Useful Personal Rules


Personal rules turn desired behaviors into default behaviors.1 They are constraints we set during our best moments to avoid making poor decisions under pressure or during moments of weakness.

These rules don't have to be absolutely right. They only need to be useful for us and can even be arbitrary styles we prefer.2 We just need rules to automate desired decisions and reduce cognitive load3 under specific conditions.

Rules that are no longer helpful for us should evolve to remain meaningful. We must adapt our rules to our goals at different stages. As in Finite and Infinite Games, the rules of an infinite game must change in the course of play.4

I write this article to elicit helpful or interesting rules. If you have any rules you'd like to share, please send me a message via facebook, twitter or email so I can add them to the "Other people's rules" section below.

Here are some personal rules that have been helpful to me:

General habits

  1. I pray non-religiously before every meal to express gratitude for the food and anything else I'm thankful for at that moment, often accompanied by some deep breaths.
  2. I only eat desserts or sweets if it’s with other people. No sweets alone.
  3. I do some form of exercise every day regardless of intensity, even just one push-up or squat.
  4. When assessing others' negative behaviors, I avoid assuming malicious intent and try to find a reasonable explanation.5
  5. I only buy black clothes without logos.6
  6. I set personal objectives, review the metrics, and score the results every quarter and every year.7

Phone and social media

  1. I don't use my phone in bed.
  2. I don't use my phone when hanging out with people. If I must use, I will let others know why I need to.
  3. I don't post on social media when it might affect my sense of presence.8
  4. I separate the time for experiencing the present and the time for revisiting memory, and post on social media only when reviewing photos.9
  5. I turn off notifications for almost all apps on my phone.10
  6. I don't have any stock trading apps on my phone. I only check them on their websites.


  1. I don't use words I cannot pronounce.
  2. I spell out abbreviations the first time they appear in an article.
  3. I follow 中文文案排版指北 strictly when writing in Chinese.
  4. I use "because" instead of "since" whenever they are interchangeable.11
  5. I use "we" instead of "you" to address the readers whenever possible.12
  6. I write unstructured reviews of my life every year.
  7. I don't use semicolons in writing.
  8. I use numbered lists instead of bullet points and add a period at the end if the list item is a full sentence.


  1. I say "and" instead of "but" when adding my opinions to others' opinions.13
  2. When meeting new people, I repeat their names right after they are introduced.
  3. I use the date format YYYY-MM-DD (2024/04/20) or spell out the month (April 20, 2024).
  4. I express gratitude, appreciation, or apologies whenever I sincerely feel the need, even when it may seem abrupt.
  5. I don't offer criticism publicly when I can give it privately.

Other people's rules

Here are some interesting rules from others that I've collected. Recommendations are always welcome.

  1. Daniel Kahneman never says 'Yes' over the phone to avoid commitments made under social pressure or the desire to please.14
  2. Tim Ferriss schedules no meetings before noon, checks email only twice a day, accepts speaking engagements only if they're free or paid more than he ever had, and avoids reading new books for a year.15
  3. Christopher Nolan doesn't allow chairs on set when filming and doesn't own a phone or an email address.16
  4. Kevin Kelly donates at least a dollar to any street performer he watches for over a minute.17
  5. Train drivers (especially in the Japanese railway system) point at and verbally confirm key operational signals and indicators to avoid mistakes. This is also known as the pointing and calling rule.
  6. Ali Abdaal only allowed himself to watch TV if it’s with other people.18

For more interesting examples, see Style is consistent constraint. Thanks to Steph Ango for inspiring me to write this post.

  1. ^

    From Daniel Kahneman: "I learned over the years that people don't argue with rules. We've been taught our whole lives to follow the rules, but we've never thought of how to create rules for ourselves that we just follow when we're at our worst. We all know no matter how bad our day is, we shouldn't speed on the highway because it's against the rules. What we don't think about is how do we use rules to our advantage?" Read more in [Personal Rules].

  2. ^

    Philosophically, I embrace conflicting ideas as long as they are useful to me, following the concept of [Wrong but Useful].

  3. ^

    For further reading, see The Paradox of Choice, where it's argued that an abundance of choices actually increases stress and diminishes happiness.

  4. ^

    From Finite and Infinite Games, "If the rules of a finite game are the contractual terms by which the players can agree who has won, the rules of an infinite game are the contractual terms by which the players agree to continue playing." And just like language, "The rules, or grammar, of a living language are always evolving to guarantee the meaningfulness of discourse, while the rules of debate must remain constant."

  5. ^

    Similar to [Hanlon's Razor] and the concept of avoiding self-centeredness in [This is Water].

  6. ^

    Partially due to the principles described in [Remove Labels].

  7. ^

    I set using a framework similar to Objectives and Key Results(OKRs).

  8. ^

    For instance, I don't use social media during trips or concerts and usually delete all social media apps when I'm not at home.

  9. ^

    Similar to the thoughts in [Deleting Photo], we remember life more effectively not by taking more photos but by revisiting them. To have a more immersive memory and relive the experience, have some camera-free time and document the experience with your brain only.

  10. ^

    I can disable notifications for nearly all the apps, including work-related ones, probably because I'm mainly operating in [Maker's schedule instead of Manager's].

  11. ^

    For further reading, see [Write Better Sentences].

  12. ^

    For example, I prefer "We need rules because rules are useful for us" instead of "You need rules because rules are useful for you". I follow this less strictly because some think "you" is more effective than "we" in writing.

  13. ^

    For example, I say, "I like your suggestion, and I think exploring another option will also be helpful," instead of "I like your suggestion, but I think we should also explore another option." Also, see [Let Go of Your Desire to Tell a Bigger Story When Listening].

  14. ^

    From Shane Parrish on Wisdom from Warren Buffett, Rules for Better Thinking, How to Reduce Blind Spots, The Dangers of Mental Models, and More (#695) - The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss.

  15. ^

    From Shane Parrish on Wisdom from Warren Buffett, Rules for Better Thinking, How to Reduce Blind Spots, The Dangers of Mental Models, and More (#695) - The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss.

  16. ^

    From The Nolan Variations.

  17. ^

    From 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known.

  18. ^

    From My rule for watching TV.

Thanks to Angelica Kosasih for reading the draft of this and giving feedback.

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