Most of what we do is subconscious, driven by our habits. The rest is conscious, primarily driven by our principles. In addition to dictating our conscious actions, principles also guide which habits we decide to create.
If we want to improve ourselves and become more effective, our habits and principles are the places we can get the most leverage. A good habit like eating healthy can affect nearly every aspect of our lives, just as a principle like always telling the truth can improve our relationships and lower our mental load.
Just as I don’t think there’s a universal set of habits that’s right for everyone, I don’t think there is a set of principles that’s right for everyone. Even so, it’s always interesting to hear what others’ principles and habits are, to use as inspiration for creating our own.
I follow my principles very closely, but not completely. Sometimes a situation calls for deviation, and other times I simply fail to stick to my principles. The former is okay, but the latter is something I try to minimize. With that in mind, here are four of my own.
Favor Long Term Over Short Term
I put this principle first because I think it may be the most important and universal. Whenever I’m trying to make a decision, I will think out months or years into the future and try to guess what would leave me in a better place then.
This often makes otherwise difficult decisions very easy. Should I buy this thing I want? Well, if I’m going to lose interest in it in the future and it will depreciate, then I really don’t want it. Which Sett feature should I work on next? Whichever one is going to make the most users the most happy in the long run.
In general I feel like enough good things happen in the short term that I don’t need to optimize for it. By favoring the long term over the short term, I guarantee that those good things keep happening, and I can set my sights higher.
Tell the Truth
I always tell the truth. The only exceptions I can think of are when I’ve promised someone not to reveal something and it’s asked by someone else, or when I’m talking with an authority figure and it will make both of our lives easier if I lie. With people I know, I never lie.
Telling the truth is broader than not lying, though. It also means being proactive about saying things that need to be said and being authentic. Those are sometimes the hard bits.
Besides the benefits of serving those around you and not having the cognitive load of trying to keep lies straight, telling the truth also helps you make other decisions well. If I know that I’m going to tell the truth about everything I do, and never hide it, I am more likely to make decisions that follow my other principles and ethics.
Output over Input
We can divide the way we spend time roughly as input and output. Input is reading, watching TV, listening to music, and eating great food. Output is creating work, making connections with other people, and using our hands to build things.
There is obviously a time for input, but whenever there’s any doubt as to what I should be doing, I favor output. This is because output teaches just as well as input does, and we have a societal bias towards input. It’s easier to watch TV or movies, so I have to stack the deck in favor of writing, programming, and even drawing.
I believe that our time on earth should be used to benefit others, making life one big pay-it-forward ponzi scheme. By setting our sights low, towards just making a few people’s lives a little better, we can take the pressure off ourselves that might otherwise drive us to try to save the entire world.
Being different has value on its own because it gives people alternatives and can inspire them to break out of the mold. When you do something very different, even as minor as figuring out how to make living in RVs really great, you get that chance to impact people in a small way.
So I don’t insist that everything I do be radical or crazy, but when I am deciding between two options and one is rarely or never done, I always go for that one.
Rather than wait until I’m 100% sure on something, I’ll jump in at 75%. This means that I make a lot more mistakes than most people, but it also means that overall I’m still making more decisions, and making way more of them than average.
I believe that the quality of my life, as well as the impact I’m able to make, will be controlled largely by my ability to make a lot of good decisions. By not waiting for certainty, I get to make maybe twice as many decisions, and they’re probably not much worse than they would be if I took more time. After all, most of the information we need comes in the beginning, and the rest of the information often serves just to make us more comfortable with the decision we’ve really already made.
These are just a few of the principles I live by. Simply having principles helps me fulfill the last one I mentioned, because many decisions are already made for me when I decided on the principle. If you find yourself in angst over decisions, or you feel like you aren’t a great decision maker, it might be worth the time to really think about what you believe, and codifying it into principles that you can act on.
I’m going to be in Austin for SXSW from March 5th – 11th. My schedule is pretty busy and I have a lot of friends to see, but I will be speaking at the Give Get Win Tour.
The San Francisco tour was a LOT of fun. The speakers were great and I got to meet a lot of awesome readers. We spent two hours or so after the tour hanging out having interesting conversations, so please join me in Austin and help support Give Get Win!
Photo is Daniel, a reader I met at the tour. Thanks for sending the photo!