Living life through principles

Last week, I wrote a bit about James Clear’s idea about setting identity-based habits versus outcome-based habits in your life. If we can set habits that are better aligned with our identity, it’s more likely that it will be sustainable. Every desirable habit that you do casts a vote about the person you want to become. You begin to actually believe you can become that type of person.

I think there’s a supporting element to identity-based habits — your principles.

If habits are your day-to-day behaviours that are on autopilot, then what do we do when you have to stop and think about a decision we need to make? It could be a simple decision like “what do I eat for lunch?” or a complex one like “do I take this job or not?” Either way, it’s going to require some amount of decision-making to figure out what you want to do.

This is where principles come in. Life is complex but if we have guiding principles that are aligned with our identity, we might be able to make better, more consistent decisions. Much like an aligned habit will cast a vote of confidence, decisions that are aligned with your principles can further instill that confidence.

Principles don’t get developed overnight, of course. It can take years to craft out a set of principles that will help guide your decision-making. But it’s better to start thinking about them now.

The first principle

Richard Feynman was a prominent physicist known for his work in theoretical physics and quantum mechanics. Perhaps one of the smartest men in his generation, even he knew that we could become over confident in our own abilities and self perception. He’s famously quotes having said:

The First Principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.

It’s easy to think that when you achieve competency in something you know enough about that topic. It’s easy to let you ego take over and begin to protect your self image about how smart, how strong, how secure, etc. etc. you might be. While this might be comforting it’s a dangerous place to be.

Why? Because you stop learning. You start creating blindspots because you’re not absorbing new information coming in about yourself or the environment around you. You miss new opportunities that could take you to the next level.

Feynman kept The First Principle top of mind by constantly challenging himself in new endeavours totally unrelated to physics. He would learn how to draw, study biology, hike the Mayan pyramids, or investigate how dogs’ sense of smell worked. He lived a life of curiosity – ignoring what other people thought of him along the way.

We should always keep The First Principle in mind. Acknowledging that whether we’re just starting out or at the top of our field that we can always learn something.