The Intense Power of Non-Negotiation (or, Why a Personal Code of Ethics is Essential to Achieve Your Most Important Goals)
I challenge you to refuse to drink water for the next nine days. Or to avoid breathing for the next two hours. Or to stop thinking about anything for the next twenty-two seconds starting right now.
Yes, they’re all ridiculous challenges. And that is the point.
Until your body and brain give out, doing these things is the very definition of non-negotiable. You don’t have the option to stop breathing for just a couple of hours.
And then once your body and brain do give out, the inability to do these things – at least with our present brains and body and at least as far as we know – is the very definition of non-negotiable too.
But can you ever choose to be this non-negotiable in the aspects of life where the choice is not already made for you? And should you?
To answer the second question first, yes you definitely should. Flexibility is an admirable trait in almost everything, but not in everything.
In order to thrive – not merely in a monetary sense but in the much greater sense of loving and respecting who you are and what you do – you do need to define what really matters to you, what life-goals are truly most important and indeed define you back, and then draw impenetrable lines around those goals.
Every successful organization understands this principle. Christians and Jews have The Ten Commandments. Doctors have The Hippocratic Oath. The United States has a Bill of Rights. Wal-Mart has the lowest prices, always.
Whether they’re called “commandments” or “rights” or “rules” or even just a slogan, “Honor thy mother and thy father” and and “Free speech” and “The lowest prices, always” are really all among the biggest and most important goals for the people within those organizations.
So what really matters to you?
What are your biggest and most important goals… your life-goals?
You may certainly find yourself citing The Ten Commandments or your religion’s big essentials in your answer, but what else? What is so central to your life that moving to achieve it (at least while God and nature allow you the means to do so) is non-negotiable?
Be honest, and that means skipping the guilt which can make you dishonest … some of your life-goals may sound noble, such as writing that one book that brings hope and joy to hundreds or millions of people, but others may sound selfish, such as making enough money to retire rich so you can do whatever you want the rest of your life. They are your life-goals, no one else here is qualified to judge them (though many think they are), so honestly figure them out for yourself.
Which leads us back to the first question… can you choose to be non-negotiable in those aspects of life where the choice is not already made for you?
Of course you can.
In fact you already are. You already have a “Personal Code of Ethics” – another term for your non-negotiable big goals – that you are living by, though you may not be immediately conscious of all the non-negotiables already in your existing code. So to refresh you, here are a couple possibilities:
- If you have children, you would likely die for them if that was required for them to live. You likely feel unconditional (i.e., non-negotiable) love for them, and share the feeling I have toward my kids that I would “do anything” for them. Just shift the words around a bit and you’ll see this is a big life-goal: “I will do whatever I can to help my children be happier.”
- No matter how irritating people get – and man, can they get irritating – you likely would never kill anyone, unless it was in self-defense (or defense of your family or country). “Unless it is necessary for defense, I will never resort to killing someone or even trying to.”
The list can go on, but you get the point: there are already moves within your power to make, or avoid making, but to you they really are not choices at all – there is no flexibility, they are non-negotiables – because you have consciously deemed it so.
So consciously give this the consideration it deserves: what life-goals belong on your list of non-negotiables? Most importantly, which ones should belong in your personal code of ethics (or whatever you choose to call it) that you currently are not treating as such, that you are currently bending on or have already broken on?
Take a quiet hour or two to build your list of non-negotiables. Add to it as needed. And be sure to revisit it often to reaffirm your conviction to achieving these goals.