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  4.  | The Art of Setting Rules: Define your Non-Negotiables

Do you know what really matters to you?

Have you honestly figured out what is important?

Not like ‘I have to watch Yellowstone’ important, but I am prepared to fight tooth and nail important.

If the poo-hit-the-fan tomorrow, would you have no problemo making decisions because you have mentally prepared yourself on what ultimately guides your decisions?

Having set principles to guide you will make you feel empowered and in control.

This life is YOURS. You must set the rules.

What are Non-negotiables

Non-negotiables are the things you will not negotiate on. They follow your values and principles and define not only what you will and won’t accept from others but also what you will and won’t accept from yourself.

They are the big-time deal breakers. They are the promises you keep to yourself, your family, and your team.

They are unique to you and your situation; only you can determine what they are, and only you can manage them. They are there to guide you through hard times when decision-making is difficult. 

With predetermined rules set in place, your focus won’t waiver from what you truly believe. Non-negotiables can be anything.

Here are some examples:

  • not working on weekends – family time
  • not drinking and driving
  • church on Sunday
  • scheduling exercise each day
  • getting up early
  • picking your child up from school
  • being in bed by 11 pm
  • having dinner with your family
  • analog Sunday (no email, no cell phone, no Facebook)
  • eating well and staying hydrated
  • Calling your parents/children weekly
  • donating 10% to a charity or your church
  • telling the truth

Examples of Non-Negotiables in Action

One example of strong non-negotiables is those of Chik-fil-A and Hobby Lobby.

Although I may always not agree with the views of either of the companies, I do appreciate and support their stringent non-negotiable of being closed on Sunday. To them, Sunday is for family, and they want their employees to have this time to enjoy.

Being closed on Sunday, every Sunday may be a huge financial loss, but one that they are willing to take for their values.

Other strong non-negotiables have been seen by Tim Tebow, Wally de Backer, and Gary Vaynerchuk.

Whether you agree with them or not, you can see that the money doesn’t matter; the non-negotiable does.

Could you stand behind your values if it meant losing millions of dollars?

When you clearly define what is important to you and are prepared to follow through the money won’t matter. Judgment from others won’t matter. These are promises you are prepared to keep, no matter what. (Powerful stuff here.)

So how can you start to define what your non-negotiables are and implement a plan that works for you?

Try these steps to get you going.

1. Get clear

Identify what your non-negotiables are, write them down, and ensure you are clear on what is non-negotiable and the ‘nice to haves’ in your life.

Start by brainstorming what matters most to you. What values and principles guide you? What things do you refuse to budge on?

Go through this list and separate what is truly a non-negotiable and what is just ‘nice to have’.

This list is YOURS.

It will be different for everyone. Don’t feel apologetic about anything on it.

Own each item, and stand up for them as they truly define what matters to you.

2. Keep current

As your life changes, so does what is important to you. Review your list a few times a year, to make sure your non-negotiables still resonate with you.

Major life changes such as having children, getting married, or changing careers are all times that your non-negotiable list must be reviewed and updated. (more on this below)

3. Get aligned

How do your non-negotiables align with your values and your goals? Check in on these key points and you will make sure your actions are aligned with what really matters.

Again, if your goals change, you may need to readjust your priorities.

4. Communicate it

It is one thing to decide on your non-negotiables, but it’s another thing to actually live by them. Communicating with people that matter in your life – like your team or family – is very important.

Do not run your life in a bubble!

Letting people know what is important to you and why will allow others to support you and help you stay on track.

Getting clear on what matters most to you, setting your non-negotiables around that, and then following through on them can really make a massive difference in all aspects of your life.

So learn the art of setting rules. It might just change everything.

When Your Non-negotiables Change

There are times in your life that you will want to revisit and review what’s important. Some of these times come naturally with maturity; you think a little differently once you have more life experience under your belt.

For example, once I traveled outside of the United States I had a different worldview. My life “bubble” expanded, and I thought in bigger terms. Travel can do this for you.

Outside of general maturity, there are other times you should review what’s a priority in your life.

Some of these times include:

  • Getting married
  • Having children
  • The passing of a loved one
  • Graduating college
  • Near-death experience
  • Major injury or diagnosis
  • Kids leaving home
  • Retirement

There are a few big changes in my life where my life-view changed, and my non-negotiables changed (or grew), as well.

Becoming a Business Owner

Once I started my own business, my priorities changed big time. I started my business out of necessity, so there wasn’t time to plan my business around my values.

I didn’t even know that was a thing. 

That was until things went wrong. Non-negotiables in business will guide you through the tough times.

Once I experienced a couple of disrespectful clients, had a couple of customers not pay, and had clients and partners not do what they said they would do, I knew I needed to set some rules.

One of these is:

We only work with clients that are serious and have a passion for business like we do. This means they will follow through and do what needs to be done to succeed. These clients won’t waste our time.

We also only work with businesses that we believe in and align with our values. Being patriotic and family-oriented guides us in picking clients that are “our people.” And that’s important to us.

My values actually didn’t change. These just grew out of what was already there, and now needed to come to the surface.

