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How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using “Bright-Line” Rules

How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using “Bright-Line” Rules

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?” —The Miranda Warning

In the spring of 1966, a man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix. The police had very little to go on, but they suspected Miranda of kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old woman ten days earlier. The officers interrogated Miranda for two hours and were rewarded for their efforts: Miranda admitted to the rape charge and signed a confession paper.

There was just one problem. During the interrogation, Miranda had been alone and at no point was he informed that he had the right to legal counsel.

When the case went to trial, Miranda’s written confession was used as evidence. He was quickly convicted, but his lawyer appealed because Miranda had never been informed of his rights and thus, according to his lawyer, the confession was not voluntary. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the decision, but eventually the case made it to the United States Supreme Court.

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The United States Supreme Court overturned the Miranda ruling by a vote of 5 to 4 because “The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.” (1)

The Supreme Court had just created a bright-line rule.

The Power of Bright-Line Rules

A bright-line rule refers to a clearly defined rule or standard. It is a rule with a clear interpretation and very little wiggle room. It establishes a bright line for what the rule is saying and what it is not saying.

The Miranda ruling is one example. If a police officer fails to inform a defendant in custody of their rights, then the suspect’s statements are not admissible in court. Plain and simple. Clear and bright.

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Most of us, myself included, could benefit from setting brighter lines in our personal and professional lives. Consider some common examples:

  • We might say that we want to check email less frequently.
  • We might say that we want to drink moderately.
  • We might say that we want to save more for retirement.
  • We might say that we want to eat healthier.

But what do these statements really mean?

  • What does it mean to check email less frequently? Are you going to “try to be better about it” and hope that works? Will you set specific days or certain times when you will be unavailable? Will you check email on weekends? Will you process email only on your computer?
  • What, exactly, is moderate drinking? Is it one drink per week? Five drinks per week? Ten drinks per week? We haven’t defined it, so how will we know if we are making progress? (2)
  • What does it mean to save more? More is not a number. How much is more? When will you save? Every month? Every paycheck?
  • What does eating healthier look like on a daily basis? Does that mean you eat more servings of vegetables? If so, how many more? Do you want to start by eating a healthy meal once per day? Twice per day? Every meal?

It can be easy to make promises like this to yourself, but they do not create bright lines. Fuzzy statements make progress hard to measure, and the things we measure are the things we improve.

Now, do we need to measure every area of our lives? Of course not. But if something is important to you, then you should establish a bright line for it. Consider the following alternatives:

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  • I only process email between 11 AM and 6 PM.
  • I enjoy a maximum of 2 drinks per night.
  • I save $500 per month for retirement.
  • I eat at least two types of vegetables per day.

These statements establish bright lines. These statements make action steps precise and obvious. Vague promises will never lead to clear results.

Using Bright Lines to Break Bad Habits

The examples I outlined above focus primarily on building new behaviors, but bright-line rules can be used just as effectively to break bad habits or eliminate old behaviors.

My friend Nir Eyal proposes a similar strategy that he calls “Progressive Extremism.” To explain the concept, Nir uses the example of being a vegetarian. If you were interested in becoming a vegetarian, you might start by saying, “I don’t eat red meat.” The goal is not to change everything at once, but to take a very clear and extreme stand in one small area. You are establishing a bright line on that topic.

Over time, you can progressively move your bright line forward and add other behaviors to the mix (i.e. “I don’t eat red meat or fish,” and so on).

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How Bright Lines Unleash Your Hidden Willpower

Establishing bright lines in your life can provide a huge boost in daily willpower. There are two reasons for this.

First, bright lines shift the conversation in your head from one of sacrifice to one of empowerment. When you don’t have a bright line established and you choose not to do something, the tendency is to say, “Oh, I can’t do it this time.” Conversely, when you do have a bright line clearly set, your response can simply be, “No thanks, I don’t do that.” Bright lines help you avoid making just-this-once exceptions. Instead, you are following a new identity that you have created for yourself. (3)

Second, by establishing clear decisions in your life, you conserve willpower for other important choices. Here’s the problem with trying to make daily decisions in muddy water: Without bright lines, you must decide whether a situation fits your standards every time. With bright lines, the decision is made ahead of time. Because of this, you are less likely to suffer from decision fatigue and are more likely to have willpower left over for work, relationships, and other health habits.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Ernesto Miranda didn’t escape prison for long. He was soon sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison for a robbery he committed during a separate crime.
  2. I want to give credit to Brian Johnson for originally developing this drinking example and for sparking my research on bright-line rules, which led to this article. Thanks Brian!
  3. Related reading: How to Say No, Resist Temptation, and Stick to Your Health Goals

Featured photo credit: Mark Fischer via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

How To Be Successful In Life? 13 Tips From The Most Successful People

How To Be Successful In Life? 13 Tips From The Most Successful People

What is success to you? How to be successful in life?

