Guiding principles. Why do you do what you do?

I’ve been reading Ray Dalio’s book Principles over the last few days. It talks about Ray’s principles and experiences of building Bridgewater Associates into one of the most successful hedge fund managers in history. It dissects his life and work principles which is a fascinating read. Rays humility and open mindedness is what makes him interesting. For overachievers I highly recommend picking up his book to get deep into the psyche of someone as extraordinary as Ray. And to learn from his wisdom and principles both in investing and in life.

The book in particular really hits home as over the last few years I have made a much more conscious effort to define a clear set of principles and values to predicate my actions on. To keep myself accountable and honest to the actions that bring intrinsic value and to reduce the ones that don't.

Being a designer I was curious to see if it was possible to design a positive system for living. Lifestyle design if you will, a term coined by Tim Ferris. I’ve been experimenting over the last 3 years and I can only speak for myself and my circumstances, but the answer is yes.  Self reflection and having a clear set of principles helped me work on and create a life of meaningful and playful work and a life that is both challenging, exciting and fulfilling. 

It serves as a reflection of how I’m navigating my life. A life where my actions and experiences try to match my intrinsic values as often as possible. There are 3 key pillars that I focus on. I’ve mentioned them here in the past, but I will re-iterate them for the purpose of this article. Everything I do is predicated on:

1. Happiness
Creating happiness, for myself, and those I care deeply about. My family, my friends, my students, my community, people who read this newsletter/blog and strangers I meet. How can I achieve this? What makes me happy? What makes others happy? I identified key activities and actions that satisfy this criteria. I keep tabs on activities that make me happy, and actions that bring happiness to others. I wrote about this a while back, if you’re interested you can check it out here. It’s called What makes you happy? Codifying happiness.

2. Freedom
Freedom of the mind, freedom in my circumstances and freedom of choice and time. Will what I am doing going to create freedom in my life? Or will it create more complexity, more baggage, more chains and more unnecessary obstacles that hold me back from the things that matter. Freedom starts with the conscious choices we make both in our minds and in our actions and what we surround our life with. Freedom allows you to do and be who you are. It also means that you make the choice, your choice, of creating responsibilities for yourself. 

3. Contribution

Thinking bigger than myself. What can I contribute to the world? Who and how can I help? It is important to extend beyond myself. Satisfying the above criterias I try to navigate a life of positive contribution. Actions for good, for the sake of contribution and impact and not for praise. 

Everything I do gets scrutinised under this lens. The actions that are inline with these pillars means I am on the right path. That even though at times they may seem difficult, on a macro level they are what matters deeply to me and my own set of guiding principles. 

Key takeaway

The purpose of this post is about one thing. To help you define your own set of guiding principles. To bring awareness on how having high level principles can help your decision making, and to help you navigate a more meaningful life and career.

Jot down a few of the things that are important to you or interest you, that you’re passionate about and makes you feel alive. Then start to group them and see if there is an overarching and common theme among them. It will help you recognise what is important and what is just things we react to aimlessly in our lives. Activities that don’t contribute to our values and principles but can take up a lot of our energy and time. 

Life is interesting because it is not clear cut and things constantly change, both for better or worse. Having a set of principles will help bring a bit more clarity to ours lives and the actions that we take. Principles influence actions, actions create results that manifest themselves in the world. Even in times of struggle if you know why you do what you do, it will give you a roadmap to do the things that matter to you.

Define what your principles are.