The Rule of Non-Recurring Events

Conventional wisdom—in fact rules of any kind – are a challenge to me. In Myers-Briggs terms, I’m a very high “N” (Intuitive), and in our own Trust Temperaments,
I rate as a Catalyst. Some rules are fine, like the laws of gravity, and the requirement that in the US we drive on the right-hand side of the road. Others, like speed limits, I tend to see as merely suggestions or guidelines.

That having been said, there’s one “rule” for decision-making that I’ve found enormously useful over the years.

That is The Rule of Non-recurring Events, and its corollary, Eat Outdoors Every Chance You Get.   Simply put, this means that every time you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you take it. Attending the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in person or watching it on television? No contest. Dragging yourself to your 20th high school reunion or going to a movie? The reunion wins; the movie will be out on Blue-ray, but your 20th reunion will never come again.

What makes this rule so worthwhile? First, it vastly simplifies decision-making when two or more events conflict. You just ask yourself: which is closer to being a non-recurring event, and your decision is made. It helps clarify tradeoffs.

Second, it reduces your regret quotient to almost nothing. The Beijing Olympics example comes from a friend of mine from Singapore, who opted to stay home rather than hassle the trip to China, and missed the world-class spectacular. And if your 20th reunion is about as much fun as senior English class was (no fun at all) at least you went, and have no regrets about missing it. And you’ll probably get a few funny stories out of it. It’s like a bad blind date; the worst experiences often yield the best funny stories.

The third, and probably biggest, benefit is that it helps us live in the moment, to have adventures, to stay out of ruts. It helps answer the question from the poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  

So I’m going to grab my sandwich and cup of coffee and eat outdoors; this particular perfect sunny day will not come my way again.

6 replies
  1. Wally Bock
    Wally Bock says:

    Nice, Sandy. I have the same rule, except for years it’s been the "Tell Your Grandchildren Rule." Is this an event you will tell the grandkids about? Given two events, which is closer?

    I’ve had to modify the rule slightly. I started using it when I barely had children. Now I have three grandsons, the oldest of whom is 14. (Yikes!!). So now it’s just the "Grandchildren Rule." Is this an event my grandkids will tell their friends, children and grandchildren about? Which is closest?
  2. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:


    Thanks for your version.  I like it a lot, and … I hope that once in a while we each have non-recurring events which we can’t tell the grandkids about ; ) 




  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    So, I’d like to share another perspective that triggers a few thoughts.

    First-grandparents and grandchildren. I’ve felt for years storytelling is a wonderful way to pass on notions, memes, cultural experiences and the like to grandchildren. I also believe grandparents are often better “mentors” for children than their parents.

    In today’s society, I’m curious if some children who are being brought up on electronics will have the attention span to focus on such stories for more than 90 seconds at a time, will have the curiosity to ask (deep?) questions and allow their imaginations to engage while they’re listening. Hmmm.

    Secondly, the idea of spontaneity and novelty. While I “get” the “once-in-a-lifetime” element, I prefer to ask whether I am “spending” or “investing” my time, energy and the like in such experiences. And why? Really, really why?

    Two recent experiences come to mind. One is tutoring a high-school senior a couple of years back whose parents were sending him to Germany for Winter break. When he returned, we had the usual conversation, “How was it?” and then I asked “So, what stood out to you as new, different, unusual or unexpected?” His reply, “Nothing really; everything is pretty much like here (U.S).” Hmmm

    The second was watching a television show last year in which contestants, about 25-35 years in age, were vying for some type of prize. One contestant was asked, "Do you like to travel and if so, what’s the country have you liked most? She replied., "I do travel. And, I  would say Greece. They really know how to party there." Hmmm


    So, I believe there are some folks to who like novelty (once-in-a-lifetime) experiences in the same vein they view every incoming message on their electronic device as a "one-off" (once-in-a-lifetime) experience or who wait on line in the rain for three days to buy the latest gadget – gotta do it now. Wonder if this energy carries over into a need for some "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences.


    So, I guess my perspective has to do with (1) having an experience and (2) getting/missing the meaning of the experience.


    I’m sure there is the notion "I would have never (known, discovered, found out….) if I didn’t do this, go there, etc. And, I’m fine with that. The curiosity for me is what questions one is asking one’s self (if one is asking one’s self any questions at all), or what premise one is assuming (if one has a premise), or what level of curiosity one is on (assuming one is curious about something) that might support one not just to have an experience but to get the meaning as well.


    In addition to the one who has the experience coming from an "experience-meaning" perspective, I hope some of those grandchildren will ask, "So what was in that experience for you?" "What lesson did you learn?" or "What did you see about yourself as a result of that experience" and the like.


    Like sitting outside….there are those who commune with nature, breathe deeply, write their poetry and music, meditate, stop thinking altogether and there are those who sit and fester with anger or frustration, watch the guys/gals walk by and silently or overtly make judgments or fight the fight with their ex. they’ve been fighting for the last 15 years, only now outside.


    So, there’s the experience and the meaning.


    Honestly, if my client in Vancouver offered me tickets to the Olympics or using his cabin on the lake in the woods for a week, I’d choose the latter – a "once-in-a-lifetime" event. But, that’s just me.

  4. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:


    Thanks for your always-thoughtful comments, and for always bringing us back (or really, up) to the level of "what does it mean?" 

    The 5 Whys from process engineering come into play when we look at our spiritual selves as well, don’t they?



  5. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    I’m not sure why I’m only just now seeing this blog post (?!) I guess the timing was right, as I’m looking at ways to be more productive in my daily life, and toward that end looking for ways to be more focused and decisive. It seems I am *always* plagued by what seem like tough “either/or” choices. Thank you for giving me a simple test at just the right time!


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