10 July, 2021 - 12 min read
The common phrase we all come across in our lives at some point, the principles to live by. I am a big believer in setting boundaries. Principles and values has helped me grow but also set boundaries. I deliberately define those parameters in life. Those parameters are not hard rules, but something I try to abide by. Adam Grant clarifies on how rules are different from values.
Don’t set rules, set values. Rules set limits that teach us to adopt a fixed view of the world. Values encourage us to internalize principles for ourselves. Instead of demanding attention, try talking to kids about why it’s important to listen. — Adam Grant
If I have to sum up my guiding principle in a few words, it is this:
The opposite of play is not work, but depression. Life is a game then. Ready, Set, Go! Play the game of inches by taking small, incremental and repetitive steps instead of giant leaps. The way to stay in the game for a long time is to work on hard problems which provides motivation and energy. The enemy of progress is perfection. Always have bias for action because it is the action that produces information. Lastly, have an abundance mindset over scarcity mindset because kindness has a longer shelf life.
Below are my core principles that I care to emulate in life. They don't go in any particular order. And the list below will of course expand as I accumulate more wisdom in life.
- Honesty: Without honesty none of the values below matter. It is easy to fool yourself subconsciously because your brain will allow you to play all sort of tricks. Once you give in to these tricks, breaking the honesty wall becomes a habit and lying becomes a norm. And yes, lying to yourself is not okay either! This is why honesty is the highest honor you will carry. It takes years to build reputation and minutes to break trust. The byproduct of being honest is authenticity and originality because it leads you to a path that you want to take, not led by someone else. If you ever screw up, actively seek out correction and accept ownership of your mistake. This is another trait of honest people.
- Respect & Be Kind: Kindness has a longer shelf life! Respect everything around you—people, work, time, money and relationships. I try not to overburden myself with acquaintances because it is very difficult to manage 100 long-term friendships versus 10 deeper ones. This is just one example of respecting relationships. You can respect others by giving them 3 things—being reliable, giving them 100% attention and making them feel good about themselves. You never know what others are going through. Be compassionate, respectful and never forget to smile.
- Intense Focus: Focus is a force multiplier both in work and life. Without intense focus everything else fails. And focusing on too many things is a recipe for a failure. Cultivate trust and attention. Protect your attention like you protect your friends, family, and money. Singular focus allows you to choose direction over speed. If you don't know the direction, it doesn't matter how fast you are traveling. Inversely, if you’re locked on to your desired destination, all progress is positive, no matter how slow you’re going. You’ll reach your destination eventually with intense focus and ruthlessly prioritizing.
- Hard Work & Hard Problems: Skills will only take you far but work ethic will define your character. Work on hard problems. When you solve hard problems, you are alive and relieved after solving. You can get to about 90th percentile in your field by working either smart or hard, which is still a great accomplishment. But getting to the 99th percentile requires both—you will be competing with other very talented people who will have great ideas and be willing to work a lot. You don't need to sacrifice life and hobbies while working hard. This is easy for people who see work playful. Momentum compounds, and hard work begets progress.
- Incremental Steps Over Long-Term: Incremental steps are better than a giant leap. Compound Interest is the most underrated law. Extreme patience with extreme focus with extreme decisiveness with a long-term view will do magic and wonders. It’s amazing how much of a competitive advantage can be found by simply having the disposition to wait longer than everyone else. Be the tortoise, not the hare! Take small steps in a sequence but with urgency. Smooth sailing is fast selling. Play long-term game with long-term people.
- Growth Without Goals: Expectations lead to disappointments. Don't expect. Trust the process. The means and the end are the same. When the process itself is the goal, magical things happen. Growth without goals is the ultimate goal. Have a life don’t have a career! Goals have an endpoint. System and process process don’t. Growth or progress which is structured and habitual, but adaptable and not pre-determined through the setting of rigid long-term goals. Scores and achievements are traps! Let the process take care of itself.
- Repetition, Effort & Deliberate Practice: Be so good that they can't ignore you. Key to becoming good to so good is to do boring tasks over and over again until you perfect it. Doing new and cool things is desirable but doing repetitive task is not. It will take many tries till you perfect your art. Use space repetition technique and focused/diffused mode. Consistency is the playground for perfection. Effort counts not passion; effort counts not talent. Deliberate practice is a key to repetition. Structured but flexible repetition is the best productivity tool. It doesn't matter what you are trying to become better at, if you only do the work when it’s convenient or exciting, then you’ll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results. The ability to show up everyday, stick to the schedule, and do the work, especially when you don't feel like it, is so valuable that it is literally all you need to become better 99% of the time.
- Generalist Polymath View: A generalist mindset can be a huge advantage. Ideas in isolation doesn't have much value, but when you connect constellation of ideas, it takes a meaningful form. Knowing the key drivers and major ideas in variety of fields is a huge source of leverage. It is difficult to study broadly and deeply, but the two aren't mutually exclusive. You have to be radically open-minded. It is easy to pay homage to Charlie Munger’s latticework of mental models, but when you live it, you see why he is right.
