100 Very Short Rules for a Better Life


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In his essay On the Happy Life, the philosopher Seneca makes an extended list of rules for living a good life. It’s everyone’s wish to live better, he says, but we are often in the dark on how to do so.

Except… we’re not. At least, we don’t have to be. So many people have struggled in the dark before us, and their experiences and lessons have created light. Living a good life starts with learning from one another.

With that in mind, here are 100 rules that have helped me live the life I want. Some have come from my own experiences. Others are pieces of advice I’ve been given, or wisdom from things I’ve studied. Your mileage may vary for each of these, but hopefully some of them will help you in your own pursuit of living a good life.

1. Wake up early.

2. Ask: Am I using this technology, or is it using me?

3. Forget about outcomes — focus on making a little progress every day.

4. Say no (a lot).

5. Read something every day.

7. Comparison leads to unhappiness.

8. Journal.

9. Strenuous exercise every single day.

10. Character is fate.

11. Practice the law of action, not attraction. Instead of envisioning the future you want, create it.

12. Get up when you fall/fail.

13. Prove your life’s philosophy with actions over words (and that’s not easy).

14. Don’t argue with facts just because you don’t like them.

15. It’s not about routine but about practice.

16. Forget credit. Do the work.

17. Do a kindness each day.

18. Every situation “has two handles,” Epicurus said. Choose the one that allows you to see the meaning and good that can come out of suffering.

19. Success = autonomy.

20. Pick up trash when you see it.

21. If you want to be good and feel good, you have to do good. There is no escaping this.

22. Deliberately think about death. Every day.

23. “Trust the process.”

24. Do your job well, whatever it is. Because how you do anything is how you do everything.

25. There are two types of time: alive time and dead time. One is when you sit around and wait until things happen to you. The other is when you are in control, when you make every second count. Always choose alive time.

26. “What book has changed your life?” is a question you should ask people you admire if you want to change your own life (as long as you read the book, that is).

27. There’s no such thing as “quality time.” When you fixate on it, you miss the moments unfolding in front of you.

28. Instead of trying to be the noun, do the verb.

29. The best thing you can do for your work is take a walk.

30. The present is enough.

31. You are what you repeatedly do.

32. Have a philosophy.

33. Make time for philosophy.

33. Don’t just read — you must read to lead.

34. Keep a commonplace book, a collection of little sayings about how to live.

35. Stop looking for shortcuts. Do the work.

36. Build an “inner citadel,” what the Stoics called that fortress inside all of us that no external adversity can ever break down.

37. Let it go — those who wrong you wrong themselves.

38. Spend time with old people.

39. When evaluating an opportunity, ask yourself: What will teach me the most?

40. Think purpose, not passion. (One is about you, the other about something bigger than you.)

41. Have kids. Or just talk to kids. They can teach you something if you really pay attention.

42. But don’t use your kids as props for validation.

43. Biographies are the best way to study the lives of the greats.

44. Don’t try to beat other people — try to be the only one doing exactly what you’re doing.

45. Know why you do what you do.

46. Be strict with yourself and forgiving of others.

47. Practice the art of negative visualization.

48. Cut toxic people out of your life.

49. Before starting any project, have a “draw-down period,” that phase when you step back, look at your idea, and ask: “What is this really going to be?”

50. As the late coach and business executive Bill Campbell said: “If you’ve been blessed, be a blessing.”

51. Don’t wait until later. Do the thing now.

52. Never go a day without some deep work.

53. Make time for a regular for self-review. Examine how you spend your time and how you’re living up to your values.

54. Ask yourself: How does this action I’m about to take affect other people?

55. Don’t take the money if it means sacrificing your autonomy.

56. Always stay a student.

57. Break things down to see what they really are.

58. “If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” — Nassim Taleb

59. Undersell and overdeliver.

60. You must tame your temper.

61. Never recline your seat on an airplane. (See also: “How do my actions affect others?”)

62. Belief in yourself is overrated. Generate evidence.

63. Don’t overthink the price on a book. Buy it if you think you’ll read it, and the purchase will pay you back.

64. Good things happen in bookstores.

65. See what you can learn from every person you meet — even people you don’t like.

66. Set a bedtime.

67. A successful marriage is worth more than a successful career.

68. “Go straight to the seat of intelligence.” — Marcus Aurelius

69. It’s human being, not human doing.

70. Amor fati. Love your fate. To me, that means taking control over the way you see the world.

71. Go the f*ck to sleep.

72. “Always say less than necessary.” — Robert Greene

73. Never take a phone call sitting down. Go outside and go for a walk.

74. Champion other people’s work (see my annual reading list).

75. Make commitments: short, regular deadlines that you have to meet.

76. Animals make life better.

77. “Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who you are capable of improving.” — Seneca

78. See the beauty in the mundane.

79. Print out good advice and put it right in front of your desk, or wherever you work every day.

80. Remember: Nobody is thinking about you. They’re too busy thinking about themselves.

81. Don’t just read books, reread books.

82. Make haste, slowly.

83. Don’t talk about projects until you’re finished.

84. To build resilience, go into the wilderness.

85. Try to see opportunities where others see obstacles.

86. Focus on your inner scorecard rather than your outer scorecard.

87. Have hobbies unrelated to your job.

88. You don’t solve problems by running away.

90. “Whenever you are offended, understand that you are complicit in taking offense.” — Epictetus

91. Think progress, not perfection.

92. “Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’” — Marcus Aurelius

93. Relax. Whatever it is, you’re probably taking it too seriously.

94. Focus on what you can control.

95. Wrap up each day as if it were the end of your life.

96. Strive to live an interesting life.

97. Value the four Stoic virtues: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation.

98. The obstacle is the way.

99. Ego is the enemy.

100. Stillness is the key.