Prasanna Natarajan

Building my "Rules To Live By" list

You know, some people design rules for themselves and live by them! How odd is that?

Very odd until you realise that all successful people have, over the years, formulated and articulated their own set of rules and stick to them religiously. They just call it by different names.

Ray Dalio calls it his principles. Justin Searls calls it, well, his rules. Chris Oliver calls it “Things I’ve Learned”. Steve Pavlina calls it his values list. Even the great Benjamin Franklin had his 13 Virtues that he practiced 1 week at a time diligently for years (the man did the habit tracking thing before apps existed).

I think it’s important that we each define our own rules. And yes, I’m going to stick to the word “rules” just like Justin because.. well he says it better:

Only one thing can overcome my lack of self control: replace all my good intentions with hard and fast rules, then stick to them so rigidly that my constant fear of failure will inadvertently be put to productive use.

What is it?

The words “rules” or “values” or “principles” are easy to understand and we know what they mean without any ambiguity. But still I think it doesn’t hurt to define it here, from Ray Dalio:

Your values are what you consider important, literally what you “value.” Principles are what allow you to live a life consistent with those values. Principles connect your values to your actions; they are beacons that guide your actions, and help you successfully deal with the laws of reality. It is to your principles that you turn when you face hard choices.

In essense, when faced with a difficult decision, you turn to your rules to help pick the right decision. Rules are your compass.

Also, I think rules help you to say “no” easily. Without rules, there’s a danger that your will might be broken by the request person’s niceness. With rules, you can hold your standards high all the time easily. Just say no! It’s blatant, but it’s also honest and I respect people who say “no” because they have an ingrained rule within them.


Some of Ray Dalio’s principles:

  • Trust in Truth. More precisely, an accurate understanding of reality is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes.
  • Realize that you have nothing to fear from truth.
  • Be extremely open.
  • Have integrity and demand it from others.
  • Don’t let “loyalty” stand in the way of truth and openness.
  • Do not feel bad about your mistakes or those of others. Love them!

Well, the man wrote a whole book titled “Principles”. Go buy and read it! It’s good.

My favorite Rails developer Chris Oliver of GoRails says these are the things he ‘learned’:

  • Share what you know. It helps everyone.
  • Deliberately do what others aren’t doing. Be different.
  • Play with new things often. Toys are crucial to discovering good ideas.
  • Learn things the hard way. It gives you deep appreciation and understanding.
  • Deeply focus on areas you’re interested in. Become a master.
  • Everything you do is a user experience for someone else. Design wisely.
  • Charge what you’re worth. Don’t undervalue yourself.
  • Do things that scare you. You’ll be surprised.
  • Want to get better at programming? Easy. Write lots of code and use your own software constantly.
  • The main difference between software and traditional writing is that we can use software to control machines.

The highlighted ones are my favorites.

And here are Justin’s 10 rules, that got me started on this rules thing:

  • No breakfast, no lunch.
  • Same uniform, every day.
  • Travel in under 10 pounds with a 19L bag.
  • Block known distractions from my devices.
  • Run 5k every day, at 8 miles per hour.
  • No device chargers in the bedroom.
  • 10 minutes of meditation between work and play.
  • No food on Wednesday.
  • Learn Japanese every day.
  • First walk, then stand, then sit.

His list is my favorite. Although it’s in the context of his remote work, just saying these simple things as “Rules to live by” adds a similar weight to them just as Ray’s ‘heavy’ principles. Both help save time and energy and contribute to success in the long run. (by success I just mean a well lived life)

And here’s Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues:

  • Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  • Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  • Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  • Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  • Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Becoming a man of principle


I feel like this should be an easy job. I could just shop items for my rules from the list of these guys who already spent the time doing the hard work 😆.

Well, it won’t work.

These are truths that each of these people have lived through years and felt it to be true deep in their marrows.

So, even though I’m feeling several of these to be true myself, I want to experience them first hand.

So it’ll take time to build my list.

But here’s what I have so far in my list, which I know to be true in their purpose so far in my life:

  • No breakfast in the mornings. I’ll do Intermittent Fasting and so only 2 meals a day. Nothing but water goes in during that duration.
  • No food on Saturday. (I survived twice and I’m liking it)
  • Share what you know. It helps everyone.

“Dafuq?! Is that all your RULES TO LIVE BY??!”

Well, it has a few private items too. But, I’ve just started building the list. I want it to grow over the years. And I want to practice it in my life.

The litmus test seems to be this. If you show a sample of my “Rules” to people around me, they should just say something like: “Oh yes. Prasanna is like that. He always shares useful stuff.”

To get to that point I should live each item deliberately until it becomes my second nature.

Similar posts from the internet:

  • - specifically the “Rules to live by” and “Purpose” sections.

(If you have one, and if you are willing to share it, please do. I’ll add it to this list.)

Well, what do you think? You think you should define your own rules?