My Rules For Life

Stephen J. James talked in his May 5 video about doing a show on “Luke Ford’s 12 Rules for Life.

So I started thinking about my rules for my life.

I’m a song and dance man. Except that I can’t sing and I can’t dance. But I’ve got some moves.

I am not a guru. I don’t tell people what they want to hear. I strive to place my views in the context of my relative ignorance, failings, and lack of credentials.

Cheating and lying have been among my strongest habits. To the extent I told painful truths about myself, this was a survival thing I got into when I realized I couldn’t lie my way out of my misery and that instead I needed to turn to a more effective tactic.

So, when I was pushed against the wall, my first reaction would be to see whether or not I could lie my way out of getting hit. If that didn’t work, I’d try telling the truth. If that failed, I’d try placating, bullying or freezing.

I got into cheating in high school and it didn’t end there. If I could get away with it, I’d charm my way through life, doing as little irksome work as possible. Only regular humiliation snaps me out of this laziness.

I don’t despise myself for my character defects. I did not choose them. They began as adaptive tactics to avoid getting hit and they became maladaptive over time. As I’ve walked through life, I’ve done the best I could with the tools I’ve had at the time. Now I have better tools than I did then.

If I am not at my best, I tend to react like a stray dog.

Just as Donald Trump has spent his life staying a step ahead of the sheriff, I’ve spent my life staying a step ahead of the dog catcher.

Here are my rules for life:


* We’re all locked in an iron cage together and nobody is coming to save us. To survive, you want to become as strong and connected as possible.
* Different people have different gifts.
* Nobody cares about out-groups.
* The stronger your in-group identity, the more likely you are to have negative feelings about out-groups.
* Ties bind and blind. (Jonathan Haidt)
* Everybody has a hero system. Most people get it from their community. (Ernest Becker)
* Marginalized movements attract marginalized people.
* There are no solutions. Only tradeoffs. (Tom Sowell)
* What will determine the success of an administration? Events, my dear boy, events.
* Every living thing strives to create the optimal environment for its thriving and will react viciously to anything that endangers it.
* If you want to preserve native life, you have to restrict invasive species.
* The most important task for a nation-state is to survive.
* You never know what someone else will do.
* The common denominator in all punditry is self-assertion aka I see things you don’t see and therefore you need to listen to me.
* Crime waxes or wanes depending upon our willingness to punish criminals.
* Every functioning democracy contains considerable elements of dictatorship, socialism, capitalism, and oligopoly.
* The president of the United States has the same foreign policy powers as King George III.
* There’s no magic key to unlocking how the world works. The closest thing we have to a magic key to reality is the predictive power of IQ for large groups. Goodness, for example, requires empathy, which is a form of abstract thought, and the capacity for abstract thought is measured by IQ. If a thousand 80 IQ people spill a drink on the floor of a public gathering, a thousand 100 IQ people spill the same amount of liquid, and a thousand 120 IQ people spill the same amount, the higher IQ groups will be more diligent about cleaning up the spill.
* Left and Right politics are evolutionary adaptations that have enabled our ancestors to pass on their genes. In some circumstances, a Left-wing approach to reality will be more adaptive. In other circumstances, a right-wing approach will be more adaptive. Book: “[T]he political left has been associated with support for equality and tolerance of departures from tradition, while the right is more supportive of authority, hierarchy, and order.”
* Our political, cultural, and personal tendencies are strongly influenced by our genes.
* Religion, from a secular perspective, is a subset of culture, which comes from genes and environment. African Christianity, for example, is very different from Scandinavian Christianity.
* As long as tens of millions of people such as the Japanese are more decent than the most committed nations of monotheists, I’m not sure how one can argue that God is necessary for ethics (something I’ve believed almost all of my life). Our behavior is shaped by who we love more than by our beliefs, texts, and practices.
* Most people don’t get their meaning in life from politics. Most people get their meaning from family. If they have room in their life after family, they get their meaning from their work, friends, and interests.
* Pundits, to maintain their uniqueness, inevitably trend towards conspiracy theories.
* Nobody has the right to anything unless you are lucky to live in a society that is strong and enforces rights, but they can still all be taken away at any time due to a real or putative emergency.
* We’re not individuals with inalienable rights. We’re members of families, tribes and nations, and the rights that the group can afford its members will vary depending upon circumstances.
* If it becomes socially acceptable for minority groups to pursue their own interests without regard to the whole country, majorities will start acting in their own interests.


