When I was a kid, I remember one random Saturday morning when my dad set out to teach us all a lesson. He had a “family huddle,” which was few and far between, and he told us that our spending was “out of control.” As a man of generosity and lavish spending for novelty, his pep talk would have been best applied to the mirror, but it was good for him “get those ideas out.” In hand, he held up several 3″ x 5″ cards with a list of rules. Posted throughout the house, they read:
1. No impulsive spending.
2. No major purchases for six months.
3. Eat fewer than 3-4 meals out per week.
…and a 2 or 3 more similarly themed rules.
Now, who knows what financial statement or event spurred this about face, but he was ready to right financial freedom with “his rules.” A few weeks later one of the cards fell in the toilet, and at the same time, so did the discipline of the discretionary spending–unrelated, I assume.
On the other hand, my dad did have “rules” that we all lived by. We did follow these unwritten rules with discipline-not because they were on paper, but because they were consistently enforced. From his conscience and his legacy these were enforced so many times, they were deeply branded into every conversation:
1. Tell the truth.
2. Be respectful to your parents and your teachers.
3. Don’t wallow in a bad mood.
4. Go to church.
5. Invest in others.
So, a few weeks ago as school started, I was surprised to see the resurgence of the “house
rules, er, aspirations.”
note “Aspirations” replaced “Rules”
My wife codified her aspirations for the school year and posted for the kids to follow. One morning while each of the kids were eating different breakfast meals, I queried whether they were cleaning her room every day, my daughter shrugged, and said, “not really.” I dug deeper, what about picking out your clothes before bed? “No dad, we really don’t do much that is on that board.”
Now, this post isn’t about picking on my wife or my dad. Truth is, we all make our own aspirational lists. We codify things that we desperately want to change in the world, but sometimes we lack the self-discipline to consistently enforce the “rules.” Instead, we make our list and place the burden of enforcement on someone else.
“Rules” are snapshots of principles that are routinely enforced. Done right, they are so well known that they don’t have to be captured in writing or written on note cards.