The Rules

by Dan Johnston

If you've read My Story you know the incredible challenges and successes I've had. You've read about how I had to choose between a tall coffee at Starbucks or a package of pasta for dinner because I could only afford one. I told you how I went from this rock bottom point, literally living below the poverty line, to living the life of my dreams: Traveling the world, living in luxury and creating incredible memories for my friends and family.

Through my own experiences, and time spent with some of the most successful and exceptional individuals on earth, I've formulated the following 10 rules. Read them with an open mind and you will be rewarded.

-> If you find yourself nodding in agreement to these rules, welcome.
-> If you're not sure, but open minded, welcome.
-> If you’re already preparing an argumentative comment to post below, please just move on. What I propose on this site is not for everyone, and I am not offended if it is not for you. See you later. See Rule #6 for more on this.

Rule #1
“Stories Beat Stuff”

I’ll dive into details and studies in upcoming posts, but just know that psychologists and philosophers have echoed this message for a long time. Money can buy happiness if you spend it on great experiences, people you care about, and contributing to others (I consider these all experiences or stories). Having been blessed by a year of poverty this lesson was forced on me.

On the other hand, buying things rarely leads to long term happiness. I acknowledge there are exceptions, such as a perfume or cologne that makes you smile every time you put it on, or a great camera that excites you with its ability to capture moments…but overall buying things is bad.

The reason this is Rule #1: It is essential for creating the freedom you need to pursue your dreams. If you insist on owning a car, a dozen designer shoes and the newest everything, you’ll always be chained to your paycheque (true story: I accidentally wrote “paincheque” the first time I wrote this out). I own one designer suit. It is gorgeous, and I wear it maybe once a month. While I am often tempted to buy more, I know I would only be trading hours of my life for the novelty of a new colour.

Rule #2
Do Not Expend Energy Attempting To Change The System

To do so is an exercise in wasted time. Governments, big companies and regulators at all levels think differently than you. They exist to slow change and keep society running stable. This can be good for society, but is almost always bad for you. Instead, you must learn to play your own game within the system until you are in a position of power to truly change the system (if you desire).

In addition, avoid thinking about the system or the details too much when you’re getting started. Dozens of times I’ve killed my own momentum and enthusiasm for a new project by focusing on the administrative details. It is usually best to form your big vision first, focus on it, and then take a big step towards making it happen. Then worry about the details after you have some momentum.

Rule #3
Take Risks and Realize Most Punishments Never Arrive

At the ripe age of 31 I have fucked up enough to conclude that the vast majority (95%+) of pain we feel only exists in our mind and is actually the anticipation of pain, not the actual pain.

I have had my head smashed in by a group of thugs, and on another occasion I endured weeks of threats of something similar. The first turned into a funny story, and honestly, thank god for beer, didn't really hurt much. The later caused weeks of anxiety and fear but never manifested into anything.

What did I learn? The anticipation of a painful event, whether physical or emotion, is always worse than the actual event. Don’t underestimate how strong and resilient you really are.

Rule #4
Regret Is Worst Case Scenario

If you want to know the right decision in any moment just ask yourself this question:

“In 30 years looking back on this moment, which choice would I wish I made?”

You’ll always know the right thing to do. Often the action which best supports our long term wellbeing is at odds with our short term emotions.

While in debt and with no savings I quit a lucrative job and started a business during the financial crisis and recession that followed. I had almost two good years of it but eventually failed, and failed hard.

Did I make a lot of mistakes? Absolutely. My business model was seriously flawed and my financial projections were unrealistic.

Do I regret going for it, or think back and second guess any of my decisions? Not one single time.

In the deepest caverns of my soul I believe we will only ever regret not making an attempt to go for it and become our best self.

If you’ve ever studied psychology you know “Self-Actualization” is on the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. What you may not have been taught is that Maslow believed it is a deep need, on par with food and shelter, for us to pursue our gifts and strive to be our best selves, to be, self-actualized.

