Rules and guidelines

A few years ago, I was quick to talk about self discipline in the form of rules. There rules might be –

“No checking phone after dinner.”

“No email on Saturdays.”

“No donuts.”

“Always wake up by 5am.”

In time, I’ve moved entirely away from rules to guidelines. Now, I might say “Avoid checking the phone after dinner” or “Aim to wake up at 5am everyday.” This means I’ll do it most of the time. But, there will be times when exceptions will need to be made.

And, that’s totally okay. I trust myself to make a conscious choice.

Trust turns out to be the key difference between a rule based approach to discipline versus a guideline based approach. The rule based approach assumes we are prone to make bad choices and these should be avoided by getting guardrails up. A guideline based approach, instead, assumes we’re completely trustworthy. And, as long as we’re intentional and engaged, we’ll make good decisions in the long run.

Does that mean the trust never gets broken? Absolutely not. We will err. But, the response to these errors isn’t admonishment. Instead, it is a creative, corrective and constructive response.

The beauty about trust is that it inspires positive behavior for the right reasons. It creates a cycle built on positive reinforcement and learning. This approach changes how much we trust those we have close relationships with too.

When we change how we treat ourselves, we also change how we treat others.