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The first thing we are tempted to do when dealing with our inner brat is to give her some rules. Your brat procrastinated on that big project and you had to stay up all night getting it done? She hasn't taken advantage of that expensive gym membership even one time since January? She has been web surfing for hours while the laundry evolves into a leviathon?

You surmise that what your brat needs is some good old-fashioned discipline. From now on, she is going to be up at 5:45 a.m. so she can be at the gym first thing. She could have gotten away with working out three days a week if she had kept at it in January, but now that it's summer, she will be up and sweating every single day if it kills her. You don't care how tired she is after a long day of exercising, working, teaching, mothering, cooking, and housekeeping, she IS going to spend an hour working on long-term projects before she even touches the computer keyboard. And two loads of laundry must be washed, dried, folded, and put away each evening or she will not be able to read or watch TV. She'll learn, right?

The rebel that lives inside of each one of us revolts in response to rules. I have witnessed this time and time again in people I love who are more outer than inner rebels. Rules are quickly assessed as "stupid" and not applicable to them. As an outward rule follower myself, I marvel at their refusal to acquiesce, and deep down, respect them for it. Nine times out of ten they are absolutely right that the rule is wrong. If you listen closely, you will hear your inner rebel roar when you give them rules like:

  • Absolutely no fat, carbs, or sweets
  • Everything must be recorded and tagged in a to-do list
  • Every decent photo must be scrapbooked and journaled chronologically
  • Everything you eat must be weighed, measured, and recorded
  • Every goal must be written, shared, and broken down into mini steps
  • You must eat 9-11 servings of produce and drink 11 cups of water daily
  • You must adhere to the schedule laid out in 15-minute increments

Most people who struggle to make meaningful lasting change are dealing with an inner rebel who hates rules. Two case studies. The first is FLYLady. I wrote a Woman's Day article about her home organizing routines more than a decade ago. Although she was an immediate success, there were as many anti-FLYLady responders as there were fan girls. FLYLady's rule that women wear their shoes all day really raised a rebel ruckus. Groups of FLYLady adherents formed whose identity was simply that they refused to wear their shoes in the house

A second case study. Mark Forster developed a system of task management that initially thrilled his rebel forum. Tasks could be accomplished simply by intuition, when they "felt ready to be done." The only problem was there were still a number of rules in the system. Immediately, the forum members objected to the rules and began proposing alternate rules. More than two years later, they are still at it.

If you are giving your rebel rules, your inner forum is revolting against you! So what are we to do? Don't we still need rules to get our rebel in line? Rules work better for rebels when:

  • There are few of them. That's why trying to crack down in multiple areas backfires.
  • There is a really good reason for the rules you have. A rebel will immediately ask, "Why should I?" You better be ready with an excellent answer!
  • The rules aren't merely to please people. People pleasing isn't what rebels do. 
  • The rules aren't extreme. Rebels still believe in common sense.
  • The rules aren't based in fear. Rebels aren't afraid of much, especially consequences that "might, possibly" happen.

I will give you a personal example of the Rebel Rules Philosophy in action. I would like to cook healthier meals more often. So today I noted a weekly menu on AllRecipes.com that was for grilled meals, complete with shopping list. I read one review that raved about this menu and I added it to my shopping list. My kids and the cicadas outside were very noisy at the time, but I could hear my inner rebel pitching a fit. She was saying, "You're supposed to grill EVERY DAY for a week? Really? Your kids are going to eat grilled zucchini boats? Uh-huh. And you're going to make a grilled dessert every night? That is just stupid!" 

So rather than do what I would normally do and buy everything I need for the grilled weekly menu, only to let the stuff spoil because I don't cook it, and then wonder why I am so lazy, I listened to my rebel. I might grill once or twice this week instead.

What kinds of rules have you given your rebels that have been resisted? Are there any rules you've laid down that have lasted?

The Rebel's Guide to GTD – Intro

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