To some, when they think of success, they imagine wealth; others want power; some just want to make a positive impact on the world.

All of these are perfectly valid, indeed success is a concept that means different things to different people. Though no matter what success is to you, it almost certainly isn’t something will come easily.

There are countless guides and books to being successful, however, as success is personal and unique to each individual. The advice contained in these books can often not be relevant. Therefore following the advice of a single individual can often be unhelpful.

With this in mind, considering the advice of a great many people, people whose ideas of success were different both to each other, and quite possibly, to you can be a good alternative.

What follows is a list of thirteen of the best pieces of advice from some of the most successful people who have ever lived. If you want to learn how to be successful, these 13 tips are essential:

1. Think Big

    From Michelangelo Buonarroti, Great Renaissance Artist:

    “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

    There are few artists as influential as Michaelangelo. Today centuries after his death, his work still inspires and connects to people. His work is world famous, just think of his statue of David, or the Mural in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

    Imagine then, if he decided not to work as an artist.

    Being a successful artist has always been extremely difficult, imagine if he decided to give up this ambition in favour of something easier?

    Oftentimes, people often decided to put their dreams aside for something more “realistic”. To give up their dream for something easier. This quote teaches us the danger of such a point of view.
    Instead be ambitious.

    2. Find What You Love to Do and Do It

      From Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul:

      “You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job and not be paid for it.”

      This is a good quote to remember and think about when you’re at work.

      Imagine being as successful as possible in your current job. Ultimately you’ll probably find yourself working extremely hard and this it will take up much of your time.

      If it’s a job you hate, then being successful at it might only mean filling your life with something you hate to do. What’s the sense in this?

      Instead, why not focus on doing something you love? When you’ve found what you’re passionate about, you get the motivation to keep you moving. Success at this means the fulfilment of your dreams.

      Not sure what your passion is yet? You should learn about this Motivation Engine first.

      Even if you’re not successful, you still filled your time with something you love to do. Many successful musicians spent years of their lives doing unpaid performances, the only reason they kept playing was because they loved to perform.

      3. Learn How to Balance Life

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        From Phil Knight, CEO of Nike Inc.:

        “There is an immutable conflict at work in life and in business, a constant battle between peace and chaos. Neither can be mastered, but both can be influenced. How you go about that is the key to success.”

        All too often, people think that to be successful, they need to make the object of their success their life.

        If a person thinks their job will lead them to success, then they may spend countless hours per day, and well into the evening working hard.

        However this comes at the cost of rest, your health and having an enjoyable life. Ultimately they may burn out and cease to be successful at their job anyway.

        If success comes from having a strong social life and a good group of friends, their job may suffer; meaning that they may lose their job, and then be unable to afford going out with friends.

        In these ways, success, as Phil Knight says above, is helped by balance. Think of it as a balance between rest and work, or work and play.

        To achieve that balance, this Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life can help you.

        4. Do Not Be Afraid of Failure

          From Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motors:

          “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

          There is a story, it’s unconfirmed whether it actually happened, yet the message within is none the less true:

          Thomas Edison inventing the lightbulb was the result of several hundred failed attempts. In an interview, he was asked “How do you feel after all of your failed attempts?”

          His response was great, “I didn’t fail, I learned hundreds of ways not to invent the lightbulb”

          He saw each “failure” as a lesson. From that lesson he learned what won’t work, and also might work instead.

          Each failed attempt, each rejection, were key steps on his path to success. It is easy to feel like you should give up after a failure. But perhaps in that failure is a lesson.

          Pay attention to your failures, study them. Perhaps then you’ll learn how to succeed.

          If you find it difficult to fight your fear of failure, here’s a guide for you: Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Conquer It Step-By-Step)

          5. Have an Unwavering Resolution to Succeed

            From Colonel Sanders, Founder of KFC:

            “I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labor, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me. And I have done that ever since, and I win by it. I know.”

            This, in many ways relates to the above quote about learning from your failures.

            It’s the easiest thing in the world to give up from a failure. The only way to push on is if you have the true burning desire to succeed, to not be moved or dissuaded from your goals.

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            If you are not truly dedicated towards success, then each failure will hurt more, each set back will slow you down.

            Success is hard; without the unwavering desire to succeed, this difficulty may seem insurmountable. With the desire, it is merely an obstacle to go through.

            6. Be a Person of Action

              From Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Genius:

              “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

              Though it was said hundreds of years ago, it works just as much today as it ever had. It applies to literally any successful person.

