12-Rules for Life

I read the book 12-Rules for Life a couple of years ago and it inspired the idea for a creative writing project. The idea being that we would all share the valuable lessons from our varied life experiences and create a resource of collective wisdom to provoke reflection. Thanks to lock-down, I finally got around to finishing mine. I look forward to hearing and learning from yours ! Comment them below and if we get enough, I might set-up a separate blog page to publish them fully.

Tip: sketch the outline of yours before you read mine!

1) Do Sport. If you don’t like the most common sports, find another (rock climbing, park run, surfing etc.). If you don’t like any sport, go and watch sport with your friends. If you don’t like watching sport. Do sport. Volunteer. Make the food for after. But whatever you do. Do sport.

2) Temper your assertions. Try to avoid speaking with certainty on issues where you might not have all the facts (most things). You don’t know what you don’t know, and you probably don’t even know that yet. There is no end game with this one. When you die, there will still be things you don’t know that you don’t know. Disagree with people’s views and behaviours but not the people themselves, they are human and flawed like you. Apply this rule to yourself and the stories you tell about yourself e.g. I’m a scientist that only recently learned he could write poetry.

3) Limit Your Options. If I had a € for every-time someone of my parent’s generation reminded me of all the wonderful opportunities I had compared to them, I would be a rich man. My English teacher warned us about ‘knowing a little bit of everything and not a lot about anything’. To live in 2020 is to be trying to do a bit of everything and ending up with not very much of anything. Deep human connections (the number 1 factor influencing our happiness) and meaningful work are cultivated by staying the course with a limited number of options. Delay gratification when possible.

4) Exercise. Daily. Most of human evolutionary history saw us cover distances of 9 to 15-kilometres per day. Not doing so has made us ill. This needs to be a priority. In the words of Francis Fuller in 1705, “if some of the advantages accruing from exercise, were to be procured by any one medicine, nothing in the world would be in more esteem, than that medicine”.

5) Get to Know Yourself. Get to know and understand your conscious and unconscious motives and behaviours and the role your life to date has played in creating them. Books, podcasts and counselling are what I found to be the most useful. Following this rule might have the single greatest positive impact on the world.

6) Embrace Failure. It’s going to happen anyway but there are additional advantages to creating it. To try really hard, to care really deeply, to be creative or to forge new connections with others means you have made yourself vulnerable. Vulnerability risks failure or rejection. Failure and rejection develop resilience. If there is an essential ingredient in life, it is resilience. You cannot get this without getting beyond your comfort zone. Ironically, when you are in this vulnerable position it is also when people connect with you most deeply.

7) Sleep. This will require engaging with rule 3 and 4 and digital detoxing a sufficient number of hours before bedtime. The anxiety that keeps us awake comes from trying to do too much or consuming too much information. Sleep along with exercise has the most powerful impact on our health and we tend to feel great after it. This benefits us and everyone around us.

8) Let go of how you want things to be. Everything changes. Trying to exert control on a world that is constantly changing will cause you a lot of stress. Be flexible and try to adapt rather than hold on. This includes your own self perception (who you are supposed to be). If there is something in your life that you rigidly hold onto, see rule 5. Figure it out and practice letting it go.

9) Be of Service. Where to start? This rule used to (and sometimes still does) overwhelm me and it’s partly due to the issues raised in rule 3. Too many causes, too many in need, meaning I end up doing nothing. So, in line with rule 3, I put some structure to it. What small thing can I do every week at home that is of use? What gift can I give my friends (presence?)? How can I be of use to my students/work colleagues? If you find a way to consistently (see bonus rule) do this, you are already winning. ‘But I want to contribute to bigger causes?’, I hear myself say. If you pass the previous steps fine. Identify a cause close to your heart and give to it in a small and sustainable way. Complete? Chill out and focus on the other rules.

10) Know Your Values. A bit like these rules, knowing your values gives you a template to come back to when making decisions especially ones you are unsure of. They become clearer when following rule 5 and they really help you deliver on rule 9.

11) Stay Natural. Concrete, screens, sugar, footwear and prolonged sitting do not represent the environment we are adapted for. Your body and mind were built for a time that no longer exists which is why they are struggling. The solution is to engage with the inverse of the above grass, the outdoors, natural food sources, being barefoot where possible and moving.

12) Don’t listen to yourself or others when out of alignment. The most authentic people are those with whom there is no mismatch between what they say and how they live. They speak from the lived experience and often they are worth listening to. It is hard to take a non-exercising personal trainer seriously, for good reason.

*Bonus Rule: (Typical me, couldn’t stick to my own rules). Be consistent. It underpins rules 1 – 12.