Cultivating a list of “life principles” can help you discover what you want and how you can align your actions with your values. It enables you to bring your unseen and unquestioned perspectives and ways of being into the open where you can critically examine and change them.
I started working on my own list of life principles in my late teenage years because I noticed a tendency to get washed away by the currents of everyday life. Instead of worrying about what other people thought and what the environment demanded of me, I began to pay closer attention to what I believed and valued. Increasingly, I saw every book and every conversation as an opportunity to gain clarity about my thinking.
However, there was still a large gap between my values and my day-to-day decisions and actions. Cultivating a list of life principles and reviewing them once every week or two helped me narrow that gap. The fact that this list changed a lot over time helped me appreciate that there was probably no point at which I’d have figured it all out, but that I was going to remain a work-in-progress. I’m sharing the current list below.
Looking back, I notice how critical this practice of self-authorship was to my learning and growth in my twenties. It helped me lean into my ambition, cultivate a growth mindset, and become a more effective leader and a better friend, among many things.
And yet, I used to keep this list to myself and not tell anyone about it out of fear of being judged, expecting that others might not be able to appreciate this rather unconventional practice. At this point, I feel comfortable sharing myself more openly, which prompted me to write this post. At the same time, I’ve also become more realistic about the idea of life principles itself, appreciating that life isn’t black or white and that no set of principles will ever do it justice. With that in mind, here’s the list.
It’s time to stop being vague. If you wish to be an extraordinary person, if you wish to be wise, then you should explicitly identify the kind of person you aspire to become.Epictetus
- Pause and attend.
- Notice that everything is simply appearing.
- Relax in the midst of struggle and unsatisfactoriness.
- The quality of your attention determines the quality of your life.
- Dwell in reality and don’t argue with it.
- Relinquish your reaction to experience by simply noticing it.
- It’s okay to feel this way right now.
- Don’t wish to be fulfilled. Instead, welcome all things.
- Begin again in each moment.
- Step away and look at the situation from above.
- Focus on what you can control. Embrace what you can’t control.
- It’s not external events that upset you, but your judgment of them.
- You are nowhere. There are no bounds between you and the world.
- You are not your feelings, thoughts, and other contents of consciousness.
- Ignore the crowd. Improve your life in relation to yourself, not others.
- Keep your identity small.
- Everything is impermanent. There’s nothing to hold on to.
- Don’t cling to ideas. Keep your mind open to what is.
- Let go of the results of your actions.
- You are entitled to nothing.
- Enjoy this moment where your consciousness is bright.
- You will die soon. Let this teach you how to live fully.
- Compare downwards to feel how lucky you are.
- Marvel at the universe.
- Trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.
- Own your fear and lean just beyond it, in every aspect of your life.
- Choose to be excited rather than afraid.
- Your life shrinks or expands in proportion to your courage.
- Your mission is your priority.
- Dedicate yourself to excellence.
- Always have a challenge.
- Every action is a vote for who you want to be.
- Take responsibility for your feelings and needs.
- Act for the well-being of the whole world.
- Find a better way.
- Pain plus reflection equals progress.
- Treat setbacks as a test to your ingenuity and resourcefulness.
- Don’t cling to your comfort.
- Diversify in everything. Always have a backup.
- Do what you can, then let things take their course.
- Follow your curiosity, wherever you can find it.
- Treat life as a series of experiments. Do what will teach you the most.
- There’s no treasure at the end of the process. The process is the treasure.
- See if you can enjoy this.
- In the long run, the truth comes out.
- Unobstructed self-expression: nothing to hide, nothing to defend.
- Align what you say with what you think and feel.
- Seek out games where honesty is the dominant strategy.
- Treat everyone as family and assume other people like you.
- Hold space and experience the full range of feelings behind it.
- Resist envy. Most of life isn’t zero-sum.
- Occasionally forgive.
- Action allows you to see the world for what it really is.
- Let your actions control your emotions.
- Ideas are worth nothing unless executed.
- Optimism in the face of uncertainty.
If you’d like to explore these ideas further, here are a few resources that you’ll find useful:
- Meditations – Marcus Aurelius (Gregory Hays translation)
- Tao Te Ching – Lao-Tzu (Stephen Mitchell translation)
- The Bhagavad Gita (Stephen Mitchell translation)
- Principles – Ray Dalio
- Algorithms to Live By – Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths
- How to Fight a Hydra – Josh Kaufman
- Waking Up – Sam Harris
- Take Ownership of Your Future Self – Harvard Business Review