I’ve always wondered why rules are so hard to follow. Have you ever felt that way? It seems that when there is a rule, I gravitate to it. The rule is like the front porch light, and I’m the bug – frantically trying to break free but trapped by its gravity!

I was driving my daughter’s friend home when we came to a stop light. I glanced over and saw a really BIG sign. It said “NO TRESPASSING! VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.” I said to her, “Look at that sign! That is the biggest no trespassing sign I have ever seen!” It was painted on two 4’x8’ plywood boards! She looked at me with her eyes wide open and said, “That makes me want to go in there!”

Why is this? Why are rules so hard to follow?

You become what you focus on

I once heard a story. There were two young boys who loved to visit their grandpa. He had a great big backyard with toy tractors and tools, and they were always excited to go to his house. When they arrived this day, they quickly asked, “Grandpa! Can we go play in your backyard?”

“Sure you can boys! But just don’t spit on my bushes!”

The two boys looked at each other in confusion, then shrugged and sped out the door. The grandpa walked over to the window and peeked through the blinds. The two boys walked down the steps and looked over at the bushes. They looked at each other, grinned, and before they ran to the tractors they spit on the bushes, which they would have never noticed had Grandpa not mentioned them.

You see, when we set rules to follow, we bring to the forefront of our thoughts and mind those things we shouldn’t do. In my own life, and in the lives of those whom I coach, I’ve found that the best way to break a rule is to make one. We all gravitate to what is forbidden. Adam and Eve did it in the Garden. God told them they could eat of any tree except the one. And we know the outcome of that story!

I had lunch with Jillian Michaels in Los Angeles and said to her, “Jillian, I can’t shake it! The more I think to stay away from certain foods, the more I seem to want them!” She said to me, “Danny, I have one all-natural, Newman’s Own dark chocolate peanut butter cup every single day of my life. Why? Because if I deprive myself of it I will only want it more – then I eat 2 or 3 or even 4! Don’t deprive yourself of the things you love – just work them into your plan and stick to the plan!” I’ll tell you, I’m not the thinnest guy on the block right now, but I’m not 300, 400, or even 500 pounds anymore either. And it has to do with that plan Jillian was talking about.

Set standards, and make them a part of your plan

If we tend to become what we focus on, why would we want to focus on what not to do? Let’s focus on the plan – let’s focus on what we need to do! Let’s set some standards.

Let’s look at the definitions of standard: “A level of quality or attainment. An idea used to measure the norm (normal) in comparative evaluations. Accepted as normal or average.”

When we set standards, we raise the bar, creating a target to shoot for. When we set rules, we create governing boundaries for ourselves, or curbs, to stay within. Rules limit our performance instead of creating a higher standard to attain. And in my experiences, when I’m shooting for something, I am much more motivated to achieve it.

Know the standards, find the target

When I was at The Biggest Loser ranch, we learned which foods to eat. We learned to add water to our diet and to increase our steps every day. We also created a standard of workout that expanded our lives. One of the running jokes about being a Biggest Loser Alumni is that once you’ve been a contestant, walking distance means a completely different thing. I used to think walking distance was 600 feet, but now it means 5 miles!

Sure, we knew to stay away from certain foods, but more than that we knew the foods to gravitate to; and when we eat the right food and drink plenty of water, the wrong foods don’t even come into the picture. You see what I mean? Sure, we avoided having certain foods within our grasp; we just left them off the grocery list.

Standards work in all areas of life

Standards work in your office or family, with your team, or in any area of life! I once heard Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke University head coach and coach of several U.S. Olympic basketball teams explain something. How can you coach The Dream Team  and have several huge egos such as Michael Jordon, Scotty Pippen, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Barkley, and have them work together as a team? How do you tell them to be on time or adhere to a curfew? These are the greatest names in basketball! Well, Coach Mike explained that at the first meeting, instead of laying out rules to the team, HE asked them what standards should be created for the team. They went around one by one and shouted them out: “Be on time!” “Get your sleep!” and on and on…until they set the standards for their team themselves. Because they had ownership in the standards, they adhered to them. Coach Krzyzewski said that if he’d set rules for them, they would have gone out of their way to break them and prove who was in charge.

This can work in your own life, too. In your family, let your kids take part in setting the family standards. In your office or business, let your employees or team take part. Their ownership of the standards will give them a voice, and in turn motivation to adhere to them without so many rules. And in your own life, don’t deprive yourself of all enjoyable things, but set standards that include some of those things, and more importantly the things that will get you where you want to go. You might just find that the rules will fade into the background and not become the focus when you are busy shooting for your standards, and in turn shooting for the stars!

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