A central part of being human is the desire to grow and change. We want to improve our lives, whether that means losing weight, saving more money, getting more productive, or spending more time with our loved ones.
But making changes is hard. Forcing yourself to change by will power alone will generate short term results at best. Willpower is like a battery that can and will become drained of energy. Eventually, your willpower will fail.
But there are better ways to make changes. I talked about one of these methods in a previous article. Today I want to talk about “bright lines“, which is actually a legal concept, but it’s also a concept that can really help you make changes in your life.
Here’s a good description, “A bright-line rule refers to a clearly defined rule or standard. It is a rule with clear interpretation and very little wiggle room. It establishes a bright line for what the rule is saying and what it is not saying.
The Miranda ruling is one example. If a police officer fails to inform a defendant in custody of their rights, then the suspect’s statements are not admissible in court. Plain and simple. Clear and bright.” (source)
In other words, it’s about drawing a line in the sand; making a clear decision about something. This is different than using willpower. Here’s why…
Let’s say that you made a goal of “losing weight by eating better and eating less”. Sounds like a good goal, right?
But it’s vague, it’s open for interpretation and it doesn’t give you a specific roadmap for getting where you want to be. The result is that you force your brain into making hundreds of micro-decisions every day. Everything becomes a judgement; a fight between what you want (habit) and what you think you should do (willpower).
- I want a bag of chips – but no, I can’t have that.
- I want to keep eating even though I’m not hungry, but no, I shouldn’t.
- Just one more late night snack, but I no, I need to stop.
The decision-making part of your brain is energy intensive and it drains your battery really fast. This type of goal will fail.
The problem is that your goal was good, “I want to lose weight by eating better and eating less”, but you didn’t make it specific. By not drawing clear lines in the sand, you are forcing your brain to stay in judgement mode. Your brain needs to constantly make decisions, and it has to fight between what you want and what you should have, according to the goal you made for yourself.
The best way to do this is to create Bright Lines that will help you achieve your goal. For example…
- I’m not going to drink any drinks with calories or artificial sweeteners (I can only drink water, tea, or coffee).
- I will only eat a salad for lunch, with a maximum of # ounces of dressing.
- I will not eat anything after 9pm.
Here’s the key: these are decisions that you have already made. They are lines in the sand; rules that you’ve decided for yourself ahead of time so you don’t need to make micro-decisions during the day. This removes the judgement process of your brain.
You can use this approach to save money ($100 per month goes into savings), finish the book you want to write (I will write for 1 hour a day from 7am until 8am), or my favorite, spending more time with your loved ones (every Saturday is devoted to my family).
Does this approach help you? Leave comments below.