“We control our actions, but the consequences that flow from those actions are controlled by principles” — Stephen Covey
Dalio attributes his success to a core set of principles, which he says, “serve as the foundations for behaviour that get you what you want out of life.”
Principles, however, are not just for the ‘Ray Dalio’s’ of the world.
On the 8th of October 2013, I experienced my first day clean after 15 years of chronic heroin addiction. Since then, I’ve become a PhD student, a keynote speaker, a writer, and a lecturer at the top two universities in my country.
I’ve also recently acquired a book deal with a mainstream publisher, and I’m in talks with Virgin Media (Ireland’s number one commercial broadcaster) about a TV show concerning the tactics I used to change my life.
So what changed? How did I go from addict to PhD in the space of 5 years?
I developed a set of principles for every aspect of my life. They have not only helped me to recover from addiction; they have helped me to thrive, providing the foundations for the amazing life I have today.
So what exactly are principles?
Principles are fundamental truths that are permanent, unchanging, and universal in nature. For example, if you drop something, it will fall on the ground. This is a natural law that is controlled by the principle of gravity.
Human behaviour follows the same rules. If I lie to you, you’re not going to trust me; that’s a natural law.
It’s the same for many human behaviours. If you always walk your talk, people will respect you. If you meditate every day, you’ll be less reactive to challenging situations.
The point is, if you implement principles on a regular basis, it’s a natural law that corresponding improvements will occur over time.
Here are 8 timeless principles that have brought remarkable joy, simplicity, and success into my life:
1. Prioritize and execute
Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL commander and leadership expert, knows a thing or two about stressful situations. His principle of ‘Prioritize and execute’has helped me with many of life’s challenges.
When I feel overwhelmed, especially with work, I simply take a step back and assess the situation. I then choose the task that will have the biggest impact and execute it. When I complete the primary task, I move on to the next one, and then the one after that. When I implement this principle, I immediately have clarity, and I’m no longer overwhelmed.
2. Take relentless action
If nothing changes, nothing changes. This seems obvious, but so many people expect change without ever taking action. They talk action but rarely act.
I like to take relentless action, which simply means taking action every single day. I meditate every day. I write every day. I practice gratitude every day. I work on my number one goal every day. I show up every single day. If you implement this principle, you’ll see massive progress in your life.
3. Practice consistency over intensity
Action is what gets you started, and intensity has its place, but consistency is the holy grail.
How do you keep those pearly whites so clean? By visiting your dentist, or brushing your teeth every day? It’s the same for fitness. Jumping on a treadmill for ten hours won’t prepare you for a marathon. Only consistent exercise will make you fit.
It’s the same for anything worthwhile: eating healthy, building a business, personal development and relationships. If you want to see growth in these areas, you have to tend to them on a regular basis.
4. Keep all of your fires burning
I get easily excited by things I love. Sounds great, right? But this can lead me to ignore other important areas of my life.
For example, I often get immersed in writing at the expense of my social life. To stop this from happening, I assess each critical area of my life. This includes relationships, career, mind, health, spiritual, learning and finance. If I’m ignoring one of these areas, I simply throw a little spark on the fire to keep it smouldering over. In other words, I give each area enough time to ensure I have balance in my life.
5. Seek negative feedback
This is not for everyone, but I ruthlessly seek out negative feedback. This is not ‘negative’ in a conventional sense. It’s a form of learning which, for me, is 100% constructive.
When I’m knee deep in a project, it’s it difficult to see the wood from the trees. So I simply ask someone I trust (or someone who might disagree with me): “what would you do differently?” or “what am I doing wrong?” Not everyone is comfortable giving it to me straight, but when I find someone who does, the benefits are immense.
6. Play the long game
I like to set audacious goals, and a recent one was to connect with the most successful people in my country. My plan worked surprisingly well, and with an 81% success rate, I was delighted with the results.
After the initial engagement, however, I was overly eager to resume communications. As you can imagine, these are very busy people, and might not take kindly to me harassing them for their time. To alleviate my innate impulsivity, I implemented the ‘long game’ principle into my life. I simply reminded myself, “Play the long game. This is not a lack of action, but the timing of it”. This has paid huge dividends, and I have since developed close relationships with several of these high performers.
7. Life it up
This is my favourite life principle. It directs me to bring joy, energy and present moment awareness into my encounters with others. Even if I don’t feel like it, I just ‘life it up’, and the energy it creates is astounding.
I recently extended this principle after listening to the amazing Adam Robinson on the Tim Ferriss show. He suggests that we should lean into every moment expecting magic and miracles — what a way to live.
8. What would ‘Marcus and Eckhart’ do?
In times of uncertainty, I think of someone I respect and ask myself: “what would they do in this situation?”
It’s easy to get fixated on a single viewpoint, so this principle provides me with an alternative perspective when I feel stuck. I often use the great Roman emperor Marus Aurelius, or my favourite spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, but depending on the situation, it’s best to be selective.
Take away message
If you implement principles into your life, you will get closer to your goals every single day. This is a fact. This is a universal law of nature.
Principles will also make your life much simpler. They will guide your actions in times of uncertainty and provide you with a road-map when life gets tough.
Covey got it dead right. We control our actions, but everything after that is controlled by principles.