The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.
— Henry Ward Beecher
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
— Hans Hofmann
Thanks to a fantastic innovation called the Internet, there is a wealth of advice on every topic imaginable.
This is both a blessing and a curse.
The upside is that it’s now easier than ever to improve; it’s amazing what you can learn just from YouTube and following the right people on Twitter.
The downside is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to feel like there’s a never-ending list of things you must be competent in.
The good news is that there’s a way to navigate these choppy waters using simple rules.
This is because, for almost anything in life, there are a handful of rules that cover about 90% of what you need to do to become better than average.
You can call them ‘simple rules’, and below are a series of them covering everything from happiness to habits.
We’ve chosen three for each because, well, three is the magic number.
Please note that these rules are intended as a guide as opposed to a prescription.
Feel free to drop the ones you don’t think are valid and replace them with ones that suit you better.
As the wise Bruce Lee once said, “Take what is useful and discard the rest.”
Simple rules for happiness
Most unhappiness is caused by people listening to themselves… instead of talking to themselves.
— William James
We all want to be happy. This is not new news. Whilst it’s unrealistic to expect this state to be permanent, you can do a few things to help you experience it more often.
1. Stay in the present
Anxiety comes from thinking too much about the past or the future. Training yourself to stay present using tools like mindfulness meditation is key to staying in a calm and pleasant mood more of the time.
2. Lower your expectations
One way to think of happiness is your expectation of how things will be divided by how they turn out in reality. Setting the bar lower means you are more likely to be pleasantly surprised rather than bitterly disappointed.
3. Practice gratitude
You are hardwired to focus on the negative, which means you pay less attention to the good things you have in life. Writing down what you’re grateful for can be a powerful tool to reappraise your overall life satisfaction.
Simple rules for wealth
The gratification of wealth is not found in mere possession or in lavish expenditure, but in its wise application.
— Miguel de Cervantes
Whilst being rich won’t guarantee you happiness, being broke will almost certainly make your life difficult. For this reason alone, it’s worth learning how to build wealth.
1. Spend less than you earn
This sounds too obvious to be a rule worth mentioning, but it’s amazing how many people fail to adhere to it. Many people with large salaries spend all and more of what they earn, making it impossible for them to build wealth.
2. Start investing early
Thanks to the magic of compounding, the earlier you invest in life, the more you give your money the chance to grow. As the Chinese proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
3. Buy assets, not liabilities
The way to build wealth is to limit your liabilities (e.g. depreciating assets like new cars) whilst increasing your assets (e.g. property, shares etc.) — i.e. buy things that have the chance to grow in value over time.
Simple rules for business
If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.
— Steve Jobs
As anyone who has done it will tell you, building a successful business takes time. There’s an almost endless list of things you could be doing to make it grow, and knowing where to focus your efforts is a constant challenge.
1. Listen to your customers
Your vision for your business and how your customers end up interacting with it can be widely different. Listening to their feedback and continuously improving your offering will help to ensure long-term success.
2. Revenue is vanity; profit is sanity
A large revenue figure doesn’t tell you much about how well a business is performing. It could be making lots of money, but at the same time, its costs could be wiping out any cash gained. This is why your goal should always be to chase profit — unless, of course, you’re a Silicon Valley VC-backed startup!
3. Watch cash flow
Most businesses fail for the same reason: they run out of cash. Making sure you have enough money coming in each month to cover your costs and make a little profit will help you avoid financial ruin.
Simple rules for habits
Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that carry them far apart.
It takes just as long to build a good habit as it does a bad one. To develop more of the former, follow these tips below. If you want to break more of the latter, then do the opposite.
1. Reduce friction
This is about making your desired habit easy to do. For example, if you want to go for a run in the morning, place your workout clothes and running shoes beside your bed the night before. This removes the ‘friction’ involved in finding your gear in the wardrobe.
A habit only becomes a habit when you repeat it frequently enough that it becomes second nature. Consider using a simple calendar-based system of crossing off every day that you complete your desired action. After a few successful days in a row, you will be more reluctant to break your winning streak.
