Sticking to Your Principles

Growth, Principles

The other day, my little sister and a friend of mine were talking about how they loved to stay up late.
“Yeah, but I always regret it in the morning,” my friend said.
My little sister shrugged. “I’m pretty sure everyone does.”

I think life is too short to live with regrets, so it’s my goal to live with as few as possible. In doing this, I’ve found the most effective tool to be principles.

But what are principles, exactly?

“Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.”
-Proverbs 4:26

“I think it is undeniably true that the human brain must work in models. The trick is to have your brain work better than the other person’s brain because it understands the most fundamental models—ones that will do the most work per unit.”
-Charlie Munger

“With time I realized that reflecting on mistakes would give me gems. I would say, “Why did I make that mistake?” And I’d write down a rule. I wrote those principles down and then put them into algorithms.”
-Ray Dalio

Whether it’s establishing your ways, a mental model, or an algorithm, it’s the same thing. The last two men I quote actually used these principles for investing, but even if you’re not an investor, you can still use these effectively to prevent yourself from making mistakes.

Sometimes, I form these principles based off of other people’s experience. For example, I’ve heard dozens of times how you shouldn’t change yourself or your future plans based on a person you’re dating (after all, you might not even be together for longer than a few months), so I’ve made that a principle I always follow. However, you’ll often find that experience is the best teacher. You’ll often learn more from your mistakes than you do the experiences of others.

I’ve often kept these principles in my head—and I’m sure many of you have as well—but recently, I’ve started a notebook of principles, so I can glance back at it to help me remember. If you’d like to do the same, then there are two ways (that I know of) to do it: The Never Again Tool and the SAT Study Guide.

For the Never Again Tool, all you have to do is fill in the blank:
1. If I could do that over again, what I’d do differently is___.
2. I would do things differently because ___.
3. My commitment to do this is ___. (1-10, 10 being you absolutely will)
4. A good person to hold me accountable would be ___.

So here’s how I’d fill out my Never Again
1. If I could do that over again, I would keep quiet until I could get my emotions and attitude under control.
2. I would do things differently because by speaking when my emotions are at the wheel, I sin against God, disrespect my parents, and hurt others.
3. My commitment to do this is 10.
4. Good people to hold me accountable would be my brother and dad.

The SAT Study Guide is a method I discovered while studying for the SAT, as you can imagine 😉

Problem:
What I should have done:
What I did do:
Why I did it:
HSH (How to Solve Hint, which essentially tells me why the right solution is the better choice and how to reach it)

Here’s how I’d fill it out:

Problem: A guy is texting me late at night or past my usual bedtime.
What I should’ve done: I should’ve stopped texting at my bedtime.
What I did do: I texted a bit too late.
Why I did it: Because I wasn’t thinking about the consequences of staying up late, and I felt like texting.
HSH: My judgment is impaired late at night, and my impulsive behavior has caused me to lose time and sleep, so I’m going to stop texting at my typical bedtime. After all, what time I get to bed determines the quality of the next day, and I don’t want to compromise on my bedtime just for a guy.

While it might sound boring to let a bunch of self-made rules dictate your life, I’ve found this process to be really helpful. As human beings, we’re rather inconsistent and emotional creatures. By establishing clear-cut principles, we can make decisions based on who we are—or who we’re trying to be—rather than impulse.

What principles have you established for yourself?

2 Comments

  1. Paige H says:

    Great article! I enjoyed this.

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