What Are Your Rules?

A few weeks ago, at the Dark Knight shooting in Aurora, Colorado, there were a number of media stories about Jamie Rohrs who went to see the movie with his girlfriend and their two children.

When the shooting started, he tried to retrieve his son but eventually jumped over the balcony and fled. “It just felt like the worst thing ever because my son’s still in there,” he told ABC News. “My girlfriend is still in there. I’m out here. Who leaves their child there?”

Rohrs got a lot of flack in the press and from bloggers for being a coward, especially since another man, 19-year-old Jarrell Brooks, stepped in and helped his girlfriend and children to safety (getting shot in the leg in the process).

Obviously, this was a surreal and unusual crisis, and it’s not really fair to conjecture – sitting safe at home — whether we would have behaved more courageously in the same circumstances.

In the heat of the moment, rational thinking goes out the window, unless you’ve prepared in advance. That’s why the US military has a six-article code of conduct providing soldiers with guidelines on how to behave during times of war, in case of capture and interrogation, for example. And the Navy SEALs have long had an unwritten code: “leave no man behind,” dead or alive. That means, even under hot pursuit by the enemy, if any of their men fall, they waste no time in waffling or debate, they go back. Pretty unambiguous.


Most of us will likely never face such extreme life-or-death circumstances. Still, having a prescribed set of rules – a personal code of conduct – even for the more mundane aspects of life, can have a powerful effect on how you carry yourself on a daily basis and in your interactions with others.

As I mentioned in this post, streamlining the number of decisions you make helps you focus on the ones that will have the most impact. Rules, if you create them as a conscious reflection of your values can reduce the number of decisions you have to make, which means less redundant thinking, stress and regret, and quicker action and clarity. And because they’re your own, not imposed on you by someone else, you’re more likely to pay attention.

George Washington had a list of 110 rules called “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation” to govern his behavior. (They were actually penned by French Jesuits sometime around 1595 but he did copy the entire list by hand, and follow them as closely as possible for most of his life.)

If you want a more practical and relevant example, check out the 12 rules that Craig Ballantyne, a strength and conditioning coach and successful Internet entrepreneur abides by.

My personal rules are a work in progress: here are 10 that I have currently. I review them every day during my morning practice and, at a glance, I’m reminded of how I want to live my life.

  1. If it feels scary, gotta do it.
  2. Make decisions from where you want to be. Most people think if they get what they want, then they’ll do things differently. That’s backwards. In order to get what you want, you first have to become the kind of person who would have/do that. It starts by making different decisions.
  3. Be provocative. That’s right: no more “good girl” trying to please everyone. As Tim Ferriss says, “Doing anything remotely interesting will bring criticism. Attempting to do anything large-scale and interesting will bring armies of detractors and saboteurs.” Or, if you prefer your wisdom from Colin Powell: Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: you’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted.”
  4. Always be learning. The main criteria I use when evaluating opportunities– for work and fun – is: will I learn something new?
  5. Err on the side of “over-connection.” Too often my default setting is not to greet or reach out to someone because I don’t want to “bother” them. That’s just dumb. You don’t see dogs apologizing for being too friendly.
  6. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Whether it seems like it or not, people are doing their best. If you hold fast to your belief in them, they might just live up to it. (p.s. It also helps avoid premature accusations and back-pedaling.)
  7. Be committed but not attached. This phrase is my go-to mantra whenever there’s something I really want. It means I give 100% enthusiasm and effort but I don’t get attached to the outcome. (I used this a lot when I was in sales and it helped me stay calm and neutral – and, paradoxically, get better outcomes.).
  8. Question your assumptions. Just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because I’ve always thought something doesn’t mean it’s true. I’m reading Grace to Race, the story of Sister Madonna Buder, the 80-year old nun who started running at age 48 and has since run 325 triathlons including 45 Ironman distances. My assumptions about age and human potential — out the window.
  9. Make self-care a priority. This one is so ingrained, I don’t even have to think about it. No matter how chaotic life gets, I make sure to eat healthily, exercise and get enough sleep.
  10. No family left behind. In Jamie’s case, he was lucky – how awful would he have felt if his family hadn’t gotten out of the theatre safely? I’m learning a lesson from him.

What are your rules?


  1. anne August 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    renita – this is an outstanding blog, i loved reading it and look forward to discussing it a bit more when we see eachother next. i have seen you live up to these rules and sharing these with the world is courageous (see your rule #3) and definitely thought provoking for your readers. bravo!

