Day two: the nature of rules

When I look back on my accomplishments (or lack thereof), I see a pattern.

“I’m going to start running more.” I didn’t.
“I’m going to run 100 miles in the month of September.” Hit 100 with a week to go.

“I will be 100% vegan at home but occasionally indulge at restaurants.” I ordered cheese at every restaurant, sampled every butter-laden treat my colleagues brought to work, and justified every non-vegan item I ate at a friend’s house.
“I am 100% vegan.” Haven’t touched an animal product since.

“I’m going to get in better shape.” Lifted weights once. And they were not heavy weights.
“I’m going to race Tough Mudder.” Thrice-weekly strength training, ran every other day, crossed the finish line in the best shape of my life.

If I make a generalized promise with no framework and loose rules, I fail. If I challenge myself with a hard-and-fast goal and hard-and-fast rules, I succeed.

So if I take this:

“I’m going to start a blog.”

And turn it into this:

“I’m going to start a blog and write a post every single day of Lent. With God in mind.”

I predict success.

Gretchen Rubin of Happiness Project fame writes a lot about abstainers versus moderators. In her words:

“You’re a moderator if you…
– find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure–and strengthens your resolve
– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something

You’re an abstainer if you…
– have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits”

(from this post)

Based on what I demonstrated above, I am very obviously an abstainer.

I do well with limits and rules. If I impose them, I follow them. As a result, I have the power to set myself up for success. I set a goal, make a plan, list the rules, and get it done. Once I start, I don’t stop.

I also can set myself up for failure. If I buy a box of maple leaf cookies from Trader Joe’s – a favorite of mine – and tell myself I’ll ration them over a week or two, I find myself wandering back for “just one more” until they’re gone – usually in 48 hours. Moderation is not my gift. So I don’t buy them. If I don’t buy unhealthy food, I don’t eat unhealthy food. Simple as that. I don’t think about it, I don’t miss it, I don’t eat it.

And then I don’t feel guilty on the rare occasion that I bake cookies and eat seven of them straight off the pan. Because it’s not a habit.

(Another helpful trick is to make cookies and bring them to work or bible study so everyone else eats them instead of you.)

This Lenten season, the hard-and-fast rule is to write a blog post every single day. No loose structure, no flexible schedule, no room for quitting. Just get ‘er done.

Moral of the story: know thyself. And get stuff done.


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