The famous Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso. Once said: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”  Of course, we all know he wasn`t talking about wearing a mask, waiting in line at the bank, picking up his dog`s deposits or stopping at a red light.  He was referring to his craft – that it takes time to become a master and that you need to learn how things work before you can excel.

Two days ago, Norway`s prime minister, Erna Solberg, was fined R30 000 for breaching her own coronavirus rules by helping to arrange a huge birthday celebration in Geilo.  Police commissioner Sæverud`s response was: “Although the law is the same for everyone, not everyone is the same.  It is therefore considered appropriate to respond with punishment, in order to maintain the public trust in the infection rules.”

Well, hats off to them!  If rules like that had been applied to leadership in our country, we would be well on our way to a healthy economy!  But that`s not my topic today – Mrs Solberg`s mishap just got me thinking about rules…

The biggest lesson I have learned about rules this week is this one – when you get a Vodacom message that your phone is due for an upgrade, don`t wait too long – it has cost me dearly this week when my Samsung phone just crashed, like that, dead, gone.  I lost all my contact numbers because they had not been saved to my sim card, as I presumed.  (So, if you are a regular reader of my Blog, please send me your contact number, again, I will gladly have you on my contact list to forward the weekly link.)  But, yes, back to rules…

Are they bad bullies or beautiful blessings?  This has been on my mind the last few days as our New Year Challenge was coming to an end.  In my opinion this has been the best fitness Challenge we have ever hosted, and many of our members agreed – but I couldn`t help but wonder – weren`t there maybe too many rules?  Signing in, being on time, sending home workouts before 20:00, doing mini-Challenges, booking for Pilates, blah blah blah…?

We all, at times, feel the oppressive presence of rules, both written and unwritten – it`s practically a rule of life.  Public spaces, dinner parties, even relationships and casual conversations are rife with regulations and red tape that seemingly are there to dictate our every move.  We sometimes rail against rules being an affront to our freedom, and argue that they are there to be broken…

And yet, we humans, we NEED rules.  Not because rules make life more predictable, but simply because they make life run smoothly.  Indeed, despite our protests to the contrary, rules seem hardwired into our DNA.  Experiments show that children, by the age of three, can be taught entirely arbitrary rules for playing a game.  Our ability to latch onto rules is crucial to our success as a species.  We drive on the left in some countries and on the right in others, we say please and thank you, and we sanitize our hands in every shop without asking too many questions.  Why?  Well, mostly because we might get into trouble if we don`t!

As Louise Penny writes in her book “A rule against murder”: “Rules meant order. Without them they’d be killing each other. It began with butting in, with parking in disabled spaces, with smoking in elevators. And it ended in murder.”

Rules are the essence of sport, games, and puzzles – even when their entire purpose is supposedly fun.  Chess, or tennis, or Fitness Challenges – they would be entirely formless and meaningless activities with no rules.  One danger is that rules can develop their own momentum and there is always the opposite, extreme side of the coin – repressive states, bullying bosses, coersive partners or mean parents – where the rules must be obeyed, just because they are the rules.  (I like to believe that my Challenge members don`t place me in the above category☺)

Rules are great.  They challenge us, take us out of our comfort zones and keep us in check.  As long as they don`t become old habits that we simply are too afraid to change…

…I have seriously come to believe that all of us, everybody, we`re not really born rule-breakers.  Our minds crave order – and yet, all of us, too often have this tendency to break our own rules.  Why?

Maybe because we set goals for ourselves instead of rules!  Yes, there IS a big difference between the two.  A goal is a target, something you hope to achieve, something you try to do.  A rule, on the other hand, is a law to abide by and a standard to adhere to.  It`s non-negotiable.  It`s something you do, no matter what.

Some people might argue that it`s just a matter of semantics, but I think there`s more to it.  Goals inspire hope, while rules mandate action.  It`s far more likely that you`ll keep to a rule than a goal.  Have you ever thought about this?

A goal is: “I am going to try to lose 5kg by the end of 2021.”  Reframed as rules, this becomes “I don`t drink wine during the week”, and “I go the gym four times a week.”  Don`t get me wrong – I`m not saying we should flood our lives with rules, but in thinking about rules, we also need to reflect on how we view freedom.  We usually think of freedom as doing what we want to do NOW.  But my definition of freedom is doing what we want to do MOST.

What do you want to do now?  Probably watch another episode of “Grace and Frankie”, go on Facebook, and eat three doughnuts.  But what do you want to do most, for the long-term?  Probably exercise, lose a few kilos, build strong relationships, and do meaningful work.

Freedom then, isn`t the absence of boundaries.  It`s having the right kind of boundaries.  Imagine the fish didn`t have the “boundary” of the bowl.  If someone smashed the bowl, the fish wouldn`t survive for more than a few minutes.  Similarly, setting rules for ourselves enable us to live more abundantly and intentionally.

The famous American writer Robert A Heinlein once said: “I am free, no matter what rules surround me.  If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them.  If I find them too obnoxious, I break them.  I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for what I do.” 

And that`s the real truth about rules.  Rules help us live our lives when we lose the will to do it on our own.  But rules rely on our consent.  Those that don`t have our consent can become instruments of tyranny.  So perhaps the best advice about rules is to follow them, but to always ask why.

And those rules we set for ourselves?  Let`s constantly remind ourselves that life is  not a soccer game.  Just because you stopped trying to shoot directly towards your goals doesn`t mean you stopped playing.  Today is a new opportunity.  New goals to aim for.  New metrics to work with.  New principles to keep score with.

Not sure where to start?  Start with the three simple rules in life:

If you do not go after what you want, you’ll never have it.

If you do not ask, the answer will always be no.

If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.

Yours in fitness


082 779 0507

2 comments to “RULES, RULES, RULES…”

You can leave a reply or Trackback this post.
  1. Futhi says:

    Thank you for this wonderful read! Truly speaking we do need rules 🙏

    • Mirna says:

      Thank you, Futhi!