it through Michigan football.)

This rule helps me think about trying to maximize my value in such an extreme way — it helps break down constraints. On family trips, on work projects, on volunteer opportunities, with the 10x mindset, I am constantly thinking about how to massively give value to others.

Rule 11. I do not put emotional energy into things I cannot control.

This is one of the most basic tenets of stoicism. From Epictetus:

“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.”

and from Marcus Aurelius:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” — Marcus Aurelius

This rule is particularly useful in reducing stress and worrying. If you can’t affect change, why worry?

Rule 12. I plan way ahead with high intention and low attachment.

This rule gets at the heart of planning but without the attachment and disappointment felt when things don’t go according to plan. According to Rule #11, I only worry about things within my control, so when plans go awry, I don’t stress, but reformulate a new plan.

“If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” — Seneca

Plan, but don’t be bummed when your plan has to change. That is life.

Rule 13: I weigh between 166 and 170 pounds and maintain this lean look year-round.

This is more of an aspiration at the moment, but I have inched ever closer to this goal. This also may move around depending on how I feel at this weight and if my muscle mass fluctuates. But right now, it’s a health target for me.

Rule 14: I keep my phone at least 10 feet away from my bed at night.

I have found more calm in my evening by not laying my phone on the nightstand next to me. I have also lived through probably 10 years of doing just that. The problem is it becomes such an addiction, an endless stream of content, posts, articles, videos and jokes that I can’t put it down until I’m physically too tired to keep looking. This probably has cost me hundreds of hours of sleep and time connecting with my wife before sleep.

Everybody seems to know the benefits of not sleeping next to their phone, but nobody seems to follow the advice — I know I didn’t for a long time. Put me firmly in the camp that it’s a great idea, for your mental health, physical health and for your relationship.

I set these rules for myself, but I don’t beat myself up when I don’t follow them — I just get back to following them as soon as possible.

Having rules on paper that I review is a helpful construct for me. Do you have personal rules? Can you share any that you have that are similar or vastly different from mine?

Interested in self-improvement, productivity and human potential. More at www.davidwentworth.net

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store