Liberating rules vs. governing rules

In my early 20s, I found myself getting easily distracted by social media. So I introduced a rule into my life, which was to check social media only after 6pm

That particular rule was great, because it freed me from the possibility of getting a quick, thin, reward. I was free to be more present, as well as to focus my energy in more constructive ways. 

As the years went on, I noticed that my business could improve if I spent more energy on social media, but paying attention to it for only a few hours a day—in the evening, at that—wasn’t really working. The rule needed an update. (The current version of that rule looks more like, I can check social media platforms related to my business between 10am to 9pm.)

For a while, I just threw out rules altogether, because I felt really fed up with the structure. But of course, that didn’t work for me either. People need rules—even if it’s ones they set for themselves—to thrive. It’s why the best art and games also adhere to rules and conventions. Dave Hickey writes in Air Guitar, “It has always seemed to me that the trick of civilization lies in recognizing the moment when a rule ceases to liberate and begins to govern…”

It’s always worth examining old rules, and experimenting new ones. For example, I was glad when I tried audiobooks and gave up a rule that I would only buy paper books.

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