Principles

I recently had to write a review of Ray Dalio’s Principles (the first book) and that of course got me thinking about my own principles as it would anyone who’s come across the book. Now, I’m nowhere near Ray Dalio in terms of success or clout and I don’t consider myself a particularly valuable member of the species but I nevertheless decided to lay out my principles in the hope of, well, defining them. Here’s what I came up with:

Be realistic.

Most of my life I’ve been told my various people not to underestimate myself. I have, with time, learned not to do this but I strive to not go into the other direction. I try to be realistic about not just my abilities and shortcomings but the world around and everyone else, too. It helps me keep a clear head in everything I do.

I’ve always maintain that it’s better to underestimate yourself than be certain that whatever you do, you are the best. There’s simply no space to improve on perfection, is there? And there are so many ways to become better at things if you start with the belief that you suck.

Think about learning a language. Me, I’m struggling with Danish right now. I suck big time. The pronunciation is impossible for anyone with a normal human throat and mouth, there are way too many words different from their English equivalents (outrageous, right?) and the grammar can be a challenge. Plus, my memory is not what it was 20 years ago. But I keep at it. Because I love the sound of it. Because I’m very stubborn. But mostly because I suck at it and I don’t want to suck. Just watch me how  I get two glottal stops in one word right. It might take me about a century but I will get it right.

Fight the lost fight of objectivity.

Of course, complete objectivity and lack of bias is impossible unless you’re a machine but there’s nothing preventing us from at least trying to look at things from more than one perspective. This includes not just asking your significant other for their opinion and then dismissing it because of course you’re right. It means challenging your confirmation bias constantly, questioning your own opinions, until you find enough facts to either confirm them or change them.

Being able to see an issue from more than one perspective is truly invaluable. Talk about opening your mind. We all know that when you watch something from a certain angle in certain light makes it look a certain way that’s not necessarily the only way. It’s the same with abstract concepts, and we all know this, too, but oh, so often choose to forget it for the sake of the satisfaction we all invariably feel when we read/hear/watch something that confirms our opinion on the concept. Being right feels good. It also makes you blind to the truth more often than not. Dare to be wrong.  It’s very sobering.

Apply the scientific method.

Life is much easier if you follow it in every area it can be followed. I won’t struggle to supply my own definition, I’ll just use Elon Musk’s:

1. Ask a question.

2. Gather as much evidence as possible about it.

3. Develop axioms based on the evidence, and try to assign a probability of truth to each one.

4. Draw a conclusion based on cogency in order to determine: Are these axioms correct, are they relevant, do they necessarily lead to this conclusion, and with what probability?

5. Attempt to disprove the conclusion. Seek refutation from others to further help break your conclusion.

6. If nobody can invalidate your conclusion, then you’re probably right, but you’re not certainly right.

Okay, that’s not to be taken literally unless you are actually a scientist, in which case you’d already know how things are supposed to be done, but I try to stick to the general sequence of actions.

Don’t waste time on excuses.

Excuses are oh, so tempting. It’s so much easier to blame everything on someone else and everything around you, including the position of the stars and the phase of the Moon. I actually have to admit I have trouble sleeping when the Moon is waxing gibbous. Or was it waxing crescent? Whichever it is, I have trouble sleeping at the same time every month, so there may be something to this. A friend can’t sleep when the bloody thing is full.

But forget about the Moon. The great thing about excuses is that they spare you that stinking lead ball called responsibility.  Taking responsibility is very seldom fun. Most of the time it is the opposite of fun because if you take responsibility for something, you could be blamed for everything that goes wrong, right? You could be criticized. You could even be relieved of that responsibility if the powers that be find you’re not doing a good enough job of it. Nothing fun about that.

Still, taking responsibility for your actions and choices is the only way nature has so far found for us to come into our own, to achieve some degree of self-realization. To get to the top of Maslow’s pyramid, in other words. So take it. It’s heavy but the weight will do you good.

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