Self-help is the Marmite of the book world. It seems that readers either ravenously consume self-help books or find them utterly unhelpful. Personally, I believe that self-help books are only as effective as the person reading them allows them to be. In other words, they’re only useful if you actually implement the guidance to solve your problems. Otherwise, they’re just hollow words.
That said, as a nonfiction coach who specialises in books that make the world better, I also believe that not all self-help books are born equal. Some are inherently better than others, whether it’s their content, approach, or how they present these two key aspects. As such, Richard Templar’s 2006 bestseller The Rules of Life offers a winning combination. It’s simple, effective, and actionable.
The Rules of Life has a simple key premise laid out in the subtitle: a personal code for living a better, happier, more successful life. It contains 100 straightforward rules to live a better life (106 in the updated version), which each get a few pages of airtime in a “bite-size” approach. The rules are broken into rules for: you, partnership, friends and family, social, and the world. The ideas aren’t complex, confusing, or convoluted. In fact, as Templar admits (and the book’s critics point out), nothing is truly new or revolutionary here. In fact, much of the first section is based on the philosophy of stoicism, especially rule #16 “Change what you can change, let go of the rest” in accepting what you can’t control. Many of the rules are based on good old common sense.
While the rules aren’t innovative, they are intuitive and they do work. We might argue that we know we need to value time, accept ourselves, and so on—but on a daily basis, we prove ourselves incapable of actually doing these things. We lose sight of them, side-line them in favour of other things, or trick ourselves into believing we’re doing them when we’re really not. The rules might be “obvious”, but if we actually followed them more often, then it’s arguable that we wouldn’t need self-help books.
There’s little point creating a book of rules that are impossible to implement—and self-help fails when readers can’t apply it to their lives. All of these rules are practical, rather than theoretical and hands-off. Moreover, the book is easy enough to read in a just a few hours, meaning you can crack on with making your life better rather than wading through a 600-page tome. Of course, being actionable doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily implement the rules, but that’s another story.
Like any book, The Rules of Life isn’t perfect, and there are a handful of rules that I’d willingly discard. You may agree with all 100 rules or choose to discard other rules.
The Rules of Life offers a helpful reminder of 100 simple rules to live our lives by. The rules are easy to understand, intuitive to human beings seeking betterment, and practical in implementation. However, the key to success lies in making yourself stick to rules rather than telling yourself you are when you aren’t.
It’s no good saying you know it’s important to make time for your family (rule #68) or look after yourself (rule #76) but then fail to do so, or saying you care about the planet then not bothering to recycle (rule #93). If you find 100 rules overwhelming or too difficult to action, write a list of the 10 most important rules to you for now and keep them in the notes page on your phone or the old classic, taped to the fridge. Start small, start somewhere.
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