Rule #5
Never, Ever, EVER Base Your Decisions On What Others Are Doing

I was catching an early morning flight from LA to Montreal. I showed up my typical 90 minutes or so before takeoff. Big mistake. The night before Air Canada merged two flight into one…This was going to be a long wait.

Standing at the back of the line I noticed no one was using the “Self Check-In" kiosks at the front by the counter. Technically these Kiosks had a separate queue, yet the line of grumbling travelers seemed to be ignoring them. Everyone seemed to notice the machines, and presumably assumed if these machines were up for grab everyone else would be using them too.

I assumed differently. The line up mostly consisted of old people and tourists, not the usual risk takers. Having studied crowd psychology I knew what was really going on. I hopped to the front, used the Kiosks, and was warmly greeted by an attendant who offered to take my bag (and ignore it being 15lbs overweight).

What really had me laughing after was a "friend" I made in line. I told him to hold my spot, and I'd wave him over if the machines worked. I waved him over, and yet, even after seeing me succeed, he stayed still. A few minutes later they closed off the kiosks and he waited in line while I ate breakfast.

The best part of this was I did it risk free. If the machines didn't work or I was asked to go back in line my spot was saved. No risk, high reward.

Rule #6
Don't Waste Your Time With Doubters, Conformists, and Plain Ol’ Unhappy People

I don't always follow my own advice. I recently wasted an hour of back and forth, and more in "mental energy" arguing with a girl who said having "wife" in the thesaurus for "women" was oppressive and sexist. As a writer I felt the need to explain what a thesaurus is, and was sucked into the debate from there.

I spend so much of my time surrounded by "happy folks" I forgot how many people just love to argue and criticize...and I got pulled into it. Do as I say and not as I do, and avoid discussing your new ideas, dreams or plans with those you know will just pick a fight or impart their doubt onto you. It will drain your energy and eventually kill your confidence to take action. Trust me on this one.

Rule #7
Always Remember Your Mind Is The Most Adaptive Organism On Earth

I was reminded of this while taking a tour in Berlin. I heard incredible stories of East Berliners’ creativity trying to make it into the west. My favourite was actually sewing themselves into car seats and then being driven across by someone allowed to leave.

You are incredibly capable and you can, and will, adapt and thrive in any situation.

Moving to a new country is scary. No shit. Change scares people. Get over it. Be courageous for a few minutes, buy your plane ticket, and trust that since you were smart enough to learn to read, do math, and talk to the opposite sex, you'll also be able to adapt to a new culture. 100s of Millions of people do every year, many with far less education or intelligence than you.

Rule #8
20 Seconds Of Courage

Yeah I cried a bit while watching "We Bought A Zoo", so what!?

There is a rather inspiring scene in this movie where Matt Damon’s character explains how to make incredible things happen:

“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery and I promise you… something GREAT will come of it.”

Thanks Matt! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

On a few very rare occasions people, who are usually drunk at the time, have told me they think I’m so brave and admire me. Perhaps sometimes I am, but most of the time I am not.

What I have done is embrace a personal philosophy similar to the “20 seconds of courage” idea. I think of ONE key action I can take towards a change or outcome I want, one action that once I do it, cannot be easily undone.

Then I muster up a moments worth of courage and do it.

I write on this topic often in the blog and newsletter, including exact ways I have used this to quit jobs, start a new business in a few days, travel the world, and sweep girls off their feet.

20 seconds of courage.

Rule #9
Action Creates Opportunity

Every amazing experience I have had can be traced back to a specific opportunity. And every opportunity that has come my way can be traced back to taking action in that particular direction. Action in a general direction leads to specific opportunities. You can't sit at home and graph your ideal just haven't lived enough yet to know what you're capable of. It is by taking action that we find success and failure, and the wisdom to develop our greater purpose and go after our dreams.

Once you have a huge reserve of life experience you can spend more time reflecting. When you're just starting out you don't know enough about who you are or what you're capable of: You just got to trust your gut and do something, anything, see what happens, and then re-calibrate later.

Rule #10
Opportunity Seized, In The Eyes' Of Others, is "Luck"

Some people are just luckier than others right? Wrong. We create our luck by spotting opportunities.

