Personal Growth

Use Bright-Line Rules to Establish — and Achieve — Your Goals

Raise your hand if you've told yourself, more than once, you're "going to try to eat better." Yup, just as we suspected. And while that looks like a goal, and sounds like a goal, it's definitely not a goal that's going to stick. Not when you phrase it like that, anyway. Get specific, and rope off your goals in bright lines.

You've Gotta Fight for Your Right

In 1966, a man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix. Long story short, his messy trial and conviction bubbled into a Supreme Court case: Miranda v. Arizona. This court case, which Miranda won, made it mandatory for police officers to recite the Miranda rights (right to remain silent, etc.) to the person being arrested. This erases ambiguity in the law, and establishes very clear boundaries about what can and cannot be used in court. This is a bright-line rule. In a legal context, a bright-line rule is defined as "an objective rule that resolves a legal issue in a straightforward, predictable manner." So, what are we getting at here? You can use this to strengthen your willpower and achieve your goals. Stick with us on this one ...

You've Crossed the Line

You can apply bright-line rules to your goals by simply getting specific. The idea behind these kinds of rules is that they erase any wiggle room, and put the objective into razor-sharp focus. Remember that "I'm going to try to eat better" goal? The wiggle room in that statement can be measured in elephants. Make it a bright-line rule by instead saying "I'm going to eat two different types of vegetables every day." It's the difference between a hope and a plan.

Bright-line rules work for a few different reasons. As author and behavior psychology blogger James Clear explains on his website, these rules give you a new identity. For example, if you are trying to eat fewer ice cream cones, you'll be more likely to fold and make a just-this-once exception. If you made a bright-line rule to only eat ice cream on the weekends, you can say "No, I don't do that," when someone offers you a cone on a Tuesday. It's not even a decision; this is the new you.

Clear points out another reason bright-line rules can help you achieve your goals: decision fatigue. Your bright-line ice cream cone rule takes the guesswork and consideration out of all these ice cream cone offers you're getting. "Without bright lines, you must decide whether a situation fits your standards every time," Clear writes. Though it's a myth that situations like these will deplete your willpower (that stuff is infinite, ya'll), your motivation to stay your path will wear down. Once you clear the ice cream cone decisions out of your way, you're gifting yourself the motivation to tackle bigger issues.

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For more from James Clear, check out his book "Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto August 25, 2017

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