If you’re a business owner, you need to find your business non-negotiables so your business works with your goals and values and not against you.

Joining the Army

Joining the army was an amazing experience. I got money for college, I pushed through and accomplished things I never imagined, and I met amazing people from around the globe. And I wasn’t patriotic before I joined the military. In fact, I probably didn’t even understand what it meant—what it really meant.

After losing battle buddies, seeing the support (and hatred) for the US when I was stationed overseas, and understanding the true meaning of camaraderie and freedom, my worldview again changed.

I value supporting our troops, our veterans, and our law enforcement. And those values help guide my decisions, including my choice of friends, how I vote, and where I want to live.

These are all values that I want to pass to my kids, and I want to have friends and neighbors that value them too.

My Mom Got Cancer

This was another time that changed my life and my priorities. If you’ve experienced a loved one going through cancer treatments, you know how much it makes you look at your own life. It’s one of those times you realize your own fragility, at least it did for me. I saw the pain, suffering, and hard decisions she had to make through her treatments. I felt my mom was disappearing before my eyes. I hoped my kids never had to go through anything like this.

Sean and I began talking more about growing older and how we wanted to live. We talked about my mom and her cancer, about my grandpa struggling to breathe his last years with emphysema, and Sean’s grandpa dying suddenly of a heart attack.

Obviously, you can’t prevent everything, but what can you do that would help?

We already didn’t drink or smoke, but at the time, we didn’t prioritize exercise. We ate well, but we could do better. We both had back issues, and we know if we don’t take care of ourselves and stay strong and flexible, this could cause us problems as we age.

We made being as healthy as possible a big priority in our lives. And as a team, as a partnership, we decided this was a non-negotiable for us. And together, we live around this priority.

I hope those examples shed some light on how non-negotiables can work in your life. Many non-negotiables are around religion, so it’s nice to explore ones outside of one’s spirituality too. I hope it helps.

Now it’s your turn.


Do you already have a few non-negotiables you didn’t even realize? Have you had a life-changing event that requires a review of your values?

Go through the exercise above and work on defining your non-negotiables.

Printing them out and putting them in a space you will see daily can help solidify your promises to yourself.

Good luck, and come back and share with me.


About Digital Marketing Expert Torie Mathis

Torie Mathis helps entrepreneurs, like you, use digital marketing to grow your business without wasting time, money, or your sanity.  She is a best-selling author, Army veteran, speaker + trainer, and your digital marketing coach. You don't need crazy tech skills, buckets of cash, or dedicated staff to market your business. In fact, you don't even need a lot of time. What you need is to be SMART.

Torie hosts SMART AF, a show for non-techy entrepreneurs looking to grow their business, with her husband Sean and is the creator of SMART AF Magazine. Learn from Torie at the Smart Arsenal and on her channel.

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What do you think? Let's talk! Leave a comment.


  1. Penelope Arnold

    Hey Torie. I was the marketing director for Chick-fil-A back in the day ( I’m retired now) we did a survey to see what amount of money we were loosing by closing on Sunday. The spread sheet and work that went in to this is too much to go over in an email but we were surprised to find that we were not loosing any money by closing on Sunday. Bottom line is people made up the extra day of not coming by doubling up there visits on the week days!

    • Torie Mathis

      Thanks for sharing that Penelope, that is amazing. I had never lived near a Chick-fil-A until recently. I didn’t realize the grand scale of their customer loyalty. It seems the line is wrapped around the store day and night. I can understand why, though I don’t eat much fast food, the service and quality have always been on point when I visited. How do you find (or train) the nicest people ever? And when your values as a company align with your customer’s values that loyalty seems to compound. I am sure the same holds true for Hobby Lobby as well, which I do frequent often. 🙂 Thanks again.

  2. Ashley Evdokimo

    Thank you so much for sharing this! Non-negotiables are important and sometimes we can lose sight of them. I actually just spoke about non-negotiables in one of my blogs. How fitting 🙂

    • Torie Mathis

      Hi Ashley! I am excited when others speak about non-negotiables too! I am looking forward to reading your take on them. Thanks!

  3. Rachel Grace

    I just love this article! It helped me learn and define what’s most important to me (especially for the new year)! I hope you don’t mind me sharing it on my own blog 🙂 Thank you for your insight!

    • KJ Strong

      I was asked to make a list as a personal growth exercise. Your article has helped me understand exactly how to go about a non-negotiable list for my life! I’m super excited to begin! The very one that I know for sure is that I will honor God in all I do!



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hi im torie
I help entrepreneurs  learn digital marketing.
And I make it easy! 

You don’t need crazy tech skills, buckets of cash, or dedicated staff to market your business. You don’t even need a lot of time.

What you need is to be SMART.

Is YOUR marketing SMART?

Find out here.


Hi! I'm Torie!

Torie Mathis HeadshotI help entrepreneurs (like you) use digital marketing to get more clients + to make more money. And I make it easy! 

You don’t need crazy tech skills, buckets of cash, or dedicated staff to market your business. You don’t even need a lot of time.

What you need is to be SMART.


from your Digital Marketing Coach Torie Mathis!

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