33 Rules I Strive to Live By

33-candlesToday — December 26th, 2013 — is my thirty-third birthday.

Everyone always assumes having a birthday right after Christmas is no good because you get short-changed on presents, but I’ve always loved it — having Christmas, my birthday, and New Year’s (still my favorite holiday) all in one week is pretty sweet. And writing this post is the closest I’ve ever come to working on my birthday, another plus.

I like what Leo did for his birthday post a few years ago, so here’s my version. This list of “rules,” of course, leaves out many obvious ones like “be a faithful husband,” “tell the truth,” etc. And I’m by no means perfect with the ones I’ve included here, but I’m happiest when I am doing well with them.

I hope you find one or two that might be worth adopting in your own life.

33 Rules that Set Me Free

1. “Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to move the hearts of men” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). In other words, set big, “unreasonable” goals and let them guide you.

2. Never leave the site of a decision without taking an action.

3. Read every day. Aim for a book a week.

4. When you want to make a change, put reminders (post-it notes, calendar alerts, etc.) everywhere. So many habits fail simply because you forget to do them.

5. Read to your kids every single night before bed.

6. Say “no” often. Saying yes is easy, but effective people are great at saying no to anything that’s not a perfect fit for their vision.

7. Don’t fill the space you have with clutter. Resist the natural tendency to accumulate things until they overflow the space you have for them.

8. One cup of coffee at most each day. After that, drink green tea if you still want a little caffeine.

9. Don’t have a beer or glass of wine until you’ve accomplished everything you want to each day. Even one drink has a way of killing your motivation and willpower.

10. Aim for thirty-three (hey, good number!) items of clothes per season.

11. Make your bed each day. According to Gretchen Rubin, it’s linked to happiness.

12. Don’t put off little disciplines (like the above) until the magical day in the future when you have all the time and money you could want: if you ever reach that point, you’ll just do more of whatever it is you do now. So if you’re messy, you’ll be messier. If you don’t donate money now, you don’t donate money then. Etc.

13. Never post a blog post “just to post something.” Publish when you have something worth publishing. Unless it’s your birthday!

14. Β Take responsibility for what’s in your life.

15. Don’t make excuses for anything. Especially, never ruin an apology with an excuse.

16. Before you eat something unhealthy, eat a huge salad.

17. Meditate every day, even if just for five minutes, and even if meditate means “just sit without doing anything, deliberately.”

18. Sit down to a real dinner with your family every night.

19. Plan your work day (the one to three most important items) before it starts — either that morning or, better, the night before.

20. Train for and run at least one marathon or ultra every year. This seems like a good minimal acceptable amount of movement and exercise to ensure that no matter what else is going on, you won’t let yourself get out of shape for long.

21. Spend the last five minutes (at least!) of every run thinking of all the things you have to be grateful for.

22. Find the half a dozen things that really matter to the work you do or the goal you’ve set out to achieve, and do them for as much of your work time as possible. Ruthlessly delegate, outsource, or eliminate everything else.

23. Get at least one 90-minute block (divided in two 45-minute segments separated by a five-minute break) of the above done before you check email each morning.

24. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but …

25. Don’t do the self-deprecating humor bit. It doesn’t take any skill, gets only cheap laughs, and worst of all, negatively affects you on some level.

26. Make decisions quickly. Be a satisficer, not an optimizer.

27. Drink a smoothie and a eat a salad every single day.

28. Separate work time from family time — you’re horrible at both when you try to do them simultaneously.

29. Listen to something educational or inspirational with any of your passive time (running, commuting, washing dishes) — except when you’ve deliberately set aside that time for mindfulness.

30. Get at least 90 percent of your calories from whole, vegan foods. The rest (for me) are still vegan, but not always whole.

31. As often as is reasonable, choose the path of inconvenience — I’ve found that once you get used to it, it’ll make you happier than the alternative (here I’m thinking of diet, the choice not to have cable TV, a microwave, a smartphone …). Being comfortable with discomfort is one of the most valuable skills I’ve learned in the past few years.

32. Remind yourself often how short life is, and how quickly it can disappear. But only as long as this motivates you — too much of it can do the opposite.

33. Make a leap of faith, burn the boats, go all-in. It almost never doesn’t work out, and the few times when it doesn’t, the consequences are never as bad as they seemed when you worried about them.

