Rules for leading yourself

Three years ago I began creating a rule of life. I am a rule-breaker by nature, and so the notion of more rules in life was unappealing. And yet, discovering a rule of life (an ancient practice that I learned from this book) has led to increased joy, peace, and fulfillment.

A self imposed rule defines the boundaries for a life that you enjoy living in. Rules in this context aren’t necessarily moral boundaries (“I won’t cheat, lie, or steal”), they are closer to rhythms or practices.

Every so often I share my rules for life with a group (I have nine rules). While they are fun to talk about, people are more curious about how they discover their own guiding rhythms, principles, and behaviors to give life meaning.

A rule of life is not:

  1. A rule is not a stretch goal. Don’t start a rule to run 25 miles a week if you hate running.
  2. A rule is not an accountability partner. Don’t expect a list to hold you to something. It should be a “do” list, not a “I won’t do” list.
  3. A rule is not mediocre wall art. Don’t look for a phrase or idea that sounds good.

A good rule of life:

  1. Defines what gives you joy. If you’ve always hated running, don’t put it in your rule.
  2. Keeps you connected to your values. A rule should nudge you to what matters most.
  3. Helps you love people more deeply. A rule should be more full of verbs than principles. While practices may be individual, they should move you to greater connection.

How to start discovering a rule of life

Examine. Take five minutes at the end of every day and reflect on what gave you life and joy (and, by contrast, what generated anxiety or depleted you). You can’t always remove everything that sucks life out of you. The ancient idea for this is to ‘examen.’

Our kids noticed that everybody does better when we get a family day once a week. So, we don’t let our schedules take over a day where the agenda is simply to be together.

Listen. Watch what behaviors lead to your ability to be more present with people. Listen for when you are gruff, judgmental, impatient, or disengaged. What made you feel empty? What would refill you?

A colleague noticed that they came home stressed (and grumpy) every day, and noticed it was often connected to phone calls on the drive home. Now, when they exit the freeway, they hang up.

Experiment. Look for new ways to stay rooted, engaged in relationship, or help to restore your physical and mental health. As you experiment, take notes!

A friend of mine discovered that pottery helped him to be centered and his soul to be rested. Throwing pottery is in his rule of life.

Relieve yourself of the pressure to create a rule of life in a week. With a bit of curiosity and exploration, you can begin to discover something now that will morph over many years.

Last week I started a series about un-failing change. I’ll be back with more application on leading change, leading others, and leading yourself next week. Subscribe today!

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