The Importance of Non-Negotiable, “No Matter What” Rules

Behind all good intentions – the long-range vision, the ultimate goals, the short-term strategies or daily routines – is our bottom line. What is the least we are willing to accept from ourselves in a given day? This question is probably the most important you will ever ask yourself.

Experience tells me the biggest obstacle for people is their perception – their perception of their circumstances, their perception of time, their perception of their bodies, their perception of their potential. Anyone can dream up goals, but it’s how we weave our intentions into our daily reality that matters.

We go through the day perceiving our own intentions to be important but negotiable. Simultaneously, we consciously or unconsciously view others’ intentions for us (e.g. our time and energy) as fixed, non-negotiable. And there’s where the process falls apart.

Because here’s the deal… If all of our daily goals are negotiable, they’re all disposable.

I get it. We all have lives with moving parts. Work takes us out of town or well past standard quitting time. Kids get sick – or the babysitter does. Money is tight this month – or year. The weather isn’t cooperating. The car is in the shop. We get low on steam or enthusiasm. We hit periods of major transition in our lives that are sparked in a moment but drag on for months.

But these facts will never change. Life will always, always, always fluctuate. If we wait to begin a health commitment until things “settle down,” we’ll be sitting at the curb forever. If we tell ourselves we won’t have to negotiate away our intended action steps when we have an easier week, we’ll likewise forgo progress. Reality dictates that circumstances will encroach upon your time. People will ask things of you at the last minute. Your energy will feel depleted before you’ve gotten to your own priorities. And there’s where we decide if it’s up to us to let go of x, y or z plan we had for ourselves.

Life, to a certain extent, does require flexibility of us. If we clutch at predictability too much, we’ll either make ourselves and everyone around us miserable or we’ll dwindle our lives down to almost nothing. Additionally, there absolutely are days when skipping your workout, or otherwise taking it easy on yourself is the best decision you can make. (For those that caught my Paleo f(x) talk this weekend, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

We can, however, choose to draw our lines in the sand when we feel it’s important.

I’m talking here about a non-negotiable, no-matter-what rule you never break (barring only the most extreme circumstances).

At the end of the day, no matter how insane, what is the one thing you make sure you do for yourself? The fact is, if you don’t make an ironclad claim on your day, the rest of the world (with its limitless needs and predicaments) will be happy to swallow it whole for you.

I’m not talking about a pie-in-the-sky goal or even a goal period. Non-negotiable rules should be simple practices that you commit to every day, again, no matter what. I’m talking here about a least common denominator – a minimum effort you sign on for with a blood-inked signature. You mean business. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do more than this one action each day, but it’s the one you won’t ever go “below.” Going back to the introductory challenge, it’s the very least you’ll expect of yourself in a given day.

The key is setting a non-negotiable rule is to envision a single, straightforward objective that you will fulfill daily – no excuses. Think of it as a linchpin to organize your day around or even a mantra to live by. Either way, it will keep you directed toward your health every day.

For example, a fitness buff might say, “I make sure to sweat every day – no exceptions.”

Another person might say, I will meditate or do yoga for a half an hour daily.

You could say, I’ll always be in bed by 10:30 p.m.

Another option might be that you will walk 3 miles/1 hour/10,000 steps each day no matter what.

For a different person, it could be committing to 20 minutes of body weight exercises every day.

If you feel you need to see your non-negotiable commitment in a different light, you could decide you will never skip gym workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Even if you adjust the workout itself, you will get your butt on the gym floor those days.

If your focus is more on diet right now, you could commit to eating a certain amount of protein or fat or carbs each day.

Another choice around food would be to intermittently fast for a portion of every day (or the three set days a week), even if it’s just deciding you won’t eat anything after 7:00 p.m.

Alternatively, it could be eating one minimal carb meal a day.

The function of these rules, of course, is multi-fold. Sure, the immediate and obvious benefit is that you work in some kind of healthy behavior each day – and you establish a true, fixed cornerstone for your health commitment. In this sense, you never totally abandon your vision. Every day you take a step to thrive. However, you’ll also benefit from the impact of association: one positive choice empowers another.

If you know you’ll be doing one healthy action for yourself – particularly if you do it early in the day – you’ll automatically support a certain perception of yourself and of your day. I’m living the Primal Blueprint today. I just made Grok proud. Suddenly, you’re more motivated to keep the momentum going.

The examples above can seem very simple, even elementary. If they are, make your non-negotiable more ambitious, but remember that this is your bottom line, not your upper limit. Making a no-matter-what commitment doesn’t keep you from doing better because the fact is, you should nearly every day.

Likewise, our non-negotiable action can – and likely should – change. My non-negotiables are different now than when I was making the transition from elite training to Primal living. At that point, I was cutting my workout duration because more of my time was spent coaching clients. I was changing my diet and fitness to address long-standing inflammation related issues. I was recovering more and doing less. Today I’ve expanded my sense of health to a lot of things that have nothing to do with either diet or fitness, and sometimes I change my rule to reflect that priority.

The ultimate purpose of a non-negotiable might just be the practice itself. The better we get at seeing our own goals as essential and other demands on our time as negotiable, the more we come to value the commitment to our own vitality – and likewise the more creatively we adapt to filling our other obligations in novel ways.

We use our time and energy better, knowing we have to save something for our own no-excuses goal. We assess the time we spend with family or friends and ask if we’re really prioritizing the experiences that mean the most and draw us closer. We begin thinking about what really feeds the quality of work and relationships as well as how we can foster the health that allows us to give the most over time. In this way, think of setting a non-negotiable rule as a daily practice that begins with a minimal target but expands toward a much larger life impact.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. What are your non-negotiable rule? Share them in the comment board. If you don’t have one, make your commitment now. Have a great end to the week.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending more than three decades educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.

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