3. Reward yourself
Find a small way to celebrate once you’ve carried out your positive behaviour. For example, you could reward yourself with a delicious tasting smoothie after a gym workout. This act conditions the brain to associate the exercise with the benefit of the yummy and refreshing drink.
Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.
Success can mean different things to different people, but whatever it is you’re aiming for, getting the following right is 90% of the work. That, and a bit of luck, of course!
To be successful at something, you need to make it your focus. This means saying “no” to lots of other things and being protective of the time you spend on that one thing you want to be successful at.
2. Think long-term
Incredible things take time. Anyone promising you the opposite is probably trying to sell you something. Think about the things you can do now that you’ll thank yourself for in five years.
3. Take risks
There is a strong connection between the number of risks you are prepared to take and your likelihood of success. If you study the life of anybody who became successful, you will find they took several what appeared to be risky decisions at the time.
Simple rules for productivity
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
— Stephen King
Some amount of procrastination is natural. However, don’t you want to avoid the stage where nothing gets done? Here are some of the most important ways to vanquish laziness and boost your productivity.
1. Break big tasks down into smaller ones
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. A big reason why you put so many tasks off is that they seem too overwhelming to accomplish. The trick is to break them down into their component parts and tackle them in steps instead of all at once.
2. Plan each day the night before
If you don’t take charge of your time, someone else will. Planning your day the night before and blocking out time to do your most important tasks ensures that you spend your time doing the most valuable things.
3. Do the demanding jobs first
The hardest jobs require the most effort, so it’s important to get them done when you have the most energy. Leave the easy stuff for when you’re feeling less fired up.
Simple rules for health
Good health is not something we can buy. However, it can be an extremely valuable savings account.
— Anne Wilson Schaef
Your health is the foundation for everything. Without it, everything else because hard, if not impossible, to achieve. Take it seriously.
1. Exercise for 30 mins a day (ideally outside)
You are not designed to be idle for long periods of time. Daily movement is essential for good health and doing it outside gives you the added bonus of fresh air and vitamin D from the sun.
2. Sleep ~8hrs a night
If you’ve gone more than 24hrs without any sleep, then you’ll know how valuable it is to your overall well-being. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a nap when the opportunity arises.
3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Do your best to avoid processed products and try to eat a broad range of foods. Remember, everything in moderation.
Simple rules for creativity
Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.
— Dorothy Parker
There’s a formula for coming up with ideas. Follow these three steps to strengthen your creative muscles.
1. Gather as much info as possible
Find out as much as you can about as broad a set of subjects as possible. After all, creativity is about connecting dots, so the more dots you have, the more potential connections that can be made.
2. Ask as many questions as you can
More often than not, the obvious questions haven’t been asked, so don’t be afraid to ask them. Also, the more questions you ask, the more likely you are to uncover something interesting.
3. Let the unconscious mind do the rest
Now that you’ve done all the hard work following rules one and two, it’s time to take a break. Stop thinking about what it is you’re thinking about and let your unconscious mind do the rest.
Simple rules for relationships
Assumptions are the termites of relationships.
— Henry Winkler
It takes time to build successful relationships, but it’s hard to get ahead in life without them. If you get the below right, you’ll be well on your way.
1. Do what you say
It is always best to judge a person by their actions and not their words. This is why you might have heard the phrase ‘talk is cheap’. Be true to your word by always following through with action.
2. Be consistent
We all like friends whose behaviour is reliable. It’s hard to form relationships with people who are inconsistent in the way they behave, so it’s best to avoid doing so ourselves.
3. Don’t lie
Lying is the fastest way to lose someone’s trust. Whilst telling the truth isn’t always easy, it’s the best course of action in the long run.
Simple rules for communication
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
— George Bernard Shaw
Being a great communicator confers several advantages. Make sure you keep the below in mind as you hone your communication skills.
1. Keep your message simple
Work out what you want to say and then find the fewest words possible to communicate it. The simpler the message, the more likely your audience will remember it.
2. Make it clear
You may think you’re smart by using complex terminology and fancy words, but if your ultimate goal is to have your message understood, then you’re playing the wrong game.
3. Repeat it until understood
Even if your message is clear and simple, saying it once is not enough for your entire audience to remember it. This is why you see the same adverts running over and over again.