Oh, and lest you think I’m a grown-up because of all this, know that now I’m headed to a bar that’s also an arcade, for some local Asheville beer and Street Fighter II Champion Edition. I honestly don’t know how any self-respecting 33 year-old would choose not to do that for his birthday. πŸ™‚

‘Wake Up’ is Almost Ready!

3DFinally, a reminder that I’ll have my new e-book, Wake Up: 31 Days and Actions to Take Charge of Your Life, available before the end of the year! I’m really excited about it, and I’ve got a great interview scheduled along with another amazing bonus for anyone who gets it in the first week of the year. If you’d like to find out more, you canΒ sign up here to get details as they’re available.

Enjoy the next few days! They’re my favorites of the year for planning, goal-setting, and daring to dream big.



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  1. Joseph Roquebecil says:

    Happy Birthday Matt! Enjoy that beer! Seriously, you’ve inspired me more than you can imagine. Thank you!

  2. Happy birthday Matt! Love these rules to live by…I’m concentrating on #6 (say no often). Wife wants me to give up coffee…but that seems ridiculous. Maybe I’ll cut back to one cup a day, then tea. And #20 is an awesome one…can I really only run ONE marathon and ONE ultra per year? Crazy talk!!! Plan on 3 marathons and 8 ultras next year.


    • Hi Chris…I am a medical scientist and have studied the pros and cons of coffee…..There is every reason to give up instant coffee and drip coffee stewed on the stove top because of chemicals, however, real coffee made from freshly ground beans in an expresso machine preferably as a flat white style, gives many health benefits and medical studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers of expresso coffee have a statistically significant lower incidence of certain cancers. Caffeine is not harmful in any way at normal amounts and that is why we distance runners, cyclists and triathletes incorporate it into our energy gels. As the holder of some 14 gold & 4 silver medals in competition, I can recommend caffeine at reasonable levels. It is a recommended daily health drink..
      For further info, go to : http://longevity.about.com/od/lifelongnutrition/a/coffee_health.htm

  3. marty cowan says:

    Happy Birthday Matt! Great rules to live by! Enjoy the Asheville beer and Street Fighter – sounds like crazy fun and you deserve it!

  4. Happy Birthday Matt!

    Love the rules you’ve listed, what a great idea! Hope that year 33 brings you much happiness and joy in all areas of your life (beer & video games included πŸ™‚ )!

  5. Happy birthday, Matt. Great list, and a good one to get the new year rolling. Thanks!

  6. Some of these are prefect resolutions. I came on this site initially because I am just transitioning into veganism from eating meat almost every meal of every day, and I am having a hard time with getting enough B12 in my diet, and I have found so much more in this website to really get my motivation back for running and fitness. Thank you for taking the time out of your day (your birthday specifically) to keep the site going.

    Also, there’s a “Barcade” here in Pensacola as well that I used to frequent, and now that you mention the one you’re going to…I really should take some time and head back up there. They hand out King Koopa cups if you get the specialty drink. πŸ™‚

    PS–I can’t wait for your new e-book!!!!!!

  7. This is great, thank you! I’d like to follow a lot of these rules, especially 31 which is probably also the hardest. I hope you had a good birthday πŸ™‚

  8. Joey Dawson says:

    Good inspiration Matt. I will be putting #27 into my schedule. Happy belated Birthday!

  9. Matt,

    Great inspirational article. We can all take one or two pointers from this.

    Keep up the great work!

  10. Dear Matt, My birthday is January 1st, and I always appreciate the way it gives me an opportunity for a fresh start. I love the title Rules that set me free, so much better than Goals to live by, for instance. I do a list every year as well. I have already been at work on my 2014 list, and have found it a bit stale, but now with yours for inspiration , and with that set me free idea, I am back to the drawing board to do my best ever list! Happy birthday to you and much luck for a great 2014!

  11. Happy Birthday Matt!

    Thanks for all you do to inspire others. This is a great list! Looking forward to the e-book.

  12. Matt,
    Thank you for your healthy guidence and focused suggestions. I agree with you on the birthday timing attitude, as my 60th was just last week. Using your plans, the ‘Eat To Live’ nutritional approach and ‘Chi Running’ methods I have had great success learning to run again (see web link for my story) and am thrilled to be able to keep up with our 16 grandchildren… most of the time. Happy Birthday and Happy New Year!