* At all times, preach what you believe. Occasionally, use words. (Francis of Assisi, according to legend) We’re always transmitting. Everything we do affects other people.
* The bigger your need for a hero, the bigger the hole in your soul.
* To enter into a relationship is to start a countdown on feeling betrayed (meaning, you will inevitably be shocked that the other party has different priorities from what you expect, such as that you are not their top concern at all times).
* Don’t separate yourself from the community. When you watch Chimp Empire, you see the chimps who leave the herd have a hard time.
* In some situations, you will be a concentration camp inmate, and in other situations, you will be a concentration camp guard. The situation will consistently shape you as much or more than your inherent characteristics. So if you want to stay faithful or sober, avoid situations that will endanger you.
* Live as though everyone knows everything as opposed to trying to get away with as much as possible. (James Burnham)
* As soon as you go online to comment about life, you will feel a tug to be impulsive and to develop an inflated sense of your importance. You will feel tempted to ignore social proprieties (such as discussing dark topics that you would normally avoid in face-to-face interaction). These tendencies, if not successfully resisted, will damage your life. (Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality)
* When you think about how your selfishness hurts other people, you sober up and snap back into reality. When you think about people who’ve loved you, you sober up and snap back into reality. When you think about your failures, your transgressions, and your humiliations, you sober up and snap back into reality (though for some people, this will drag them down, so these would be bad things to dwell on).
* It is inevitable that we will constantly compare ourselves to others (and we will find ways to convince ourselves that we are superior to them). We need to do this comparison for information and connection. We need to believe we are more important than we are otherwise we would be crushed by our own insignificance.
* If you quickly and completely confess your wrongdoing, you can overcome most of your mistakes with people.
* “Virtue signalling is virtuous.”
* If you react to an angry person with empathy, they usually calm down.
* Act and speak as though your words and actions were accurately represented on the front page of the New York Times. I know I often lack common sense. I find this simple test is the best one I know for gauging proper behavior.
* We’re driven to improve our social status, but the more extreme our drive, the more likely we are to step on the toes of other people and they will retaliate.
* A good way of judging one’s importance in a particular profession is how much income you legitimately, legally and ethically derive from it.
* If you bid for someone’s attention, and fail, perhaps try once more, but don’t go beyond that.
* If you must give someone unsolicited advice, do it only once. If you can’t help yourself and you do it again, forgive yourself for being a bloody fool.
* When I have a painful confrontation with someone, I look for where I was at fault.
* When someone criticizes me, I look for where I at fault.
* When someone important to me says something, I look for how they could be right.
* I carry around the people important to me in my heart, and they affect how I conduct myself. If I forget my client’s interests, I lose that client. If I forget my friends’ interests, I lose those friends. I want to live to simultaneously develop the relationships dearest to me, and to pursue what I believe to be right (and these are often in conflict and neither side of the spectrum is where I want to live). Freedom and community are in opposition and I will sacrifice some freedom for community and some community for freedom.
* Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you need to be angry about it. Just because I don’t like something does not mean it is not good for me.
* When you avoid things that make you feel uncomfortable, you put yourself in a prison of anxiety and depression.
* Happy successful people tend to be more willing than average to appropriately extend trust.
* If you are not living in reality, your visions will turn into straitjackets.
* We all need more internal power, and the best way to get more power, is to connect with others.
* Loser lose themselves in drama. Producers minimize drama.
* If you can’t get love, you’ll seek attention.
* “Humans belong to multiple hierarchies and tend to value the one in which they rank highest. Consider the mailroom clerk who is also the best player on the company’s softball team. The latter may be emphasized & become a source of considerable self-esteem.”
* We weren’t born yesterday. People did not evolve to be gullible about their welfare. Advertising and propaganda doesn’t change us unless we want to change.
* WSJ: “You’re extremely unlikely to change someone else’s bad behavior. And the more you call that person out, the more likely he is going to get defensive and double down on it.”
* What’s the most honest part of the body? The feet. Your feet never lie and what you do never lies about your priorities. Your head and your heart are often delusional. How you behave is who you are. How you behave is what you believe. If you want to know the truth about your character, look at how you behave. (HerbK)
* When we encounter things we can’t handle, we will tend to react with fight, flight, freeze or fawn reflexes, which quickly translate into the emotions of anger (fight), fear (flight) or hiding (freeze).
* Humility means accepting reality. Insanity means denying the truth. Sanity means accepting the truth.
* Be who you need to be during the day (subordinate, assistant, cashier, janitor, clerk) but don’t forget who you are (your vision).
* Communication builds on itself just as hiding collapses on itself. Polish here and shine there (The Karate Kid).
* If you have a problem in one area of your life, you have this problem all over your life, you just can’t see it. If you habitually over-eat, you over-indulge in other areas of your life. If you habitually lie in dating, you lie in other areas of your life. If you are nasty with your spouse, you are likely nasty to others as well. If you lie about what you believe and what you practice with your religion, you likely do the same in other areas of your life. If you get panic attacks in elevators, you likely have this problem in other areas of life. If you hide in one area of your life, you hide in many areas of your life. If you can’t control your behavior on social media, you likely have unmanageability in many areas of your life. If you smoke too much or watch too much tv, you overdo other things. If you are vague with your exercise commitment, you likely will be vague in many areas of your life. If people tend to find you annoying in one aspect of your life, you are likely obnoxious in other areas of your life. If you have an instinctive suspicion or hatred of people in authority at work or in your religion, you likely have this baggage with authority elsewhere in your life. If you can’t get over loss in your love life, you will have similar problems elsewhere.
* In most circumstances, if you are aligned with God (Reality), you will feel content and serene. If you don’t feel content and serene, you are not aligned with God. If you are not serene and content, you will hurt other people. We are constantly transmitting who we are to others.
* When you text, you don’t just text words, you also text you. (Dennis Prager)
* If you yearn to help somebody, ask yourself your motivation. Is it coming from a good place or a bad place? If you want to tell a joke, ask yourself if it is because you want to transmit joy or just attention seek? If you are not sure about saying something, ask yourself if it is helpful, is it true, is it necessary, is it timely and am I the one to say it?
* How you do anything is how you do everything.
* “If you love and serve men, you cannot by any hiding or stratagem escape the remuneration.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

