The Importance of Rules 

My email was hacked recently. It was a moment of high anxiety. 

Fortunately, I was able to act quickly (thanks to some good friends who alerted me immediately). 

When I arrived at my next client meeting, I apologized again for being tardy and one of my client’s employees asked what happened. After I told the story, she asked, “Oh, did they set up a rule?” I asked what she meant, and she explained that hackers often log in and create a rule to forward your emails to another address (good tip if you ever find yourself in this situation!). 

We logged in again and found that there was a forwarding rule active. Since I never set up any automatic email rules (I am a control freak, after all), we knew it was nefarious and deleted it. Emails returned (sadly), and problem solved. 

At the same time, as I was reading Shane Parrish’s wonderful book Clear Thinking, I was intrigued by his discussion of rules. He indicates that one of the fastest ways to better decisions is to make hard ones automatically by creating rules. Examples include:  

  • I only drink soda on the weekends 
  • I never get dessert when eating out 
  • I exercise every day 

The automatic rules create an identity, which makes pushback against the behavior easier to overcome. 

The beauty of these examples (and many more) is that when we make the decision ahead of time, under less pressure, and in more ideal circumstances, we make a better decision. When we make the decision an automatic rule, we remove the need to negotiate with ourselves. And when the rule becomes our identity, as James Clear tells us in his habits research, we sustain our habits much easier for much longer periods. 

Where do you need to make changes that automatic rules will make easier? Identify the desired change, identify the rule that would make it automatic, and put it in place. Remove the negotiation and watch how much easier it is to sustain the behavior.  

That is the importance of rules. 


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