Planning Your Fresh Start: Step 4


Do you know the term “bright-line rule”?

It’s a legal concept.  A bright-line rule is defined as a clear, simple, and objective standard that can be applied to judge a situation.  It is not open to interpretation or exception.  Like a bright line on the ground — you’re either on one side or the other.

For example, in the United States, the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) is 21 years.  A bright-line rule:  you’re either 21 years old, or you aren’t.  Case closed, as they say.

And in the same way that bright-line rules remove the ambiguity from legal judgments, they can help you establish clear boundaries in your personal and professional lives.  Boundaries that make your fresh start possible.

In Step 3, you worked on translating your vision of the future into specific action steps.  Things you might start doing/keep doing/do more of, and things you might stop doing/do less of.

Now it’s time to make some hard decisions around the things you wrote down on that list.  To figure out a few top-level nonnegotiables and set up some bright-line rules around those nonnegotiables.

Since I already dragged alcohol into this discussion, let’s use that as an example.  Especially because James Clear — author of the book Atomic Habits — also uses it as an example in this great discussion of bright-line rules.

Say someone lists “cut down on drinking” as one of their “stop doing/do less of” items.  A bright-line rule might be:

I enjoy a maximum of one 6-oz glass of wine per night.

The rule doesn’t even have to be that specific.  Perhaps you want to keep from overcrowding your calendar with social events.  You could create a bright-line rule along the lines of:

Before I say “yes” to any future event, I will ask myself, “would I say yes if the event was happening tomorrow night?”

My husband and I have started using a version of that rule.  When we learn of some fun-sounding event, the rule is: if it’s not an immediate “yes” for both of us, it’s an immediate “no.”  Not “let’s think about it more and decide next week.”  Case closed, move on.

So your Step 4 assignments are:

  • Look over your list of Step 3 actions and ask yourself: which of these is most likely to help me start living my different future?  Pick no more than three as your “nonnegotiables.”
  • Craft a clear, simple, objective bright-line rule for each nonnegotiable.


By Cynthia Knapp Dlugosz

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