Rules vs. Decisions

One of the things that the pandemic, quarantine, and cancellation of vast swaths of work has done is given me time to think about how I approach (and teach) practice.

One of the interesting ideas that I’ve stumbeled upon is the idea of “Rules vs. Decisions”.

This idea isn’t new, of course. It has a lot of ties to ideas I’ve talked about recently. Quantity vs. quality, Jerry Seinfeld’s systems, Seth Godin’s book The Practice, and numerous others.

Rules and Decisions

Rules are things you because of who you are (or who you want to be). These should be carefully chosen and non-negotiable.

Decisions are areas within the rules where you have some autonomy.

In your day-to-day life, figuring out what are your rules and what are your decisions can both clarify how you should spend your time, and increase the progress you make on your goals.

An overly generalized example may be something like:

It’s a rule that you eat lunch at noon. It’s a decision whether to have pizza or a salad.

Notice that you don’t have to expend mental energy to decide whether or not to eat or when to eat. Simply eating the meal is the victory for your body.

Rules for Change

Carefully chosen, rules can help you make progress in almost any area of your life or career.

Rules need to be carefully chose ahead of time, though. Simply doing what is comfortable in the moment won’t lead to much meaningful change.

Here are a few examples:

  • If you want to be healthier, your rule is that you go to the gym every day. Your decision can be how hard or how long to workout.
  • If you want to be a musician, your rule may be that you sit down with your instrument in your practice room for 30 minutes every day. Your decision can be what to work on.
  • If you want to be a writer, your rule may be that you sit down at your desk for 1 hour every day. Your decision can be what to write about.

In all these cases, the victory is in showing up.

If your workout, practice, or writing is awful, that’s okay. You showed up today, and you’ll show up again tomorrow.

My Rules

Like I said, I’ve been enjoying this experiment, and I’ve found a few rules that seem to have a great impact on how I feel and how much I get done.

Here are my top 3 (currently):

  • Rule: I do a 30-40 minute warm-up routine every day.
  • Rule: I do some sort of physical activity first thing after getting up.
  • Rule: At the end of every day, I do a “shut down” routine where I figure out what I’m doing tomorrow.


The rule tells you what you need to do – it removes the question of “what do I want to do?” and replaces it with “what would a [insert a type of person here] do?”.

What are some of your most effective or enjoyable rules?