    1. Renita August 20, 2012 at 1:26 am

      Thank you, Anne! Actually writing down the rules and then announcing them to “the world” was a more powerful exercise than I realized.

  2. Scout Wilkins August 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Renita –

    I really enjoyed this post and these questions. They fit right in with some questions I was asking myself this morning, about some big choices that are on the table for me right now. (Go figure – another nice synchronicity! LOL)

    I enjoyed reading your rules, and found many that resonate. As you will see. No wonder we’re friends, eh?

    For my part, I’d say this generally is the structure that informs my life:

    1. Be loving with myself and others.

    2. Do whatever it takes to stay centered and grounded. Deal with my own triggers and buttons. Forgive. Be grateful.

    3. Maintain perspective. Make choices and decisions from my higher/ideal self and have compassion for my human self.

    4. Show up fully. Life is short – eschew obligation. Associate with people I enjoy and respect, do what I love and love (bring my full presence to) what I do.

    5. When in doubt, be curious. Ask questions. Listen with full attention. Keep going deeper. Distill the wisdom.

    6. Be concise.

    7. Trust. Life is change. Be willing to act even when – especially when – it’s scary. Enjoy the ride, stay nimble and flexible, and always learn something useful.

    1. Renita August 20, 2012 at 1:30 am

      Wow, Scout, love the synchronicity and thanks for sharing your rules (especially #5 – curiosity is the antidote to so many troubles in the world).

      1. Scout Wilkins October 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm


        I’m coming back to this after running a retreat where I gained an important piece of person clarity that is shifting my results dramatically. I think I heard this also on your Mental Toughness Telesummit.

        That is:

        Consistency is key.

        Epic is great fun, and adrenaline is nice and addictive, but I need to remember that those epic moments are created by the consistent movement that leads up to them. So my personal new guideline is to stay consistent in order to be fully prepared for epic.

        Thanks for the clarity you bring!

        1. Renita October 15, 2012 at 1:01 am

          Thanks for the update and sharing an insight that many of the most talented and brilliant people don’t get. They resist consistency because, yes, it’s kind of mundane and boring. Without it though, they won’t experience as many “epic” moments as their talent would allow. Thanks again!

  3. Susanne mueller August 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Love the story of the nun with her ironman achievements. This is inspiring for me who is aspiring to participate in an ironman one day.!!!!

    1. Travis Dommert August 20, 2012 at 3:17 pm

      Me too, hadn’t heard about Sister Madonna “Iron Nun”, but loved it and the whole rules concept. Great post.

      My wife and I did an ironman prior to having kids on the false pretense that we should knock out such a crazy endeavor while we were young enough to recover. Can’t wait to do it again!

      Commitment to whole health and fitness has to be in my top 5 rules!

      1. Renita August 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm

        Doing an Ironman is such an impressive achievement. Love that you did it with your wife…

  4. Kathy Kirk August 19, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Could not agree with you more. If you can learn to manage that list on a moment to moment basis, you’re in full swing of self mastery. It’s progressive and cumulative; requires diligence in every moment – but you nailed it!

    1. Renita August 20, 2012 at 1:35 am

      Love how you put that: “in full swing of self-mastery.” A personal code of conduct is where it starts, isn’t it.

  5. Bahar August 27, 2012 at 11:54 am


    Very inspiring read (as usual!) loved reading about your rules, and must say all resonate with me in one way or another!
    Ideed Sister Maddona Buder is one tough Cookie, and a role model for us all.

    Here are a few of mine:

    1) If it seems easy, you are not trying hard enough; all that is worth achieving comes at a cost.

    2) Be a gracious looser; always remain gracious and grateful for all opportunities, even when the outcome is not so appealing.

    3 ) Make decisions from a place of knowledge rather than emotion; even when treated unfairly.

    4) Early rise, early to bed ( unless circumstance dictates otherwise).

    5) live with Conviction.

    6) Treat your body as you MOST valuable possession; eat clean, exercise, distress.

    Look forward to hearing your inspirational words in person again , soon!

    Big hug

    1. Renita August 29, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      These are awesome rules, Bahar, and you clearly exemplify them. Rules are so clarifying, aren’t they: all you have to do is ask yourself, “am I living with Conviction?” and it immediately shifts your attitude about everything.


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