My friend Austin, a driven and (often overly) ambitious young man recently sent me an email that went like this:

Craig,” he said, “I’m working 60-70 hours a week right now but I never feel like I’ve done enough, and my mind won’t allow me to relax. I need your advice on the best habits I can implement to fix this.

Guess how I responded.

Did I tell him to plan his days more carefully? To work on a Pomodoro timer or do an 80/20 analysis of his projects?

Did I rant and rave like a luddite? Instructing him, “Block your internet, trade in your smartphone for a flip phone, and move to Hartford?”

All good guesses (especially the last one), but all wrong.

I’ll let you in on my surprising advice in a moment, but first allow me to share a quick lesson…

Over the course of my coaching career, I’ve discovered that the root cause of most burnout and underperformance does not come from your work.

It comes from what you’re not doing outside of your work life.

As ambitious high-achievers like Austin, it’s all too easy to get suckered into the non-stop hustle and grind, believing that 12-hour work days and nonexistent weekends are “just a phase” or “a sprint.”

We unwittingly lie to ourselves and believe all of this “overtime” will eventually have us sitting under a palm tree while we sip frosty beverages and laugh as the passive income flows in. But you and I both know this doesn’t really happen.

Once you taste success it becomes addictive.

There is always another milestone to hit, another book to write, another launch to “crush”, and endless reasons why you can’t take time off and enjoy what you’ve accomplished.

And without putting what I call “Non-Negotiable Bumpers and Boundaries” into your schedule, your life will suffer.

But today, I’m going to show you how to fix this.

The REAL Reason You’re So Burned Out, Tired, and Unhappy with Your Progress

Think back to a time where you disappointed yourself.

Maybe you underprepared for a presentation.

Maybe you were late (again) for your daughter’s dance recital.

Maybe you promised your partner you would take it easy on the booze at the party, but failed.

Maybe you skipped Monday morning’s (and Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s) workout.

Or maybe you said you’d eat just one cookie … and half a dozen later your hand is still in the bag.

Listen, we’ve all been there.

We set high standards for ourselves, and when we fall short, not only is it painful that we have let others down, but we also feel like a hypocrite.

The problem is that you’re not taking your promises seriously.

You are negotiating your way OUT of success.

You already know what you want. And chances are, you already know 80% of everything you need to know to achieve it. The problem is you negotiate with yourself when it comes time to take the actions necessary to bridge the gap.

People will say things like:

“I know I said I was going to exercise today, but I just feel so tired…I think I’ll skip this today and do it tomorrow.”

Or, “I know I need to wake up at 6 am to finish work at a reasonable hour and take my wife on date night, but man…these sheets are just so cozy and warm. I’ll give myself ‘five more minutes’ (read: an hour)”

Or, “I know I should be a better partner and prioritize time with my significant other, but I just have a lot on my plate right now, so we’ll skip date night this time and do it next week.”

Not only are these internal negotiations draining in and of themselves–studies have shown that making and debating on decisions drains your glycogen reserves and depletes your willpower–but they are completely unproductive for building the life you desire.

As such, you must realize that you are not the ‘lawyer’ of your life.

It is not your job to defend different positions and exonerate criminal (or, in our cases counter productive) activities.

You are the dictator of your life.

As John D. Rockefeller put it:

“I would rather be my own tyrant than have someone else tyrannize me.”

To achieve the business, life, relationships, and health you desire, you must become your own tyrant. You must adopt an attitude of “I say, you do.”

When your higher-self says “jump” your lower/subconscious self says “how high?”

And the key to developing this type of self-discipline in your life is through the strategic implementation of “Non-negotiables” into your work and life.

To setting and then getting massively accountable to key action steps and habits every day, week, month, and year so that you no longer have a choice to fail.

Non-negotiables are not things you “should” do. They are things you MUST do, no matter what.

Once you’ve set them, there is no more mental negotiation. No ‘buts’ or ‘ifs’ or ‘are you sure’s?’. You simply identify what must be done and do it.

Let’s take a look at some of the strategic ways you can implement non-negotiables into your life to drive more success, balance, and freedom.

1. Use Non-Negotiables to Eliminate the Need for Discipline

One of the first, and most important things that non-negotiables do for your life is that they eliminate the need for discipline and will power.

If you are strategic with your commitments, you will find that there are certain “cornerstone” habits and non-negotiables that make everything else in your life easier.

For example, my personal non-negotiables are:

  • 3:57am wake up
  • 3 lifting workouts per week
  • 5 servings greens per day
  • 1.5 liters of water in first hour of wake up
  • 12-hour overnight fast
  • 10 minutes daily meditation

For me, these cornerstone non-negotiables make the hardest parts of achieving my goals 10X easier and reduce my need for willpower or motivation.

If I wake up at 3:57 am every morning, then I am going to sit down to write and devote the first 90-minutes of my day to Legacy Work (after all, even Starbucks isn’t open that early!).

If I consume my five servings of greens every day and 1.5 liters of water, I’m more satiated and less likely to eat junk food or binge on my favorite sugary treats later in the day.

If I do my 10-minutes of meditation and three lifting workouts per week, I’m less likely to slip back into anxious patterns and behaviors and more likely to stay focused and maintain incredible levels of energy throughout the day.

But what about you? What 2-3 habits or activities could you start doing that, if followed consistently, would significantly reduce the amount of willpower and discipline you need to stay focused and achieve the life you desire.

Keep them in mind as you read the rest of this article.

2. Non-Negotiables Build “Spiritual Callouses”

The great Tony Robbins has a “weird” non-negotiable routine that he follows every single morning without fail.

As soon as he wakes up and before he does anything else, he walks outside of his home, stands next to a 9’ cold plunge pool set to 56 degrees…and jumps in.