- First Principles Thinking: Seek fundamental truth by always going to the source and always asking why! Rationalize from the first principles thinking. Ideas need to be mapped to objective reality to draw facts. The mindset of optimistic contrarian is when you think clearly from the ground up. Tactics provide the “what” and the “how.” But if you want results no matter how the landscape changes, you must also understand the “why.” By understanding the principles that shape your reality, your “why” will more accurately guide your thoughts and actions.
- Lifelong Learner: To become a lifelong learner you have to prevent two biggest barriers—ego and blind-spot. Be radically open-minded. Your need to be right and having strong opinions will prevent you from learning less and falling short of your potential. Everyone perceives reality differently which puts a blind-spot barriers. Using multi-disciplinary approach and working with insightful and diverse people will narrow down your blind spot. Knowing too much is “the curse of knowledge” which is the inability to realize that other people with less experience than you have don’t see the world through the same lens you do. Hold thoughtful opinions loosely! Don't be married to an idea or be part of a cult. Update your knowledge as you progress in life.
- Abundance Over Scarcity Mindset: Being a life-long learner is not enough. You need to teach and share with others. Teaching requires a mindset of abundance. It requires you to be an anti-hater and anti-envious. There are two sets of people—people who contribute and people who don't. People with abundant mindset believe there is plenty in the world for everyone and are always happy to see others succeed. People with scarcity mindset tend to hoard because they are worried someone is going to get ahead. The zero-sum mindset is pure evil in my opinion. It leads to envy and unhappiness. Just look in a country like Haiti and you'll find a family living on $2/day is happy to share their meal with you as if they have enough to share. They should have a scarcity mindset, but it is the opposite. People with scarcity mindset are always unhappy because there is never enough. The joy lies in sharing with others.
- Inversion: Invert everything to refine your thinking. Instead of worrying about what it takes to be successful, ask yourself what will it take to be not successful. Be greedy when others are fearful and be fearful when others are greedy. Inversion prevents you from following the herd. Inversion allows you to remove blind-spots from your initial hypothesis. This of course contradicts to being open-minded so be careful. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard to let yourself have contrarian ideas about the future. So believe in yourself but self-belief must be balanced with self-awareness. Truth-seeking is hard and often painful, but it is what separates self-belief from self-delusion.
- Live Deliberately & Live For Today: How many of us settle into habits and simply live the same year over and over again, waiting for some future event to occur before we start living? While you wait for that raise or career opportunity or ideal relationship, you tend to forget that life is happening now. Living deliberately is about awareness and purposeful action. If you take the necessary steps to craft each day deliberately, when our final day arrives you'll be able to look back at a life brimming with joy, fulfillment and satisfaction. Today is all matters! Today, jettison the dead weight that’s holding you down.
- Emotional Waves: There is no such thing as being always happy. If you are sad, accept sadness. Accept every emotion to the fullest and ride it out with laughter and a sense of humor. Always reflect back and show gratitude. When the mind experiences something pleasant or unpleasant, it simply understand things as they are, then there is no suffering. Experience joy or sadness without giving into craving. Suffering comes from craving. You will maintain peace of mind with the attitude of accepting “as is” when you are dealing with emotions. Both peak and bottom shall pass by.
- Positivity: Be realist but optimistic and make wise choices. Your decisions will define your process and path, so choose wisely. Asking a question in a positive manner generates a better response. Example: “'Preacher, preacher can I smoke while I'm praying?' Answer: no. 'Preacher, preacher can I pray whilst I'm smoking?' Answer: Of course you can.” Positive thinking is an incredibly powerful tool. Positive, proactive behavior spurs positive, proactive behavior. The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Positive people don't just have a good day; they make it a good day. People who think positively usually see endless possibilities. Success doesn't create optimism but optimism leads to progress. Avoid negative energy at all cost.
- Frugality: Learn to avoid lifestyle inflation. Consume to meet the basic needs, waste nothing and be content with what you have. But don’t make mistake frugality with letting go of your youth and having fun. You don't have to cheap out on having fun. Both fun and frugality can co-exist. People who live far below their means enjoy a freedom that people busy upgrading their lifestyles can’t fathom. Frugality allows you to stay rich. Getting rich and staying rich are different things that require different skills. Spending money to show people how much money you have is the fastest way to lose money. Debt will cripple you. Savings will give you wings to fly on. Freedom plus time are worth much more than nice cars and clothes.
- Courage: Courage requires you take the first step. You may not achieve results on your first try. Results are always on the opposite side of giving up. Being vulnerable is part of the process. In failing, there is humility. Accept any obstacles in your way and overcome it. While obstacles persist, don't lose your cool. Be calm and solve problems rationally to overcome them. When in an unproductive state, start with a small win. Momentum in everyday life is highly underrated. It's all about effort. Reflect back when you fail to analyze symptoms from the disease. Enduring pain will help you take larger challenges and help you grow. If you have big goals, you will also fall hard but that is okay! It is part of the process. Struggling to get them will help you evolve. Courage (risk-taking) is the highest virtue. The journey of discovery is often tedious, filled with dead ends, and above all random but persistence through randomness will always prevail. Grit comes from learning you can get back up after you get knocked down.