The Magic of Principles

Without principles, life is a never-ending series of increasingly complex and exhausting decisions. If we do not recognize the categorical patterns common to our failures and successes, we necessarily lack the raw materials needed to construct a calibrated and effective strategy for future action.

If we do not recognize the categorical patterns common to our failures and successes, we necessarily lack the raw materials needed to construct a calibrated and effective strategy for future action.

In many cases, our time would be better spent in first extracting the lessons from the problems in our lives, before endeavoring to devise a solution. Before analyzing the origins and probable duration of a problem, finding a tenable solution is nearly impossible.

The mistake we make multiple times is like a thread waiting to be pulled, by which we can uncover uncomfortable but infinitely helpful defects in our own personalities. We can only hedge against our own bad habits and biases if those biases have been identified, and systems put in place to compensate for them.

It isn’t easy to study our personal histories with the critical and impersonal objectivity, but it is possible to a great degree, as evidenced by the many people who have overcome their worst tendencies and achieved incredible, almost unbelievable results.

To study your personal failures as economists analyze the Great Depression or military leaders dissect Napolean at Waterloo is at least as useful as it is difficult.

Escaping Failure

Why do people tolerate conditions that to an outside observer appear torturous and unbearable?

Because it usually takes a long time for things to go from good to average to terrible. The loosening of standards, the growing rarity of success, all stack up so slowly that we often find ourselves in a living hell with no idea as to how we got there, and no clear memory of when it all changed.

Perhaps this is why quicksand exists in our minds as an archetypal fear. Quicksand is that which kills you so slowly that you don’t notice until your head is nearly below ground.

No wonder standards, principles, and consistent strategies are the weapons by which failure and stagnation can be fought off.

Motivation, inspiration, and passion are too weak and unreliable a resource to be used in continuous personal growth. They are nowhere to be found when you need them most, and often lead us into self-aggrandizements and prideful displays of self-perceived talent.

Inspiration is what may propel us to create principles sufficient to change the course of our life. But it in itself is not enough. Motivation may be enough to get us up off the couch the first time, but it likely won’t be there the second or the third, or the other inestimable times we might need motivation if we are to take consistent proper action.

Emotion is the water that turns the solid ground to quicksand. Principles and strategies are the rope which we have either spun ourselves, or has been offered by a mentor. But with no rope, we are doomed to sink.