Whether you’re struggling with bad habits, or trying to be more productive at work, or just wanting to be happier, you need clear rules that will get you there in the shortest possible time. We explain why they are so important and how to formulate them.
The power of simple rules
We all use simple rules every day, sometimes without even realizing it. For example, someone decides that they will not open email until they have had their morning cup of coffee, and another that they will no longer go on a second date with someone who talks only about himself.
Perhaps you, without knowing it, rely on the same simple principles in more significant matters, such as choosing clothes, a new diet, or when investing money.
Simple rules are good because they allow you to make the right decisions without delay, without stopping and thinking about each step for a long time.
Unlike more complex strategies where everything is written down to the smallest detail, simple rules give us flexibility and choice, but at the same time help us to remain consistent. They are also ideal for situations where you need to coordinate collective action.
Simple rules can take many forms, but they all have four things in common.
1. There are always few of them, which makes it easy to remember them and focus on the most important aspects of the case.
2. Simple rules are not universal. They take into account the needs of the one who applies them, whether it be an individual or an organization.
3. They apply to well-defined activities or decisions. Rules designed for several situations at once, as a result, are emasculated into vague banal instructions like “do your best.”
4. Simple rules set clear guidelines for us and at the same time leave us the opportunity to act at our own discretion.
Simple rules in practice
Simple rules are shortcut strategies that help you solve even the most complex problems efficiently and with minimal effort. Here are three great real life examples.
1. After publishing several bestsellers in a row, UCLA professor Michael Pollan crystallized three simple rules for healthy eating: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly vegetable.
Today, Pollan’s rules are stickers on refrigerators in family kitchens around the world. These tips are easy to remember and provide reliable guidance. But at the same time, they leave enough freedom, since they do not specify what exactly you need to eat for lunch – blueberries, cantaloupe or cabbage.
2. The Great Depression crippled many destinies. However, the story tells of one banker – Gerald Loeb , the son of a French wine merchant, who not only rose from the ruins of the economy, but also emerged from them more powerful. He sensed the stock market crash when the clouds were still gathering on the horizon, and helped his clients avoid heavy financial losses.
Loeb ‘s secret weapon was a simple but powerful rule: “If an investment loses 10% of its original value, sell it.”
3. Oddly enough, simple rules are useful in creativity. By narrowing the circle of possibilities, they give impetus to ingenuity. Many great artists deliberately imposed certain restrictions on what to depict, what materials to use, and from whom to draw inspiration from other masters.
Or take, for example, the famous writer Elmore Leonard. At the request of the New York Times, he released his simple rules for writing, which included such as “Avoid prologue”, “When describing dialogue, use only the verb “said”” and “Try to avoid passages that readers are likely to skim through, do not reading.”
Of course, these rules may not apply to other writers. But such are the creative principles of Elmore Leonard, whose stingy and strict style was built on dialogues that energetically moved the plots forward.
You can develop your own set of rules that will help you improve relationships with others, improve your work efficiency, achieve peak self-improvement, improve your health, or, say, achieve material well-being.
Whatever your goals, you will have to go through several steps to create the most effective simple rules. Let’s talk about this process in more detail.
What will we improve?
Usually people are well aware of what aspects of their lives they want to improve. And if not, then with the help of a set of simple tricks you can determine them.
First of all, you need to understand that positive change comes from two sources.
1. You can become more active in activities and activities that energize you, fill your life with meaning and happiness, such as spending more time with your children or contributing to the well-being of your community.
2. The second way to improve is to get rid of what darkens your life, torments, prevents you from breathing deeply and taking everything that it can give from each day (this can be eternal concern about money or poor health). If the severity of these sufferings is mitigated, nervous tension, anxieties and fears will recede.
The more things in your life that give you joy and the less things that make you suffer, the happier you are.
Think about what improvements you most desire. You have a huge choice: from losing weight to a romantic acquaintance, from the harmony between work and personal life to the accumulation of wealth, from the joys of communication to the opportunity to devote more time to yourself.
It would be nice to pick up not one, but several aspects of life to improve, since not all simple rules are equally applicable to everyone. To get started, three to five points will suffice.
And one moment. The first version of the list usually includes very generalized values, such as family, wealth, and health. Try to narrow these concepts down to clearer, more measurable goals. For example, the desire to “eat right” can be specified: “lose five kilos,” “become more energetic,” or “control blood sugar levels through diet.”
At this stage, be sure to think about the following questions.
- What area of your life do you most want to improve? What are the first three things that come to your mind?
- What activities bring you the most joy and give you a sense of well-being? What should be done to devote more time to these activities?
- What aspects of your life cause you the most fear, anxiety, or worry? What would help ease these feelings?
- Look back at the past five years: do you regret not being able to change something during this time? What would you most regret when you remember your life on your deathbed?
