Are you tired of (not) reaching your full potential? Improve your life with daily simple rules instead!
There is a moment in your life as a manager where you realize that you can apply some strategic and managerial tools in your companies to improve your life. One commonly used tool is to write a mission in life, just like most companies do. Writing your life mission helps to make career and personal choices and also allows for consistency in actions. A few years back, I phrased my life mission as: “Reach your full potential and help others reach theirs.” While I realized that the reaching-your-full-potential idea was quite cliché, I was very proud of my mission, and I found it empowering and exciting.
However, as it often happens in companies, a wrongly formulating strategy can be as bad as or worse than no strategy. While I felt inspired by that mission, I was also frustrated. Then, on the 25th of July 2016, after finding myself in a deep emotional and physical crisis, I realized, for the first time, how overwhelming that mission was. As humans, we (should) grow throughout our entire life. Thus, “reaching my full potential” is, by definition, an inspiring but unreachable target. What about helping others reach their full potential? Even more unreachable and overwhelming!
That day I decided to follow a different path. Inspired by the book called “Simple Rules” by Kathleen Eisenhardt and Don Sull that I had recently read, I rewrote my mission in life as: “Make tomorrow better than today, step by step, and help others to do the same.” That day I decided to publish a simple rule on my Facebook account every day for one year. In the end, I did that for more than two years, and my life completely changed. So, what are simple rules? And how did writing a daily simple rule benefited my life?
What Are Simple Rules?
The concept of simple rules is a strategic concept proposed by Kathleen Eisenhardt from Stanford and Don Sull from MIT. Kathleen and Don found out that successful companies in turbulent environments rely on a few “simple rules.” Such simple rules help organizations reach efficiency and flexibility, both of which are necessary to succeed in a turbulent environment.
K. Eisenhardt and D. Sull wrote a few academic articles about this topic, two successful HBR articles, and a book called “Simple rules: How to thrive in a complex world.” In the book, they tell the story of when they were teaching the concept of simple rules to a few managers, and some participants came back the next day mentioning that they had created simple rules to improve their own personal life, like their health or parenting.
I applied this concept to my life in a slightly different way than it is described in the book. I did not start by setting a goal and then create simple rules to reach it. Instead, every day, my question was: “What was the bottleneck I had today? Which simple rule could have made my day better?” Think of it like having a daily journal, but with actionable learnings that summarize your day. I experimented with it, wrote more than 800 simple rules, and became known as the simple-rule-guy among my friends.
How the “Simple Rule of the Day” improve my life and it can improve yours
I learned six things during this process, which I think could apply to everyone who tries it.
1. Inner peace
Since I started this project, I felt a new sense of relief. Writing the “Simple Rule of the Day” was my main priority each day. After writing the simple rule (usually in the morning), I felt happy and accomplished, despite any difficulties I could encounter during the day. Also, I knew I was making progress towards my goals, and this created a sense of happiness. I started to enjoy the process of reaching the goals and not only defer my happiness until when I would have reached the goals.
2. Increased productivity and focus
“Where can I find the time to write my daily rules?” I thought at the beginning. I was worried that I could not be consistent because I am always busy. Amazingly, finding time was never a problem. First, it was only taking an average of 15 mins to write a simple rule in a day. More importantly, I became more productive in my work. Having one daily action that I could accomplish in about 15 mins had the effect of increasing my focus and set the day on a positive mindset, which eventually helped me to get more tasks done.
3. Compound growth
If you have been reading about personal development for a long time like I do, you may have made one of the following complaints. The “Simple Rule of the Day approach” can address all of them.
“I had been reading or listening to a lot, but I have not implemented as much.” Writing simple rules push you to implement them (at least for a day!)
“Some of the suggestions out there are generic and not actionable or testable.” This is why I push myself to write a simple rule in a way that is “actionable and testable.” (well, sometimes I did not succeed…but I did try!)
“Some of the suggestions may work for others, but not for me.” This model is based on self-experimentation. Some simple rules may work forever, some may work for a period of your life, while others may not work at all. By writing and tracking the simple rules I have written, I know which ones to use in the future and which ones I won’t. You can do the same.
“This book is great, but I feel overwhelmed now. I do not have energy and time to implement all the changes that I just read.” The simple rule of the day framework works through the power of the compounding effect. As James Clearly explained in his book Atomic Habits, daily improvements sum up significantly in a year. In fact, 1,01365=37,78. So if you get a little better through a simple rule every day, you are going to be about 38 times better at the end of the year! For your information, this also works in the opposite way, 0.99365=0.02.
4. Increased connection with people
“Marco, I took a screenshot of that simple rule and re-read it when I needed it.” This sentence surprised me. I know that many people were putting “like,” commenting, or messaging me on Facebook when I published a rule. What surprised me is that this sentence came from a person who was not doing it. This made me realized that many people were following me in silence. Having lived in many countries, I have friends all around the world. The “Simple Rule of the Day” helped me keep connecting or re-connecting with many friends worldwide. More importantly, it helped me to live my mission of assisting others to improve, step-by-step.
5. The power of vulnerability
“Should I write this or not? What would people think about it? Can a Professor write something like this?” I had these thoughts many times. In most cases, I still published the rule that made me concerned. The result surprised me. The more I shared something personal, and I was letting myself be vulnerable, the more I received messages of appreciation and connection from people, precisely as Brene Brown says in her famous TED talk.
At the end of the first year, I looked back on the simple rules that I wrote and found patterns. I had a snapshot of a year of my life, not as I planned it but as I built it every day. I started to see patterns. For example, I noticed the areas of the life where I published the most and the longest simple rules (in my case was relationships and health) or the type of simple rules that worked the most (e.g., doing 30-day challenges).
It took me one more year to publish them. In the spirit of self-experimenting, I decided to self-publish the book (and this allowed me to write simple rules on how to self-publish!). When I finalized the book and published it on Amazon, I felt even more at peace. During my quarter-life crisis in my twenties, I was inspired by what Steve Jobs says about life and death during the 2005 Stanford commencement speech. When I published the book, I felt that I could have died in peace; I always felt I had many ideas worth sharing, and I know that now people could read them in the book even when I won’t be here.
“Do we need so many simple rules?”
People often ask me this.
I usually answer them that they need just one! However, it is hard to know which one. So, keep looking for it! I hope that at least one of the simple rules that I published will change some readers’ life or push the readers to find theirs.
“Is it possible that one single simple rule can completely change one’s life?” You may be skeptical.
However, this happened to at least three people I know, so it may as well happen to you.
It happened to Daniel Pink, who, in his commencement speech, said that nine words from his Professor changed his life. Those words were: “Sometimes you have to write to figure it out.”
It happened to Jerome Jarre, the Vine superstar. The “life/death test” changed his life that I described in the book changed his life.
And it happened to me. “What is that one thing that changed your life?” People ask me. “The simple rule of… writing a simple rule each day!” I answer.
Which simple rule will change your life?
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