* What does it mean to put first things first? For me, it means getting clean at the start of the day physically and spiritually. Then I do the most important items in my day in descending order of importance. Another approach to this question is to get clear on what is of secondary importance such as social media or playing video games and make sure you don’t get sidetracked in the first ten hours of your day with nonsense.

* Rushing and multi-tasking are signs to your nervous system that you are not OK. Happiness means loving what you have. Your nervous system’s omnipresent question is — am I safe? Intimacy and purpose are the first things to go when your nervous system gets corrupted [by cell phones, etc]. (Fred Luskin)

* “The action is the success; the results are out of our hands”–Jerrold Mundis.

* Our default emotional state is anxiety. Our protection against this anxiety is connection with people we love. Happiness is the ability to love and be loved. We are programmed for flight, fight or freeze. It’s only when we feel compassion (for ourselves and others) that we are in reality. If you want to get into reality, think about people you love and who have loved you, and feel your gratitude. (Fred Luskin)

* “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” (Steven Pressfield, The War of Art)

* “Saying ‘have a nice day’ or ‘take care’ to a stranger is linked with greater subjective well-being…minimal social interactions with strangers contribute to subjective well-being in everyday life.”

* Transformation begins when we decide that continuing on as we are is intolerable. The pain of not changing outweighs the pain of changing.

* “I USED TO IMAGINE life divided into separate compartments, consisting, for example, of such dual abstractions as pleasure and pain, love and hate, friendship and enmity… As time goes on, these supposedly different worlds draw closer…so that, at last, diversity between them…seems to be almost imperceptible… [N]early all the inhabitants of these outwardly disconnected empires turn out to be tenaciously inter-related; love and hate, friendship and enmity, too…” (A Dance To The Music Of Time, Book Two)

* Fred Luskin: “I see time and again that when hurt people reconnect with their noblest goals they gain an immediate burst of power. Finding your positive intention reconnects you with your goals. The sad truth is, your grievances separated you from your most positive goals through your excessive focus on what went wrong… The biggest drawback to telling grievance stories is they keep us connected in a powerless way with people who have hurt us. When we mull over our past wounds and hurts, we remind ourselves of a part of our life that did not work. Reconnecting with our positive intention reminds us of our goals and enables us to move forward.”

* You can tell if you have processed something if you can talk about it without physiological reactions such as stuttering, voice cracking, flushing, etc. If you can’t talk about something without getting triggered, you haven’t processed it. If you can’t talk about your urges without getting triggered, you haven’t fully recovered. If you still have “triggers”, you haven’t processed and come to terms with you. The intensity of your triggers is inverse to your level of recovery. Triggers are signs you need to work your program. In blunter terms, triggers are bullshit. Step work reduces our unnecessary sensitivities. It make us more resilient.

* A sign of recovery is living an increasingly transparent life.

* “People feel more extroverted, more agreeable, more conscientious, when they are in other places, compared to when they are at home,” she said, while “people feel more disorganized and chaotic when they are at home.” When people spent time in social environments, they also felt more compassionate, open-minded and kind compared to when they were at home. (WSJ)

* You can’t be happy without friends.

* Almost every point of view has its time and place, including “lol nothing matters” which is incredibly fun and liberating when used appropriately.

* “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” (David Viscott)

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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