No hesitation, no negotiation, no thinking about it. He says, he does. Period.

You can hear him explain this routine in a little more detail in the video below.

For Tony, this non-negotiable isn’t about creating boundaries or reducing his need for discipline, but rather building “spiritual callouses.”

First thing every morning, he does something he does not want to do. And this simple action, after being repeated for months, years, and decades, has built emotional resilience and spiritual toughness that he uses to excel in other areas of his life.

By making it a non-negotiable to do something hard, something painful, something uncomfortable every single morning, he has conditioned himself to eliminate all negotiation from his mind.

This single action has helped him train his mind to follow his instructions the second he gives them. And you can implement this same principle into your life.

What is something you do not like doing? Something that makes you uncomfortable?

Maybe it is taking a cold shower. But maybe it’s something else.

For some of you, your resilience-based non-negotiable could be waking up at a certain time, doing a morning run, sitting down to meditate, or jumping right into your most challenging and dreaded task of the day.

Again, jot down your ideas on a piece of paper and we’ll use them in just a minute to help you create your non-negotiable list.

3. Non-Negotiables Provide “Bumpers” to Keep Your Life Out of the Gutter

When my friend Austin asked me for insights regarding his recent challenges, my response was, a little counterintuitive.

I didn’t tell him to plan his days better, or eliminate distractions at work.

Instead, I instructed him to identify 3-5 daily/weekly non-negotiables that were not related to work and hold himself radically accountable to them.

These ended up being:

  • Weekly date night with his girlfriend
  • Weight training at 4 pm Tuesday-Saturday
  • Dinner with his siblings on Thursday night
  • And 20-minutes of reading every day

For him, these non-negotiables aren’t about building spiritual calluses or eliminating the need for discipline. Instead, they serve as “bumpers” to keep his life out of the gutter.

If you were to take a 7-year old bowling, you wouldn’t just give them a ball and tell them to roll it down the lane. You’d have the attendants put up the gutter to ensure that the ball made it all the way down to the pins instead of spending the entire night rolling into the gutter.

Your life is the same way.

For my editor, he spent years living life without any “bumpers”, building his life around his work instead of the other way around.

He would tentatively plan fun excursions and then cancel at the last minute ‘just this once’ to finish up a project or proposal. And, as he shared in his email, this lifestyle had cost him freedom, peace of mind, and productivity–landing him squarely in the proverbial gutter.

However, with the strategic implementation of his new non-negotiables (for which he is accountable both to myself, his girlfriend, his family, and other mentors), he’ll be forced to get off the hustle ‘n grind treadmill and make the time he needs for himself and his family.

If he knows that he has to be at the gym no later than 4:15 pm every single work day, he won’t be able to get distracted or engage in busy-work or procrastinate on important tasks. And what’s more…he won’t want to.

By having exciting and fun non-work activities planned for each day of the week, he’s putting himself into a virtuous cycle of work hard/rest hard that will allow him to improve his performance without sacrificing the things that matter most.

These non-negotiables have already changed his life and, if you’re willing to take them seriously, they’ll change yours too.

Now that you have an understanding of what non-negotiables are and how they can be used to accelerate your success in life and business, let’s take a minute to work on yours together.

Over to You: What Are Your Non-Negotiables

With what you’ve just learned in mind, it’s time for you to create your own non-negotiables.

I know that it can be tempting to go overboard with this and come up with a long list of everything that you ‘should’ be doing to live the life you want, but I encourage you to focus, first and foremost, on the BIG habits and activities that, if followed consistently, will result in the greatest improvements in your life.

Specifically, I encourage you to identify:

  • One health non-negotiable
  • One relationship non-negotiable
  • One “spiritual callus” non-negotiable
  • One business non-negotiable
  • One personal non-negotiable

Again, the key here is to identify the most important habits and activities that will have a disproportionate return on investment for your emotional and mental well being.

For example, your list of non-negotiables might look like this:

  • I will do some sort of weight training every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5pm
  • I will take my spouse on a date night every Thursday at 5 pm or (if single) I will go out on a date with a potential partner ever Thursday at 5 pm.
  • I will take a 3-minute cold shower first thing every morning.
  • I will devote the first 15-minutes of my day to writing my book, no matter what.
  • I will wake up no later than 6am every single day.

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here. Only right or wrong for you. Take a few minutes now to identify your non-negotiables.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait…

…Got ‘em? Great!

Now for the final step.

As I’ve alluded to throughout this entire article, the key to achieving success with non-negotiables is to make them truly non-negotiable. In other words, to have accountability and serious consequences in place to ensure they happen even when you don’t feel like it.

For each of the non-negotiables you just wrote down, I want you to identify one person (it can be the same person for all of them) who will hold you accountable to it and one consequence that you will pay if you fail.

These consequences could be anything from sending money to a charity you despise to having a friend lambast you on Facebook to volunteering with your least favorite organization on a Saturday afternoon.

Figure it out, write it down, and drop a comment below letting me know what you’ve decided.

The success you desire is only possible when your ‘shoulds’ become ‘musts’. And by taking action on what I’ve shared with you today and creating your own non-negotiables for success, you’ll be well on your way to achieving the life you desire.

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Craig Ballantyne

Craig Ballantyne is the author of The Perfect Day Formula: How to Own the Day and Control Your Life. Craig has been a contributor to Men's Health magazine for over 17 years. Today he teaches his gift to high-performing entrepreneurs how to squeeze more out of their days, increase their income, and make more quality time for their families in his Perfect Life Workshop and Work-Life Mastery programs. Craig used his own advice to overcome crippling anxiety attacks in 2006, and he'll teach you his 5 Pillars of Success so you can increase your income, decrease your work time, and live the life of your dreams. Learn more about Craig at craigballantyne.com

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