- How would a trusted friend, life partner, or lover answer these questions for you? (It is very helpful to ask them about this.)
Looking for a bottleneck
Having decided on which side of your life you would like to improve, move on to the next step – finding a bottleneck. This is a kind of stumbling block on your way to achieving one of your personal goals.
For example, if you set out to lose weight, then the bottleneck may be your diet. In this case, you will have to think about how to replace evening snacks or how to wean yourself from eating sweets during work.
The bottleneck is the surest point for applying simple rules.
Simple rules can be productively applied to dozens of different personal activities, but you need to focus your efforts on the cause or decision that will give you the maximum return.
Pay attention to the following points.
1. The best candidates for bottlenecks are recurring actions (rather than one-off solutions). This includes, for example, the way a couple settles money disputes or the distribution of household chores.
2. Simple rules work especially well in situations where the number of options outweighs the resources needed to implement them, such as when you are thinking about where to invest capital or what to spend the few hours that have been freed up.
3. Simple rules best guide decisions that require flexibility, such as when choosing a diet or parenting arrangement for your baby. If you have problems with mechanical memory (say, you always forget what things to pack for your business trip), then it is more appropriate to make a checklist than to fence the rules.
4. Simple rules are great for channeling willpower in the right direction and are therefore especially suitable for dieting, exercising, saving money, and doing other things in which you have to sacrifice momentary temptations for the sake of a big long-term gain.
A bottleneck doesn’t have to meet all of the above criteria, but the more conditions it satisfies, the better the simple rules will work.
Here are a few key questions to help you prioritize.
- How often do you make such a decision or do such a thing?
- Does the number of possible choices exceed the amount of time, money, energy, or attention you have?
- Does this work require willpower?
- Does this case or decision require some flexibility?
- Can results be measured so that rules can be tested and improved?
It’s time to make the rules!
Simple rules are formed in many ways. They can be generated:
– based on a deep understanding of one’s own experience, and this is especially effective for people who have a solid load of accumulated knowledge and skills behind them;
– borrowing the experience of other people, transmitted firsthand or contained in books and similar examples from someone’s practice;
– relying on reliable and reliable scientific evidence in any field;
— by negotiation, which is appropriate in situations that involve many participants with diverging goals and opinions on the course of action.
The variability of potential sources of simple rules is not a flaw, but, on the contrary, one of their greatest virtues.
By drawing on different resources, you increase your chances of finding exactly the ideas that work best for your case. Be sure to spend enough time on this (at least a few days). Below are some more useful tips on how to work with rule sources.
1. Turning to science for inspiration, look for valuable ideas that are supported and replicated by the authors of various studies.
Nowadays, many scientists publish popular science books, blogs and give interviews to communicate their findings to a wide audience, and offer diagnostic tools that can be a rich source of potential rules.
2. A lot of ideas can be gleaned from someone else’s experience. For example, if you have taken up the creation of the first western in your literary career, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with the rules for writing a good action movie, which the recognized master of the genre, Elmore Leonard, brought out for himself.
If someone you know is particularly adept at handling a bottleneck similar to yours, it’s a good idea to consult with that person. Don’t limit yourself to friends and family. Spread your networks wider and talk, for example, with someone who attends a book club with you, a sports section, or is a member of the same volunteer organization as you.
3. You can transform into rules and your own life experience. A great start is to collect the most complete information about your recent activities.
Suppose you want to create simple rules for dividing household chores among family members; then you can write down in a journal for a week or a little more who and what did the housework.
When there is enough source material, try to divide examples of your past actions (deeds, decisions) into three categories: those that worked well; those that failed; whatever is left in the middle.
Compare your best and worst examples and see how they differ so you can quickly and accurately identify potential rules.
4. Negotiations acquire special value when the rules are intended not for one, but for several people.
The most common example is the rules governing the relationship of a married couple, children and their parents or club members. When multiple people are involved in a process, it is critical that they all focus on the same bottleneck.
Evaluation of results
You don’t have to go out of your way to make the perfect rules the first time. You will still have the opportunity to evaluate how well they work and, if necessary, adjust them.
Thanks to mobile applications, you can easily collect data and track your progress. The indicators of the effectiveness of the rules are, for example, lost kilograms for people who are losing weight or free dollars to invest for those who save for old age.
It is easier to evaluate the effect of simple rules if you collect a little information about the current state of affairs before you start working with them. The size of last year’s set aside or last month’s weight would be a good starting point.
The timing of control measurements depends on the characteristics of your chosen goal. A week or a month will do to check the progress in weight loss, and if you want to pull up your son in mathematics using simple rules, then you should evaluate progress no earlier than the middle of the semester.
The results will clearly show what works and what does not. And positive changes will inspire you and give you an incentive to strictly follow the rules further.