Life Rules Worth Breaking
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Today at a Glance
- The highest performers embrace software updates. They treat their minds like a code base that requires consistent updates and resets to improve upon the old.
- There are a variety of baseline rules for life that are deeply ingrained into our minds and in dire need of an update. Many of these rules are culturally ingrained, meaning they have been repeated and passed down with no regard for their continued accuracy, or the quality of their underlying assumptions.
- Today's piece shares 8 rules that have been commonly repeated, but that we should probably start breaking.
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One of the traits I’ve observed in the highest performers is that they embrace software updates.
What does this mean?
Well, the highest performers realize that their minds, lives, and everything in them are effectively just a code base. This life code base, like any other one, grows stagnant over time. It requires regular updates, debugging, and resets.
It's relatively easy to update newer code that hasn't been deeply embedded—it's more difficult to update old code that has had years to ingrain itself in our minds.
In this vein, I recently began thinking about baseline rules for life that we were taught growing up that may need an update, reset, or scrub.
Many of these rules are culturally ingrained, meaning they have been repeated and passed down with no regard for their continued accuracy, or the quality of their underlying assumptions. Many of these rules are parroted by the masses with no regard for the quality of the outcomes they create.
My hypothesis is that many of the rules we are told to live by are fundamentally flawed (or at least in need of repair).
In today’s piece, I’d like to address some of those common rules that we are told to live by (and that we should probably start breaking).
Interestingly, until I started brainstorming for this piece, I realized I had never thought twice about most of these rules, I had probably blindly repeated them to others, simply because of how ingrained they were from a young age.
Some of them may not apply to you, but I’m betting many of them will.
Without further ado, here are 8 life rules worth breaking...
Rule: You can only run two burners at once
The so-called "Four Burners Theory" says that there are four burners on your metaphorical life stove:
The theory suggests that you can only operate effectively with one of the burners turned off—and you can only operate optimally with two of the burners turned off.
In other words, you have to choose what 2 items to optimize and what 2 items to sacrifice.
The rule has been repeated ad nauseum without regard for the quality of its underlying assumptions and premises.
In my humble opinion, the Four Burners Theory is a false construct—and a damning one at that. Most notably, it convinces us that we have to sacrifice family, friends, or health in order to perform at work (i.e. make money).
This is wrong.
I have two primary issues with it:
- On/Off vs. Dimmer: All of these arenas are treated as having an on/off switch, when the reality is that they each have a dimmer switch. We can choose how and when to turn each up and down, but we never have to turn any of them off if we don't want to.
- Ignore Leverage: The theory completely ignores the role leverage can play in amplifying our inputs in any individual arena. For example, 60 minutes of unfocused exercise 4x per week is much less effective in optimizing our health than 30 minutes of focused, high intensity exercise 3x per week. The latter is significantly less time, which frees us up for other burners, but the outcomes are significantly better. Leverage matters.
I will plan to write a full deep dive on the Four Burners Theory, including its origins, flaws, and a better way to operate and manage your life levers.
Rule: You have to become an expert to be successful
Society celebrates experts in any given field, so it's unsurprising that we have been patterned to believe that expertise is the only path to success.
But as David Epstein argues in Range, many experts succeed because of the range of pursuits they engaged in that preceded their main endeavor. Those who specialize too early may actually miss out.
In other words, the "generalist first, specialist later" mindset is the best one for us to adopt.
I've heard this explained as "Explore, Then Exploit" recently—idea being that you should explore a range of pursuits early in your career and life, with that exploration leaving you better equipped for the exploit phase when you go deeper on the arena that provides you with maximum leverage.
The other way I might think about this is "Say Yes, Then No"—meaning you should say yes frequently as you explore the possibilities, and then say no frequently as you double down on what works.
Rule: You should wait for the perfect moment
This rule has paralyzed would-be action-takers for generations.
Wait for the perfect moment to:
- Start that business
- Have a child
- Launch a new project
The reality: There is no such thing as the perfect moment. You'll never feel fully comfortable or secure in making the leap with a big decision.
If you wait for the perfect moment, it may never come.
Sometimes you just have to open the door, jump out of the plane, and hope you packed the parachute tight.
Rule: Don't talk to strangers
This is a classic we are told as children—the residue of which carries into adulthood for far too many.
"There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met." - William Butler Yeats
When we open up to those around us, we stimulate, learn, and grow.
I've learned more from a conversation with an Uber driver than from the Fortune 500 CEO I was on my way to see.
Knowledge and wisdom know no bounds. Open up to everyone and you'll be shocked at the light (and luck!) you let into your life.
Rule: If it ain't broke, don't fix it
This is a commonly heard phrase in locker rooms and boardrooms alike.
It's equally damning in both settings. Complacency will always lead you down a bad path.
Just because something isn't broken, doesn't mean it won't be in the future. There are plenty of easily-envisioned scenarios where this occurs:
- The environment shifts, rendering the existing solution sub-optimal or obsolete.
- Competition surges, creating more options and alternatives where there weren't any.
- Opponents adapt, suddenly making it harder to win.
Continuous improvement is always the way. No matter how good you are, focus on small, incremental improvements—day in, day out.
Use my guide to help you get started on your path.
Rule: Stick to your plan
Confession: I'm a big planner.
I like to have everything neatly laid out in front of me. I like to know what I'm doing every single day. It keeps me sane.
I am a big believer that it's important to have a plan—but there is one big caveat, which is best described with a quote:
"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." - Mike Tyson
The lesson: Plans have to be dynamic—and punch-proof! We have to avoid being dogmatic about our plans. If the facts on the ground change, our plans have to as well.
How many wars have been lost by generals who were unwilling to change their plans in the face of an adapting enemy?
Stubborn attachment never got anyone anywhere worth going. You'll only go as far as your ability to absorb blows and pivot on the fly.
Rule: You should save now to enjoy later
All mainstream financial advice tells you one thing: delay all gratification. Save now to enjoy your life later.
This is a tough one for me.
I agree, but with an important caveat:
You have to enjoy the prime of your life! If you delay gratification for too long, the quality of the gratification may atrophy.
Now and then, it's ok to save a bit less to do something special:
- Go to that concert with your friends.
- Take your partner out for that splurge of a dinner.
- Treat your kids to a spontaneous night at a hotel.
Happiness NOW is still worth something. Find your definition of balance.
Rule: Don't be self-promotional
It's easy to condemn self-promotion when you're at the top—but when you're first starting out, you may be the only one in a position to promote your work.
If you're proud of your efforts on something, be proud to talk about it. Genuine pride is infectious.
When you've put in the work, energy, and love, share it with the world.
If you're not willing to promote your work, why should anyone else be?
Those are 8 rules that I believe we should all start breaking.
In an upcoming piece, I'll share my set of life rules—the non-negotiables that I try to live my life by on a daily basis. This is a dynamic list, but I think it may be interesting to some of you.
I'd love to hear from you:
- Which rule has impacted your life most to date? How do you plan to fight back?
- What other rules have you observed that you believe are flawed or incorrect?
At me @SahilBloom and I'll do my best to get back to everyone.
As always, until next time...stay curious, friends!