Today’s question to ponder: What are your principles?

The concept of “principles” has been popularized recently with Ray Dalio’s book (conveniently titled) Principles. I’ve been questioning what are mine.

After months of isolated pondering mixed with conversations with friends … my brain has deemed these principles most important for my well-being.

  1. Integrity – Do the right thing.
  2. Health – Physical and mental is the foundation of my happiness, relationships, and productivity.
  3. Relationships – Spend meaningful time with people I love.
  4. Social Impact – Solve tough problems that positively impact the lives of others.
  5. Creativity – Create things and share them.

I’ve found defining my principles makes prioritizing life’s decisions easier. It’s helped transform my goals into daily habits and my daily habits into physical dependencies.

A bit more depth …

1. Integrity

My mom told us as kids,

“Do the right thing.”

I heard her, but I didn’t listen. I didn’t understand what she really meant.

I’ve learned over time that ethics and morality are powerful forces in human nature. Make the right decision and you’ll be rewarded internally (self-respect) and externally (positive karma). Make the wrong decision and you’ll be punished internally (self-loathing) and externally (negative karma).

Integrity is, far too often, the root cause of life’s outcomes.

2. Health

I’ve learned physical health (exercise and nutrition) and mental health (mediation and gratitude) is the foundation my happiness, relationships, and productivity. My brain doesn’t function well without exercise, healthy eating, meditation, gratitude writing, caffeine, and just taking mental breaks.

In 2015, I obsessed about creating a “perfect” morning routine. After months of experimentation, I developed a strict 2-hour morning routine:

  • 7am – Workout
  • 8am – Cold Shower
  • 8:10am – Meditate
  • 8:30am – Write in my gratitude journal
  • 8:40am – Drink Bulletproof Coffee
  • 9am – Start working

When I started working at 9am I was a productivity machine. I felt like Hulk Hogan on steroids!!

The workout kickstarted my energy, cold shower spiked my adrenaline, meditation calmed my brain, gratitude writing made me feel good, and Bulletproof Coffee caffeinated my brain (along with sustained fat-producing energy from oil and butter). My energy was at an all-time high.

Since 2015, I’ve added and subtracted different elements, curious the impact it would have on my mental health. In summary, I’ve found that exercise is the #1 biggest impact to mental clarity throughout the day. If I don’t exercise, my brain is toast. It simply shuts off and I cannot do meaningful work.

As a result, working out (surfing, gym, running, basketball, yoga) is no longer optional. It’s become a physical dependency I cannot function without.

3. Relationships

In college, I took a class called Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning Of Life. On the first day, our professor required us to do “the deathbed exercise” as our first assignment:

“Imagine you’re 90 years old, on your deathbed, with five days to live. What are you most proud of? And what do you regret?”

In this hypothetical scenario, my pride would be maximized and regrets minimized if I abided by the principles in this article. However, what I would regret most is not prioritizing family and friends. And for that reason, it’s helped me prioritize life’s tough decisions.

Nothing outweighs the importance of spending quality time with family and friends. In the end, meaningful relationships will always be a top priority.

4. Social Impact

Everyone has listened to Simon Sinek’s famous Start With Why presentation. The question I’m perpetually pondering in my career is,

“Why am I doing this?”

It’s one thing to create impact. It’s another to create impact that matters. For example, let’s take two different for-profit companies:

  • Coca-Cola
  • Patagonia

Coca-Cola has built a business around our physiological addiction to sugar. According to the CDC, the #1 cause of death in America is heart disease. According to Harvard Medical School, a leading cause of heart disease is excessive sugar intake.

Do we believe Coca-Cola helps solve heart disease, the #1 cause of death in America, or contributes to it?

Patagonia has built a business around our physiological need to stay warm (and one could argue self-actualization if you want to “identify” as an outdoorsy person). Their founder, Yvon Chouinard, is also an outspoken environmentalist. Their supply chain and manufacturing process is sustainable and ethically sourced. Yvon also founded the nonprofit 1% For The Planet to encourage businesses to donate 1% of revenue to environmental groups.

However, Coca-Cola also donates roughly $100 million per year to charities. Does their negative societal impact (creating physiologically addicting sugary drinks) outweigh their positive societal impact (donating to charity)?

In general, I’m wondering what is the opportunity cost of how I’m spending my time? What am I foregoing by doing what I’m doing today? Am I solving problems that are meaningful in the grand scheme of life?

A core principle I’ve developed is to work at businesses (and consult with businesses) that positively impact the lives of others. If I disagree with the fundamental reason for why the business exists, I’ll kindly decline to work with them.

5. Creativity

Creativity is easily the most selfish category of my five principles. I simply create because I enjoy creating. I like writing. I like playing piano. I like designing stuff.

Am I particularly good at any of these things? Honestly, no. I’m not. However, that’s not why I create. I create because I enjoy creating. Published or not, the process of creativity is what I find enjoyable.

I’ve learned sharing creations (albeit blog posts like this, music, videos, Instagram pictures, websites, apps, etc) people stimulates my ego. It feels good to get positive feedback from other people. That’s why social media exists in the first place. It’s a feedback loop of miniature dopamine hits we receive through social validation.

However, I’ve also learned to value a Buddhist-esque sense of creative destruction. Nothing in life is permanent. Sometimes it’s fun to just create something then throw it away. To never publish it. Although everything in life could be shared, it doesn’t mean it should. The process of creativity is what I find enjoyable.

Question for you to ponder …

I’m genuinely curious – What are your principles?

Leave a comment below if you feel like sharing. Or Tweet me @sjtousley. I love talking about this sort of stuff.   🙂



Scott Tousley

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