I was having a discussion in my private Facebook group a couple weeks ago about finding the balancing point between creating systems and using your intuition.
(If you want to join us for similar nerdy conversations, you can join here.)
This came after I shared one of my previous articles where I suggested using structure and tracking systems in the beginning stages of a new habit, and then shifting more towards using your intuition once you’ve created a new normal and got a feel for things.
During the discussion, one of the group members mentioned that she struggled to make this transition as she quickly fell into her negative behavior again when she stopped tracking things.
I suggested she create a personal rule around the behavior to help set bright lines.
In her example, she battled limiting herself to a certain amount of a specific food. A strong rule, in this case, would be: “I never keep X food in the house.”
So what are rules in the context of setting goals?
Quite frankly, I think rules are the most important and ignored element when it comes to achieving our goals.
Everybody speaks about creating a vision and then setting goals that help you move towards that vision, but no one speaks about establishing a set of personal rules or principles to support the process.
Essentially, your rules are like your personal operating system. If you were an iPhone, rules are your iOS. They dictate the way you do things and what you don’t do.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Let’s say you’re a woman and you struggle to be in social situations (or heaven forbid, alone!) without having a drink. Now let’s use the same example, but this time, you’re pregnant. Suddenly, staying sober becomes a no-brainer (I sincerely hope)! Yet there’s nothing physically stopping you from drinking. You’ve simply followed a rule that: “When I’m pregnant, I don’t drink alcohol.”
Another example is someone who decides to go Vegan (whoop!). They have a clear rule that they will not consume or support anything that contains animal products. It’s not even a difficult decision. Yet so many people struggle to cut out something from their diet. It’s because they don’t have a clear rule in place.
Finally, there’s the story of Theodore Johnson. He was a UPS Worker that made just $14,000 a year. One of his friends wanted to help him build wealth and instructed him to put away 20% of his earnings before paying any other bills. Theodore thought this was impossible, but his friend mentioned that if the government suddenly said there was an extra 20% tax to be paid, he would find a way to pay it. And so he created a rule that he always put aside 20% of his earnings. When he passed away, he was worth an astonishing $70 Million.
So how do you create this set of rules?
- As I’ve said before, the best place to start is by creating a compelling vision for what you want your life to look like. Once you have this vision in place, it’s time to create your set of personal rules, before setting your goals. In order to do so, take a look at your vision and ask yourself who you need to become in order to achieve that vision. Picture someone who has done what you want to do and identify what they do and don’t do.
- Now, create your rules in such a way that they shape your behaviors to mold you into the person you need to become to achieve your vision. For example, if you want to spend more time with family, you could create a rule that says: “I stop work at 5pm each day and spend the rest of the evening with my family.”
- Once you have your rules in place, then you can move on to setting your goals.
- If set effectively, your rules will take all the guesswork out of whether or not you should be doing something as it relates to making progress toward your goals.
Using rules has allowed me to be more disciplined than anyone else I know.
I’ve used rules (not goals) to quit alcohol overnight (sober now for 4 years), clean up my diet and not be tempted by crappy foods, exercise consistently every week, go Vegan overnight, publish a new podcast every week for 2 years, and write a new article every weekday morning for more than 100 days.
In fact, I believe rules are the secret sauce behind world-class consistency.
The next time you’re struggling to stick to a habit and/or falling short of your goals, try to identify a rule you could use that would eliminate the decision-making and put the positive behavior on autopilot.
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