Left to our own devices, I imagine, most of us would be but a fraction of the people we’re capable of. There are so many natural urges: laziness, anger, entitlement, and so on. There’s a great quote from the football coach, Bill Walsh: “Like water, many decent individuals will seek lower ground if left to their own inclinations.”
What we need to block these inclinations is rules. Little ones that we can follow to make us better. The big ones are obvious and if you’re a halfway decent person already, don’t necessarily need repeating (don’t cheat, kill etc).
It’s the little, seemingly innocuous rules, that make the big difference. They help me live my life eliminating choices where one might seek lower ground or standards. Sure, some of them are essentially cliches — but cliches are often full of truth. Some are practical. Some are value-based. Some I made up for some reason and can’t remember why. I’m glad I did though, because these little, seemingly inconsequential rules have had a big impact.
— Give a book 100 pages minus your age before you quit (credit to Nancy Pearl for this rule)
— Never use the stairs or ladder to get out of a pool. Pull yourself up from the side. It’s a free muscle up.
— Do one thing each morning before you check email. It could be anything: shower, breakfast, exercising, even just having a nice conversation. But do it first before you go straight into email.
— Don’t recline your seat on an airplane
— Never get in an elevator just to take it one floor. That’s what stairs are for.
— On time is late. Use the extra time to read a book.
— Move over if you’re slowing someone behind you down. Only an idiot takes offense that someone else wants to go faster than you.
— Candy is for children. You are not a child. Same goes for: most games, gossiping, throwing tantrums, Taylor Swift concerts, chat clients.
— Don’t walk more than two people wide on a sidewalk. It’s rude. If you’re the third of a group of friends, walk ahead or behind
— Tyler Cowen has a great rule about not watching more than one big TV series at a time.
— If you’re looking for something in a store, ask an employee to tell you exactly where it is. Don’t be the person who wanders around looking for it. Life is too short.
— Pay what you can forward.
— Don’t text or talk on your phone while driving. Seriously. Seriously, put your phone down right now.
— “When faced with people’s bad behavior, turn around and ask when you have acted like that.” Marcus Aurelius
— When there is a deadline, you meet it (or beat it). The time to argue with it is before you’ve agreed to it–then and only then.
— Say no to airplane wifi. This is forced quiet time.
— The public space belongs to the public. Not you. Not your friends.
— Always open the door for other people. Hold it for them too.
— What do you do for a living? Whatever that thing is–with almost no exceptions; never do it for free. That’s your craft and your life. Don’t give it away.
— Take the first parking space you see. The difference between the best and worst spot is what? A few minutes of walking?
— Everyone has said stuff in private that they regret, particularly about other people. Obviously it would be better to not do this at all. An easier place to start: Don’t hold what other people may have said against them…unless you’re ok with them doing the same to you.
— If you’re stuck in a situation you don’t want to be in, you have a choice: Is this going to be alive time or dead time? Choose alive time.
— If you have a young kid or a dog, you’re responsible for what they do. You don’t get to ignore it just because you’re uncomfortable or because it’s hard to solve. You gave up that right when you walked out your front door.
— Finish what you start (except bad books). It’s the hard parts at the end where character is made and mastery is built.
— Avoid not just inappropriate behavior, but the choices and situations that lead to inappropriate behavior. (you know, don’t be alone with the opposite sex in a hotel room, don’t drink at a party if you drove yourself there etc)
— If you’re angry about something, first ask yourself: How long has it been since I ate or drank anything?
— You’re already partially cleaning the dish to put it in the dishwasher. In most cases, just finish it and put it away.
— When you give yourself a goal or a stopping point, like ‘I am going to make two more of these’ or ‘I am going to get off the Stairmaster at 50 stories’ or ‘I am going to do [insert activity for a length of time]” always go a little bit past that (assuming it is a good thing). The rule is: do a little bit more than you thought you were capable of.
— When you’re on the phone, go for a walk.
— Use a fan before you use an A/C. Oh and don’t be an idiot: Put a thermostat on the actual temperature you’d like it to be. Putting it on the lowest allowable setting does not make it go faster.
— When you’re running, accelerate on the hills, decelerate and conserve energy on the downhills. Anyone can let gravity work for them…but that kind of defeats the purpose of exercise.
— If the distance is reasonably walkable, walk. It’s good for the body and the soul.
“Man is pushed by drives,” Viktor Frankl once observed, “but he is pulled by values.” What are those values? When presented with a choice–which path do you choose? What rules do you live by?
Sketch them out. They’re easier to follow that way.
Feel free to suggest any I might have missed.