  13. Happy Birthday Matt! You are so inspiring. Thank you for all your amazing advice. Looking very forward to Wake Up!

  14. Happy Birthday! Enjoy your day and thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!

  15. Cool idea and Great list Matt!

    Now you have me thinking that I want to write a similar list for my next birthday… but my list will be looooonger (turning 49).

  16. Happy Birthday, Matt! The 26th was my birthday as well, I hit 47. My two favorite things from your post:
    “never ruin an apology with an excuse” and the fact that you went to a bar/arcade to celebrate. My favorite things on my day are pizza and a movie. Stay happy and keep writing awesome posts!

  17. The quote in #1 is very beautiful.

    Yet, have a problem with it. It has happened a few times that I had a (modest) dream, failed to realize it, and was happy for that, afterward. So I was glad, it was only a modest dream, otherwise great damage might have occurred.

    So I’d like to propose the following one:

    Choose your Dream carefully.

    (Alas, too late to wish you a happy birthday.)

  18. Great list! Happy Birthday! Also, nothing wrong with a few beers and video game playing on your birthday!

    ~ Celeste

  19. Happy Birthday my friend. Thanks for mentioning P333!


  20. Belated Happy Birthday Matt! I really enjoyed this post – really thoughtful good sense. Well done if you can manage even most of those on your list. My birthday is just a week after yours on the 3rd and I can’t agree with you more that to have a birthday at the same time of year as Christmas and the turn of the New Year is in fact quite fun. Not only that but you get both snow and sun and can eat fantastic oranges!

  21. Awesome list. Thanks for sharing.

  22. This is such a great, inspiring list—thank you for sharing this! I just recently found your website (and ordered the No Meat Athlete book) and I cannot wait to read more. Wishing you a Happy belated Birthday and Happy New Year!

  23. A book each week is tough. I’m aiming for 1 per month!

  24. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Happy Birthday Matt,
    I love 6, 15,16, and 25. Those really stand out for me. I need to work on all those more, as well some of the others. Hope the next 33 are as successful ans fun as the first 33.

  25. Hope ya enjoyed your day Matt! …thank you for the list, 4, 16,21,22, 29, and 31 are good. Especially 31, I’m from Canada though the majority of my family are American’s (? don’t we all live in North America)…anyhow since my teenage years I’ve noticed how people from the USA are more inconvenienced by inconvenience. I agree we don’t realize how blessed we are. Thanks I enjoy your blog.

  26. Happy Birthday, Matt!

    I think the #13 on your list is working. There is never a post that bores me. Also with this one, you have inspired me and shared some great tips, of which I will probably incorporate some in my day.

    Thanks for that and enjoy your day!


  27. Happy birthday, Matt!!!

  28. These are great tips. My favorite is probably the one cup of coffee a day, then green tea. That or the no wine or beer until you have finished your tasks for the day.

  29. Hey, I am one day older than you – I turned 33 on Christmas Day πŸ™‚ I agree with almost every single one of your points in this post, which is pretty rare when I read posts like these! I really like #21 and should start doing that at the end of my runs.

    Hope you had a great birthday, and Happy New Year!

  30. Thank you so much for this. It was the perfect list of reminders I needed heading into the new year. The holiday season is almost never the best time of year for me and injury kept me from being able to enjoy my much needed run therapy this year. I much appreciated this quick list of goals and ideals as I hope to get back out on the roads where my smile is much easier to find and maintain. Happy New Year.

  31. Monika Heydt says:

    Hi Matt,
    Your blog post subject with “33” in my email box caught my eye since 33 is a significant number for me too. Then I opened your post and read that you have the very same birth date, month, and year as me AND we are both no meat athletes! I was FLOORED!

    My birthday tradition is to perform the yoga sun salutation series as many times as my age, so Dec 26, I did 33. I enjoyed reading your 33 reminders.

    Happy birthday and thanks for all of your recipes for energy bars and smoothies. I even made pinole for my husband’s Toughest Mudder race last year!

    Post a reply when you get this, or send me an ESP message as we are obviously twins πŸ™‚

    Best Regards,

  32. Loved this. I’ve had the link in my inbox since it came out and thought, “I should read this sometime.” Well, today I made the time and I love it. I’m going to review it daily to keep me going. Gold, I tell ya! And a very happy belated birthday. πŸ™‚

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