Rules > Willpower

Why guardrails are necessary on the road to fulfillment

👋 Hello to the 589 motivated, curious and disciplined readers receiving today's newsletter. I appreciate you all. This week, I'm excited. As the seasons change here in North Carolina, there's something in that cool October air that's got me primed for a change, too—for improvement. I'm fired up and aiming to get myself into excellent physical shape before the year is through. But I want to do so in a way that is sustainable. So this week, I’m trying to learn from the best when it comes to rules and discipline. I hope you’ll join me.

đź’ˇ The big idea


Okay. Here's the pattern. Tell me if it's familiar to you.

You get fired up about something related to your fitness or health. Maybe you watched or read something that got you excited or you heard from a friend who's having some success and you think "yes, I NEED to do this."

Maybe it's running.
Maybe it's going low-carb.
Maybe it's lifting weights.

It doesn't matter, really, because the pattern is often the same, and it looks something like this: 

It's a pattern that I'm embarrassed to say I'm intimately familiar with. If I'm honest, it might even be fair to say it's my modus operandi—when it comes to my diet, at least.

I always start off with the best intentions. I buy all the books. Gotta have those books—especially the cookbooks.  I commit to it. And then I do it. I go cold turkey on the carbs or the sugar or the alcohol—whatever it happens to be. And I tend to do pretty well. I'm actually kind of decent at suffering as I've written before. I can make it stick—sometimes for surprisingly long periods.

But then, ever so slowly but ever so surely, the offending foods (or drinks or behaviors) start finding their way back in. Just one handful of cereal when I'm preparing the kids' breakfast. Just a breadstick or two at the Italian restaurant. And then... larger cracks begin to appear in the dam. Okay fine, I can do a sandwich if that's what everyone else is doing. I mean, I don't want to be difficult!

And surprisingly quickly, I am completely off the rails. And when I go off the rails. I go way off. My brain sees it as black and white. Once the levee has broken, then I might as well go all in. Sure, I'll do dessert. A handful of cereal? Why not a bowl? Make that two.

Clues & rules

Maybe you're like me. And maybe you're left wondering how we can break this pattern and achieve something more sustainable. I wish the rest of this article was a step-by-step guide to doing exactly that. And I wish I could triumphantly declare that I have finally figured out the secrets to sticking with any diet or exercise program—or any other habit that we're trying to cultivate for that matter.

I wish that. But sadly, I don't have all the answers.  I do, however, have clues. And one of the main clues I have is that relying on good intentions and willpower is not enough. They do not work—at least over the long run.

What does work? Rules. Lines in the sand that we create for ourselves that are non-negotiable.

In fact, as I look around and see people in all areas of life having success in one form or another, there is one consistency: Rules.

Let me give you three examples.

#1 — Chris S. Cornell weighed 278 lbs and struggled endlessly with ineffective "calorie-counting" diets. He simply couldn't lose the weight. Then he found low-carb/keto. He lost over 80 lbs. Most impressively, he's kept it off. Now, at 57, he is the model of physical health. Just follow him on Twitter to see the amazing feats of strength he's pulling off on a daily basis. How has he sustained this? Rules. Chris has different sets of rules that govern his actions—from nutrition to fitness. Below is an example.

#2 — Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL, author of NY Times-bestselling books, and a successful podcast host. His motto is "Discipline Equals Freedom." Jocko lives his life by many rules but one that is critical to his success in everything from business to fitness is how he starts his day. Jocko wakes up every day by 4:30 am. It's a non-negotiable rule. He's religious about it and to hold himself accountable, he shares a picture of his watch every morning on social media.

#3 — Danny Miranda has proven that strict rules and discipline in one area of your life can feed through to success in others. In September 2019, he committed to his first "75 hard" - a challenge that involves doing the following for 75 straight days: following a strict diet, working out for 45-mins (2x per day), drinking 4 liters of water, taking a 5-min cold shower, and more. Since completing the challenge, Danny has gone on to 1) create a podcast that is now in the top 1% in the world with >100k downloads in 13 months, 2) grow his Twitter following to ~20k, 3) land an amazing job (also podcasting) in the exploding world of NFTs, and of course, 4) complete 75 Hard two more times.

The common thread for Cornell, Willink, and Miranda? Rules.

Through their collective experience we can extrapolate a few things:

  1. Rules are incredibly effective tools to use when the goal is long-term, sustainable change.

  2. The more specific the rule, the more effective it will be.

  3. We are much more likely to succeed at following our own rules when we are publicly accountable for them.

  4. Rules have a ripple effect. A positive change in one area almost always feeds through to positive changes elsewhere.

Ultimately, rules are ways for us to concentrate our energy into what is most important to us. Tim Ferriss discusses this concept in his article Finding One Decision That Removes 100 Decisions, from which I've pulled the quote below.

In many ways, rules get a bad rap. They are viewed as constraints that take away our freedom—and even our joy. But experience tells us that the opposite is actually true. There's a reason why Jocko says "Discipline equals freedom." To follow the path that leads to the best version of ourselves, we need guardrails. Rules. Once we commit to a rule, the decision has been made. In a sense, the pressure is now off. We don’t need to worry about death by a thousand points of indecision. We are free to move forward—and to do so with confidence—knowing that we are on the right track.

…

That's it for this week. Check out the Content Diet section below for a seriously good podcast episode, and if you're interested in where I am personally with rules at the moment, scroll all the way to the bottom.

Thanks for reading and see you in two weeks!

— Greg

Photo credit: Ashley Knedler @ Unsplash.com


Content Diet

🎙 Tim Ferriss and Dr. Andrew Huberman — Just one piece of content for you this week but it's a doozy. In this conversation from July (sorry, I'm late to it), Ferriss speaks with neurobiologist, Andrew Huberman on a variety of health-related topics. Two things stood out most to me: 1) the practical tactics Huberman suggests for controlling our moods using both breathwork and—believe it or not—our vision, and 2) the incredible knowledge shared on supplements, especially those related to sleep. I may or may not have already spent $50 on these since listening. If you're anything like me, you're going to learn a few things here that may end up being really beneficial to your health. Also, Huberman has his own podcast, which appears to be absolutely taking off at the moment.


Greg Campion Rules

Currently in action

  • I exercise 6x per week

  • I meditate every day

  • I write 3 things I'm grateful for every day.

  • I don't consume sugary drinks.

  • I publish this newsletter every two weeks.

  • I tweet every day (#Tweet100)

Considering adding to the list

  • I eat under xx carbs (I need suggestions and help on how to best implement this one if you've got any ideas)

  • I don't eat between 8pm - 12 noon (Not 100% sure on this one as I do love breakfast but I’m very interested in fasting generally).

  • I do 100 push-ups every day. (Started trying this out, and I'm liking it).

  • I never drink more than 3 drinks. (Or maybe more explicitly, I don't drink. Need to make a decision on this one).

  • I don't bring my phone to the dinner table.

I'm also considering adding more related to relationships, family, work, sleep... so many things... but I also don't want to overdo it. I'd love to hear about what rules you've found to be most transformational in your own life. If I get some interesting ideas back, I'll share them in an upcoming issue.

Thanks again for reading. See you next time. — Greg