Bright Lines and How to Make Changes in Your Life

Bright Lines

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.

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  1. This works! I decided not to eat after 7pm. It’s super hard because this is my relaxation time and I tend to munch. However, with this bright line I just don’t do it. After a week of this I switched to 6pm.

  2. This was very helpful, especially in regards to why willpower will fail after time. I didn’t think of the vagueness of the statement as being the reason for the brain-drain.
    It’s not a real change, nor a real decision, and it is energy intensive, so no wonder we are all like Sisyphus, but pushing boulders of willpower!

  3. Sisyphus was condemned by the Greek gods to push a heavy rock up a steep hill and had to start over again the next day as the rock rolled back downhill. It is an allegory used to describe having to describe an arduous, repetitive, meaningless task performed on a disgustingly frequent basis ie., a sisyphean task or burden

  4. Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice was instituted in the armed forces of the United States in 1952, long before Miranda v Arizona. I can say from my five years of working in the military court system, Article 31 was adhered to strictly. The accused was handed a written copy of Article 31, It was read to him (way more guys involved with Article 31 than women). He had to sign a copy which was retained in the file pertaining to his case and every time he interfaced with someone regarding his case he again had to undergo the Article 31 procedure. By the termination of his case, there was a half dozen or more signed Article 31 forms in his file.

    While one would have hoped that civilian law enforcement forces would have followed the dictum laid out in Miranda, unfortunately, that has not been the case and based on my twenty-five years of working in the court system, I saw many instances where all sorts of subterfuges were taken to circumvent reading of the Miranda warning. One would also hoped that prosecuting attorneys would have taken steps to preclude such actions. Alas, too many times the prosecuting attorney would attempt to buttress the subterfuges by resisting motions to dismiss the charges for failure to follow the Miranda ruling.

    Miranda should be a bright line in prosecuting criminal actions. I found in the military that Article 31 warnings rarely, if ever, kept an accused from making incriminating statements. The true career criminal already knows Miranda backwards and forwards and nothing short of torture is going to make him confess. It is the poor, dumb, loser who is caught up in the criminal system who is led into making incriminating statements by unscrupulous investigators.

    Don’t misunderstand my comment. I am a hardline proponent for longer sentences and harsher prison conditions. It should be confinement at hard labor as it once was. I truly believe that the death penalty carried out promptly reduces crime and should be carried out in the most expeditious manner possible. Irrefutably the death penalty reduces recidivism.

    I also believe that it should be that investigation and prosecution of criminals should scrupulously follow the letter and intent of the law and not constantly seek ways of circumventing the law with the object of obtaining easy, cheap convictions.

    1. Thanks Chuck. Great perspective. Yes, the military is certainly very good at bright lines. At the same time I can see how tempting it is in regular law to do anything to get the guy you know is guilty, but the integrity of our system of justice is more important than any one person.

  5. I have not tried this approach recently but it certainly makes sense. In retrospect, I have made changes this way in the past and it has worked. I am going to use beginning tomorrow to work on changing eating habits.

  6. My husband and I have recently begun intermittent fasting that has “bright lines” by which we choose when to eat. It is amazing how having hard and fast clearly defined rules that you put in place make all the difference. We both have felt much healthier and have lost weight. I hadn’t thought of it a “bright lines” but now I will and will move it into other areas of my life. Thanks.

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