We all have some sort of principles that we at least claim to have, whether or not we actually live by them. Very few people, on the other hand, will even claim to live by their principles all of the time. At best most people will claim that they try most of the time.
If you want to have a principle driven life, the first thing you have to do is determine what your principles are. Most people have never really sat down to determine what their principles are.
The way to begin determining your principles is to sit down and try to think of things you would always or never do, regardless of circumstances. The list of "never do" could include things like killing someone, stealing, or abusing a child. The list of "always do" things could include helping a family member in need, staying faithful to your spouse, or practicing your faith.
When you look at these lists, there should be some core things that join them together, things like not backing out on commitments, placing family above self, or not harming the defenseless. These things that lie behind the actions on your "never do" and "always do" lists are your principles.
So, now you at least know what your principles are… what next? Well, the first thing to do is commit them into your memory and your heart. That way they are always with you, and you can always consider them when deciding which path to take at any particular point in life.
Then you can start using your principles to guide your life. A good start to living by your principles would be these seven pillars of a principal driven life:
Honesty is the most important of all of these pillars, especially when it comes to being honest with yourself. A lot of people even lie to themselves about what their principles are… telling themselves that they hold the principles that they have been told they should.
If this pillar should crumble, it can often bring others down with it.
In order to maintain your integrity, you have to keep your focus relatively simple. That's why you boil your lists of "always do" and "never do" down to the principles behind them… so that you have something more simple to focus upon. Your integrity suffers as you try to be too many things to too many people all at the same time. Remember… always return to your principles.
It's important to know your priorities, and remind yourself of them regularly, if you want to keep focused on your principles. Your priorities grow out of your principles… they are more specific implementations of the philosophy that your principles embody. Figure out what your top 5-10 priorities are, and make sure that they take precedence over things of lesser importance.
You also need to re-evaluate your principles regularly, to make sure that it reflects who you are now.
Living by your principles requires commitment. You have to commit to your principles, giving yourself over to following them with your whole heart. If you are not living a principle driven life whole-heartedly, it's nearly impossible to keep from slipping.
Speaking of slipping, persistence is the next pillar. Every time you slip, you have to pick yourself back up and move forward once again, refocusing yourself on your principles and renewing your commitment.
Learning From Your Past
Learning from your past is essential… it's how you learn what brings you closer to your principles and what takes you farther away. Sometimes which direction a specific action will take you is not obvious, but if you learn from your past, you can evaluate it in light of prior experience, and at least make a more educated guess.
Living a principle driven life always comes back to being yourself. It's virtually impossible to live by someone else's principles… you need to find those principles which are yours. Anything else adds an incredible amount of difficulty to living by your principles, and hurts the honesty and integrity pillars, weakening the whole structure.
The key thing to remember is that a principle driven life is about living life according to your principles, not those that you have been told you should have by someone else. Several of the pillars listed above reflect this… honesty, integrity, be yourself. If you are pretending to a principle you don't truly believe, that violates all three of those pillars, and will make it much harder for the others support your true principles.
That bears repeating… each of the pillars above that you break makes the burden fall that much harder on the others, increasing the strain and the likelihood of failure. When all seven are intact, keeping the focus of your life on your principles is, relatively speaking, easy. With each one that falls, it becomes harder and harder to keep your focus, as some of your attention gets shifted to making the remaining pillars balance the load.
The good news, however, is that you can repair a pillar… it just takes time and healing.
So what are your principles… and how many of the above pillars are still standing in your life right now?
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