I think most people do. If I simply told myself to “eat healthier”, I would probably barely change my diet at all. However, when I give myself black and white rules, I follow them better. The difference is that with black and white rules, you don’t have a thought process to go through – you just act. With gray areas you require yourself to think over every decision, opening the window to excuses.
The following is a sample of the rules I try to follow. It’s not a complete list, and some are recent additions but you should get the idea.
1. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. I believe that without his word, a man is nothing. This rule applies to things I tell others I will do, as well as things I tell myself I’ll do.
2. Don’t lie, don’t exaggerate, don’t withhold information, don’t mislead. This rule exists mainly because it affects my performance in everyday life. If I know that whatever I do will be related with perfect fidelity to others, I do it better. It also allows me to show proper respect to the people in my life.
3. Show up on time, always. This rule is pretty recent. I’ve decided that when I commit to being somewhere at a particular time, I will always be there at exactly that time. The trick is to just get there five minutes early every single time and wait. It’s a very very minor inconvenience in return for being much more reliable.
4. Work according to your plan and not according to mood. Start and Stop at the appointed time!
5. Walk out of movies, stop reading books. If I’m participating in some sort of entertainment and I realize that it’s not going to be worth the additional time spent, I leave. The fact that I paid $10 and watched half of the movie is irrelevant. The real decision at hand is: how do I want to spend the next hour of my life.
6. Computer is off at midnight. This is a brand new rule and it is a tough one. The only real exception to this would be if by not doing so I would break rule #1 to other people. If I told myself I was going to do something but wouldn’t be able to by shutting off the computer, I consider that to be good punishment for not getting it done earlier.
7. Listen to people. I used to be bad at this and I hate it when people don’t pay attention in conversation. So when I have a conversation with someone, I make sure I’m really listening and not just waiting for my turn to speak. Sounds basic, but I’d say 50% of people don’t do it.
8. Do the right thing, even if it comes at personal cost. I have a very strong set of morals, which aren’t necessarily totally congruent with everyone else’s, but I defend them and keep them strong by living by them as closely as I can. Never do the easier wrong over the harder right.
9. Work on one thing at a time until finished. I have ADD and this is one of the hardest rules I have to follow. That’s why I reread my rules daily.
10. Whatever happens to you, good and bad, take responsibility for your actions. This is a very important rule, maybe my most important one. If you can’t take responsibility for your actions you are not in touch with reality.
11. When buying things, buy the best or something temporary and disposable. If the purchase is replacing something (and given how minimalist I am, it pretty much always is), it should be smaller and lighter than whatever it replaced. I like high quality items that retain their value well, and I like making my traveling easier. I might sometimes buy something that’s a tiny bit heavier, but overall my backpack has gotten smaller and lighter every year. If it doesn’t make financial sense to buy the best, I invest the smallest amount of money possible in a temporary fix. In other words, I would buy a $9 Casio or a $1000+ Rolex, but never a $100 Seiko.
12. Do things other people aren’t doing. This one is more of a heuristic than a rule, but I include it because it defines so many of my decisions. When making a choice, I will favor the unknown over the known.
13. Always be learning something. I always have at least one learning project going on at all times. Right now it’s the ins and outs of publishing. Soon I’ll be as good as I want to be and then I will move on to the next project.
14. Never have debt. I would suffer long before having debt. That doesn’t mean I won’t borrow $20 from a friend if I forget my wallet, but I would never finance anything other than a house.
15. Always have a one year buffer of money. This is a new rule for myself. I will invest my money buffer to grow it, but I wouldn’t spend it on anything other than living expenses, if necessary. I do this not because I’m cautious, but because it gives me the freedom to choose how I spend my time, and thus take risks.