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Make it easier by creating a bright-line rule

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Make it easier by creating a bright-line rule

Scott Miker

If you want to succeed, learn how to set bright-line rules. In legal terms, the bright-line rule is one that has a clear, objective definition. It isn’t vague or ambiguous.

When we try to improve some aspect of our life, we often do so with strategies that are not very clear. We want to get healthy so we say we will work out more and eat healthier food.

This is logical but flawed. What does that actually mean to work out more or eat healthier?

It is similar to being 99% committed to something. As long as there is 1% chance that you will falter, the 99% becomes extremely difficult. The saying that captures this is 100% is a breeze and 99% is a bitch because it is easier to be fully committed than partially committed.

Imagine wanting to give up drinking and driving. You head to the bar with friends and decide you will drink a little but not too much. So you start with a beer, then a shot, and then another beer. Soon you are drinking and drinking. It seemed to sneak up on you. At each pass you lost a little self-control.

The most willpower that you had available was actually at the beginning. Each drink lowered your ability to control yourself.

If you were 100% committed to not driving drunk, you could use all your willpower to avoid having the first beer. It would actually be easier to not drink at all than to drink a little, but no too much.

In this case the bright-line rule you could set would be to avoid having any alcohol when driving.

You could use the same bright-line rule technique to set small goals for you. Instead of stating your goal is to get healthy, you could develop specific foods that you will absolutely avoid. This would be easy to either do or not do and wouldn’t have much of a grey area that could tempt you by trying to commit to sometimes doing it.

While it may seem more difficult it actually becomes easier. There is a concept called the hot-cold empathy gap. The hot-cold empathy gap basically explains that it is easy to commit to something difficult when you are in a cold state but not when you are in a hot state.

So it is easy to say you won’t order a cheeseburger tomorrow for dinner. But when tomorrow comes along and you are hungry, it is difficult to avoid ordering the cheeseburger.

When you use the bright-line rule, you help yourself avoid getting too hot. As you get closer to the moment where you have to choose you focus on the absolute that you decided instead of hoping your willpower will jump in and save you from temptation. Instead you do everything possible to avoid temptation knowing that hot state is harder to resist than the cold state where you can think logically.

If you are working to improve, think about how you can use absolutes like the bright-line rule instead of vague ideas of how you will succeed. Determine what lines you cannot cross. Then do everything possible to be 100% committed to not crossing them, because dropping even 1% makes it significantly more difficult.