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(My) 7 Rules to Live By

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, setting in motion these United States of America. Intriguingly, the founders were wise enough to – prior to the declaration – set in motion the Articles of the Confederation, the rules they would agree to follow and the first constitution of the United States (subsequently updated in 1787 to the version that remains in place today). Freedom was deemed worthy of putting their lives on the line. However, before doing so, they began establishing the rules that would allow that freedom to last.

Maintaining our personal freedom also requires establishing rules to live by. We sometimes learn that the hard way in relation to time, money, health, relationships and more. We declare our independence (from parents, school, work, etc.) yet neglect to establish rules that allow that freedom to flourish long term. As we celebrate Independence Day this week, perhaps it is worth reflecting on our own “rules to live by.” We all have them, albeit often only subconsciously. Perhaps we don’t think of them as such, but they exist, nonetheless. Bringing them to the forefront can be a valuable exercise in self-exploration, while also bringing to light new understandings about why we do the things we do. I’ll get us started by exploring a few of my own rules. Please note: the goal is NOT to encourage you to follow my 7 rules but rather to spark a desire on your part to take part in your own self-exploration on the subject.

1. Never allow back2back nights of sleep debt

Sleep is, in many ways, the hand that steers the ship across many aspects of my life. Knowing that’s the case, it receives priority, within limits. One of those limits is my back2back rule. I may trade sleep for a family event, basketball game with our son, concert with Suzanna, travel schedules and more – but, whenever possible, never on two consecutive nights.

2. Delete (or enhance) the “Shoulds”

I “should” ____________ (fill in blank with those you hear yourself saying). “I should” points to a pursuit someone else values for our lives but we have not yet adopted as our own. It doesn’t actually point to a valued priority – it points to a potentially valuable priority that hasn’t yet been birthed. We’ll revisit this subject more extensively in a future column, but my rule regarding “shoulds” is to treat them not as a guilt-inducing, martyr-enhancing task, but instead as an interesting possibility, a trigger to consider whether they deserve to be a priority at this point in my life. It’s not so much that “life’s too short” but rather that “we have too many positive options that lead to same destination” to settle for a life of shoulds.

3. Food is fuel

I keep it simple: Wide variety (~25) of weekly fruits/veggies, 100+ g of healthy protein/day, and avoid empty calories unless training volume is high. No specific diets. Simply give consistent priority to the body’s needs (fuel) over the tongue’s desires (eat) while remembering the value in exceptions, as food serves not only as a fuel, but also a relational connector.

4. Max of 2 cups of (black) coffee/day, finished before noon

This one is pretty self-explanatory 😉

5. Automate 1 hour/day of activity

Keep it simple: 1 hour/day. It’s not a question or a decision. It’s automatic. Whether on vacation, traveling for work or a traditional week… Injuries or weather may shift the focus from run to bike, swim, ruck, etc. Obviously when dialing in training for Ironman or the Race Across America may increase that time. But the MDA (Minimum Daily Activity) = 60 minutes. After spending my 30’s exercising only when my pant were getting tight (not kidding), this rule has served me exceptionally well over the past 2 decades. While it may not keep me “fit” at all times, it certainly keeps me within a stone’s throw, and no doubt it’s immensely easier to “stay” in shape than to “get” in shape!

6. Alcohol is a treat, not a tradition

Our long-term Catalyst Community members know I’ve been all over the map on this one. I didn’t drink alcohol until my late 20s… then a decade later I had fallen into a daily routine thanks to the box wine “convenience” in the frig… My rule today is to tune into its influence on sleep (see rule #1) and enjoy it occasionally as a treat, not a tradition.

7. Always Be Curious (ABC)

This rule brings a palette of colors to life. It changes conversations, enlivens books and articles, expands perspectives, creates a magnet drawing me to new places and experiences, and opens me up to possibilities and ideas I never would have otherwise considered. It’s my favorite rule of all, a rule that likely will result in adjustments to all the other rules along the way 😉

I have others, including those that help keep me out of the gray area in my personal life. But hopefully these 7 provide a starting point to establishing (or recognizing) your own rules for living. No doubt an over-emphasis on rules can weigh us down, block the rays of sunshine and turn us into robots walking in lockstep. However, as our founders recognized 250 years ago, purposeful integration of the right set of rules does no such thing. Instead, it opens the doors of opportunity, raises the flag of freedom and sets us on a course toward true independence!

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