Andy and I sat in the restaurant of the Four Seasons in Denver on a sunny Thursday afternoon. He had driven down from Boulder after we had been introduced through a mutual friend.
I was impressed. He was a sharp, energetic young man of thirty years old. He had already built an incredible business, and it wasn’t hard to see why. He was curious, thoughtful, and methodical. He wasn’t afraid to put his ego aside to learn, and he flattered me by asking questions about life as if I had any of the right answers.
Having had more failures than success in life, I found myself telling him more about what not to do in life than what he should do. That was until he asked about creating rules for his life.
“Craig, when I read about your idea for creating rules, I was a little confused,” he said. “What is this going to do for me?”
“Well, Andy,” I replied, “Did you stop at any red lights or stop signs on your way here?”
“Of course,” he said.
“Well, imagine if you didn’t. In fact, imagine if there were no red lights, no stop signs, or no traffic laws of any kind. Think about the chaos that would cause.”
“Red lights put order and clarity into our travel, just like our personal rules put structure into our lives,” I said. “Humans thrive on structure. We need to earn our freedom.”
“But when you give someone complete and utter freedom, it often dooms them into demise. Take, for example, Prince, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, or Raphael de Rothschild (an heir to the wealthy Rothschild family that passed away due to a drug overdose). These men all had too much money, power, and freedom, and without structure, they eventually squandered their gifts and wealth.”
And so I insist you put into place Rules for Your Life. Should you bristle at that term, consider these alternative terms:
Your Operating System
Your Personal Commandments
Your Code of Conduct
Your Personal Life Philosophies
They all describe the same thing, a way to establish boundaries in your life and to set behaviors to which you aspire. If you have not read my 12 rules for life, I encourage you to do so here.
“But Craig,” you’re thinking, “How do I set Rules for my Life?”
First of all, I believe that you already have many rules for your life. You live a certain way, you have good habits that you follow, and you project a certain persona upon the world.
You’ve simply never sat down and put these rules — your operating system — to paper.
Let me guide you on how to do this. There are seven must-have rules for everyone. You can choose to add a few more on top of these seven, or simply start with these.
Rule #1 – Be consistent to bed and consistent to rise
Establishing a consistent bedtime and wake-up time seven days a week is the greatest thing you can do to have consistent all-day energy levels. Of course, there will be a couple of nights per week when you stay up late. That’s fine. But you must never stray too far from your wake-up time. Don’t sleep in. That sets off a vicious cycle of not being able to fall asleep the next night and feeling tired for the following two or three days. Instead, wake up on time and compensate with a mid-day nap or go to bed earlier the next night.
Rule #2 – Be healthy
Everyone should have a health rule. It might describe your eating philosophy (Paleo, vegan, etc.) or perhaps the type and frequency of exercise or stress reduction you do (“I take a one-hour hike in the fresh air three times per week” or “I lift weights three times per week for twenty minutes” or “I never miss a morning meditation session of 10 minutes”).
Rule #3 – Be productive in the morning
To get ahead in life you need to consistently work on what matters. The best time to do that is in the morning when you are without interruptions or distractions. Set a rule that you work on your number one priority in life for at least fifteen minutes after you wake-up. That could be Bible study, working on your finances and figuring out a plan to make more sales, or spending that time in exercise to regain your health. Fifteen minutes might sound insignificant, but done six (or seven days) a week for months on end brings incredible results.
Rule #4 – Be focused on building your wealth.
ETR’s founder, Mark Ford, taught us to become wealthier every day, even if it is just by a few dollars. And so we should all have a rule that helps us do so. For example, a sales professional might have a rule that “I make 5 sales calls before lunch every work day.” A writer might choose to “write 1,500 words before 2 p.m. each day” (Stephen King follows a similar rule, for example). Whatever your profession, there is a way to structure a wealth building rule that gets you closer to your financial freedom.
Rule #5 – Be aware of what NOT to do.
It’s important to know and act on your number one priority in life. It’s almost equally as important to know — and avoid — the things you should not do. If you don’t believe me, just ask one of the world’s wealthiest men.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people,” Warren Buffett once said, “is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Your rule might be “No drinking alcohol during the work week” or “I avoid checking personal email until after 7 p.m.” or you might have a rule similar to my 6th rule that says, “I do not engage in confrontations with anyone, in-person or online. This is a waste of time and energy. If I have caused harm, I apologize and fix the situation. And then I take a deep breath, relax, breathe out, and re-focus my efforts back on my work and goals.”
Rule #6 – Be social.
Warning: Many people won’t need this rule. However, for some us, we sometimes need to be reminded to ‘come up for air’ from our work and spend quality time with our friends and family. Don’t tell me you haven’t been accused of working too much and ignoring important relationships. Even the most social amongst us could probably benefit from a reminder to rekindle old friendships that have gone dormant.
Rule #7 – Be good.
Finally, set in your code of conduct a rule about how you give back to the world. For example, you might say, “I volunteer two hours per week at the local humane society” or “I serve on the board of directors at my church every year.”
This might be a great place for you to institute an aspirational rule, where you aren’t yet living it consistently, but you know it would do you — and many others — a world of good.
When you tell the world the way you want to act (i.e. by sharing your rules with others), you’ll force yourself to live in accordance with your rules because no one wants to be thought of as a hypocrite.
That’s why I’ve made my 4th rule that states, “I act polite and courteous, and I do not swear.”
Honestly, I don’t act polite and courteous all the time, but I want to and so I made it a rule and I told the world. That is how you get accountability and improve. And you have every right to call me on this the next time you see me breaking my rule (I’ll appreciate it!).
As I shared these seven rule guidelines with Andy at our meeting, I could see his eyes light up with understanding. This template made it easier for him to design the right structure for his life.
My rules are not your rules. Please understand that.
But my template will help you build your rules and give you structure so you can earn your freedom, and have the amazing life you both desire and deserve.