This is as close as you’ll see me come to talking about the law of attraction or “The Secret”. At any moment our minds take in an incredible amount of information and filter out 99% of it based on our beliefs and focus. This means if you focus on your outcomes and what you want then you are going to be much more likely to spot opportunities and “attract” what you want into your life.

There was a study conducted where subjects were divided into self-selected groups who were either "Amazingly Lucky" or "Amazingly Unlucky". They were then asked to count the number of photos in a newspaper. The "Unlucky" group took an average of 2 minutes to complete the task, the "Lucky" group? Just a few seconds! The second page of the newspaper contained the message "Stop counting! There are 43 photographs in the newspaper!" in huge 2 inch font.

Further, throughout the paper were large photos with text like "Stop counting! There are 43 photos and you've just won $250!" And guess who almost always missed these messages? Yup, the "Unlucky" group. But don't worry, I'm sure they have an excuse for why they missed so many opportunities when the "Lucky" group was able to spot them.


Did my list of rules leave you feeling warm and fuzzy? Well then, you better make use of 20 seconds of courage and sign up to hear more from me.

As a subscriber you’ll gain access to a wealth of free email-based courses, and tons of exclusive content I mail out but don’t get around to adding to the blog because it’s too short, or offensive, or I just don’t want crazy ex-girlfriends seeing it.

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19 thoughts on “The Rules”

  1. Jenn Hayden Gonsalves

    Awesome rules, Dan! And I especially love the stories behind some of them. I live by many of these myself and I'm working towards all of them in one way or another. Thanks and keep sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing Jenn. I’d be lying if I said I lived by all of them all the time as well! That’s what life is all about thought right, striving to reach our ideals.

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  5. I can totally relate to these rules because I myself is a risk taker and have a desire for traveling the world and always try to do things differently without following the crowd.

  6. Damn.
    Great list my friend….( if you’ll have me)
    So many great ideas that I agreed with 100%. It’s nice to see someone as brilliant as I floating around!
    I was just contacted by Blazhe, to possibly voice one of your books.
    After reading the 10 rules, I am highly inclined!
    I you indeed read these message Dan, can you tell me what 3 words would best describe the tone, or voice quality you hear in your brain, reading your works… as a reader would hear it?

  7. Omg this is crazy Dan! I am also starting a personal/societal development blog and was thinking of publishing a set of “Rules” to keep in mind as readers read my content to get the most out of it as well! This is such an ENFP style!

  8. “Never give up” is our family motto. Of course, if you are talking about doing hard drugs or swimming in South Africa with a cut on your foot, you should definitely stop that shit right now.

    This message is for the most part woven through your 10 rules, but thought I would add my 10 crowns.

  9. Hello Dan and every visiting soul
    Thank you for Dreams Around the World, words which are in my predictive text, sharing with others to try to help them understand the whole crazy amazing (cramazing) head they have, and their potential. Videos which truly help, combined with therapy, MBTI and investigating, noticing psychology and patterns everywhere. Discovering the choice of positivity through these resources, has probably saved my life and deeply enhanced it. Being aware of, managing and quashing triggers and meltdowns. Dropping toxic, spinning things up and dropping the ‘but’ are new default. It’s incredible, especially after 43 years of being unaware! Time for change is here. The rules back it all up too. Phew! By the way, the Universe has also been providing the best music playlist ever to help things along, many thanks for that
    I should have probably sent this in an email So much is connected, the ketogenic diet and my older son’s terminal brain cancer and my epilepsy, my younger son’s anxiety, we are all ENFPs, with amazing ENFPness (also in predictive, thank you inner teenager ). I hope I can manage it all better with more knowledge. Stop being a dinner lady and cleaner, and help myself and others as I begin to go for a career in psychology. Good change.
    Thank you for reading, if you got this far! Must go and do stuff now, including finding a better email app thing, so I can check regularly without technology riling me

  10. The 10 rules were so helpful and was just what I needed to read at this time of my life were I was stuck between two decisions. Thanks for taking the time to do this

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