A rule of thumb is a type of heuristic that can help you perform desirable behaviors more consistently. Applying rules of thumb can also eliminate some mundane decisions, thereby conserving willpower.
Decision Making Short-Cuts
“Eat a fruit and a vegetable at every meal.”
“Pay yourself first.”
“Fill your gas tank when it reaches 1/2 full.”
These are “rules of thumb” – common sense guidelines that provide guidance in daily situations. They are short-cuts to decision making.
The phrase rule of thumb refers to “a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It refers to an easily learned and easily applied procedure or standard, based on practical experience rather than theory.” [Wikipedia]
This is helpful in a couple of ways. Research has shown that making numerous decisions leads to “decision fatigue” and a depletion of the limited amount of willpower each of us has. [Baumeister] This includes not only difficult decisions but the many small decisions we make during the day. (Waffles or cereal? White shirt or blue? Where shall we eat lunch? and so on.) Having rules of thumb in place can eliminate the need to make many small decisions.
Additionally, having certain “rules” in place can help you perform a desirable behavior more frequently and consistently and, over time, turn it into a habit. Once they become habitual, you no longer have to think about doing these desirable behaviors – they happen automatically.
Rules Of Thumb Examples
Here are a couple of rules of thumb that I’ve learned about and have adopted for my own: “When you are pressured to make a quick decision, say ‘no'”. “Choose the cheapest entrée from the menu that will satisfy you.” And of course, there’s Grandma’s Rule: “You don’t get dessert until you’ve finished your vegetables.” I guess some rules were made to be broken!
Here are some rules of thumb for your consideration in other areas of life. What rules do you already have in place? What are some that would be helpful for you to adopt or adapt?
- When you bring home something new, get rid of something old.
- Purge (files, closets, junk drawers, etc.) once per quarter.
- Don’t bring junk mail in the house.
- Use one, and only one, calendar.
- Always work from an up-to-date list of next actions.
- Never open e-mail first thing in the morning.
Health and Wellness
- Go to bed by 8:00 PM one night per week.
- Eat a fruit and a vegetable at every meal.
- Don’t bring junk food into the house.
- When you open the last package of an item, put it on the shopping list.
- Keep $100 in your wallet or purse that you never spend.
- Give yourself 1 hour a day (or week, etc.) to do something just for you.
Use Rules Of Thumb To Progress Toward Your Goals
Get the idea? Now, try this. Choose a goal you’ve been working on or that you’d like to begin. Take a sheet of paper (or open a new document on your computer) and write your goal at the top. Now, list 3 rules you could put in place that could help you make decisions in support of your goal.
Don’t make them too complicated or you won’t do them. And don’t do more than 3 – you’re working to instill a new habit. Once you’ve mastered these, you can then add others.
Don’t worry about coming up with the perfect rules. Try them and see how they work. Then tweak them as necessary, to make them work well for you.
Review the rules as often as you need to in order to keep them fresh in your mind. Pretty soon, you’ll have some new behaviors to help you reach your objective.
Simplify With Rules Of Thumb
Rules of thumb are not meant to be hard and fast rules. They are shortcuts or guidelines. As such, they are useful, as we have seen, in dealing with repetitive decisions or situations. However don’t let a rule of thumb blind you to important factors.
But used judiciously, they make decision making quicker, easier, and less of a drain on your willpower. By simplifying your decisions where you can, you have more reserves to deal with the big decisions that do require your attention and thought. You can put your focus and your efforts where you need them. And that is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated simplicity™ — freeing yourself from unnecessary complexity — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Baumeister, Roy F. and John Tierney. Willpower – Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength. New York: The Penguin Press, 2011
“Rule Of Thumb.” en.wikipedia.org. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 3 September 2019, Web. September 12, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_thumb