              Think about it, picture someone like William Shakespeare:

              When we think of the time he lived in, we think of the time in a way shaped by him. When we think of Renaissance era Italy, we think of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. Or think about the present day, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Our current way of life would simply be incomparably different if they didn’t accomplish what they did.

              You’re probably reading this article on a device by a company that they either founded or companies influenced by them.

              All these figures were proactive, they saw ways to do things differently and did them. If they let the world shape them, then they’d simply fit into the background. Instead they shaped the world.

              Applying this to you?

              Don’t be afraid of going outside the norm. If you can think of a better way to do something, do it that way. If you fail, try again.

              7. Cultivate Positive Relationships

                From Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of America: “

                The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

                The best leaders and some of the most influential people (and Theodore Roosevelt is one of the best leaders and one of the most influential people to have lived) were not those who caused commotions, who fought with people or disregarded people; but were people who were friendly to those around them.

                People liked them. They wanted them to do well.

                This is key to good leadership.

                It’s logical. If someone likes you, they want to help you; if you give them a suggestion, they’ll gladly follow through with it.

                But if someone doesn’t like you, they may either refuse to help or actively get in your way.

                What’s more, it’s always a good idea to cultivate good relationships. You can never tell who will prove to become someone who’ll be able to help you in a big way, or even be a good and supportive friend.

                As such, help people and they may help you; and be good to people, and they my be good to you.

                8. Don’t Be Afraid of Introducing New Ideas

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                  From Mark Twain, Famed Author:

                  “A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

                  It is an unfortunate truth that those with the boldest ideas are often disregarded.

                  Most of us are taught from an early age to think and do things similarly to everyone else. This can be great to fill an existing role. But to truly do things differently (and all successful people did things differently), you need to think differently.

                  If you have a new idea, don’t throw it away because it’s new and different; instead, celebrate it. Your strange new idea might one day be the one that leads you to success.

                  9. Believe in Your Capacity to Succeed

                    From Walter Disney, Founder of Walt Disney Company:

                    “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

                    Success has to be something you can imagine yourself achieving.

                    It is possible that you will come across those who doubt you and your ability to succeed. You must not become one of these people because the moment you cease believing and dreaming is the moment these dreams fall away.

                    Keep dreaming!

                    10. Always Maintain a Positive Mental Attitude

                      From Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of America:

                      “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

                      Like the above quote says, you need to trust in your ability to succeed. This is the only way to cultivate the right mindset.

                      Replace negative thoughts with the positive ones. You need to approach problems, not as obstacles stopping you, but merely tasks that need to be completed for you to keep going.

                      If you stay positive and think like this, setbacks won’t affect you so much, people’s doubts won’t impact you and even the biggest obstacles will seem like minor problems.

                      However with the wrong mindset of doubt, you’ll be much easier to stop.

                      11. Don’t Let Discouragement Stop You from Pressing On

                        From Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of America:

                        “Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.”

                        It is an unfortunate fact of human nature — all of us in some way, doubt ourselves. This can be made far worse if others doubt us too.

                        When surrounded by doubts, giving up can actually seem like a good idea.

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                        Don’t pay attention to the doubts. If you are discouraged, ignore it.

                        If this discouragement moves into your mind and you begin to doubt yourself. It is important to ignore this too.

                        This is How Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Overcome It

                        12. Be Willing to Work Hard

                          From JC Penny, Founder of JC Penney Inc.:

                          “Unless you are willing to drench yourself in your work beyond the capacity of the average man, you are just not cut out for positions at the top.”

                          You might have heard the quote that “success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” or you may have heard about the 10,000 hours idea.

                          Whichever way you frame it, they say one thing:

                          True success comes from work.

                          You’ll never become successful if you don’t work towards your goal in life and keep working towards it.

                          Check out this article and you’ll understand Why Hard Work Beats Talent.

                          13. Be Brave Enough to Follow Your Intuition

                            From Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple Inc.:

                            “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

                            In ancient Greece, there was a group of Oracles who lived in Delphi. Everyone who needed advice or to know their future visited them, from the poorest of society to kings. Above the doorway of the temple were the words “know thyself”.

                            If you strongly believe and desire something, chances are that you already have an idea how to get there. If not, you may naturally know what things will help you and what things will slow you down.

                            It’s like how your body can detect danger even when things seem safe.

                            Ultimately then, you need to trust your own instincts.

                            Final Thoughts

                            What you might have noticed is that many of the above lessons are similar — most are about developing the right state of mind. This clearly suggests that the key to achieving success, in whatever you wish, comes down to the way you approach it mentally.

                            Moreover, no matter what stage of life you’re at now, you can still make a difference and pursue success. You can make resetting your life possible when you do this: How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

                            More to Help You Succeed in Life

                            Featured photo credit: Ryan Wong via unsplash.com

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