Simple Rules for Fitness

Several years ago an associate recommended to me the book, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald N. Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt. Although the book is really directed at the business world, it has applications far beyond that field.

The argument made by Sull and Eisenhardt is that often we seek complex solutions to problems (or we don’t seek them, but they end up being the solution we go with) when simple rules can serve just as well. The process involves getting down to the roots of the problem–understanding what is truly at work–and then applying a consistent set of rules that correspond to the values/qualities/outcomes we seek.

For example, if someone is looking for a person to fill a position at a company, s/he may receive hundreds of applications. That person may put together a team to go through the applications to find candidates who might fit. Those applicants can then be re-reviewed, etc. The Simple Rules philosophy would have him/her set very limited criteria (just a handful or less) and eliminate all those who do not fit from the get go. This cuts down on the amount of work and speeds up the process, while leaving little room for subjectivity. This is, of course, not a perfect approach…but we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a complex world, and sometimes the best approach is to simplify.

What does this have to do with fitness? Often when individuals seek to improve their fitness they come up with plans that are too complicated; they become more trouble than they are worth. Take a diet plan, for instance; counting calories, weighing portions, keeping track of calories burned in exercise might be too much for some people–especially those starting out. It is intimidating and overwhelming. The Simple Rules approach would say “come up with a few behaviors to change that are simple;” base them on an honest assessment of where you think your weaknesses are. Examples could be: it’s ok to fill my plate, but no seconds; eat out only once per week; no “grazing” after dinner; or no calories from drinks. These are not complicated and don’t require overthinking. Choose a few and change the behavior.

When I started to get more serious about my own fitness, the Simple Rules philosophy was central to my initiative. I started by committing to seeing a personal trainer for an hour each week, doing cardio at least 4 times a week for 30 minutes, and not eating after dinner (except for very special occasions). The results were easy to see and I could sense the progress. Over time, I have changed the rules, but always kept them to a few, and simple enough that I don’t need a paragraph to express it.

What do you think? Simple Rules…too simple or simply a wonderful idea? At the very least, I think it’s worth a try for those who find diet and exercise to be too overwhelming/complicated/intimidating.

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