Embrace Reality: How Honesty Improves Work

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Principles: Life and Work" by Ray Dalio. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What does it mean to embrace reality in Ray Dalio’s Principles system? How can you embrace reality in the workplace?

When Ray Dalio says “embrace reality” in Principles, he’s referring to the idea that you need to be honest about yourself and your work so that you can improve.

Keep reading to find out how to embrace reality at work.

Embrace Reality and Relentlessly Find the Truth

Finding the truth is the most important thing possible to make the best possible decisions you can. Making the best decisions gets you closer to your goals.

Two things get in the way of finding truth: 1) your ego and emotions, 2) your blind spots.

Your Ego

What holds a lot of people back from the truth is their ego. Many people’s egos center around being right and looking smart. But everyone is wrong a good portion of the time, and ignoring this is blinding yourself to your mistakes and ways to improve yourself. You need to move past your ego to embrace reality.

To deal with the emotional pain of finding truth, see life as a game, where the object is to get around a challenge and reach a goal.

Instead of declaring “I’m right,” ask, “How do I know I’m right?” You can’t be sure of anything—there are always risks that can hurt you badly, even in the safest-looking bets. Always assume you’re missing something

Embrace Your Mistakes

An important truth people commonly ignore is their own weaknesses and mistakes. Thinking about their mistakes causes them pain.

By ignoring your weaknesses and mistakes, you are handicapping yourself in achieving your goals. 

Mistakes happen all the time. It’s more important to recognize mistakes and learn from them, than to cover them up and make your problems worse.

Mistakes and pain are nature’s reminder to learn. You must reflect on your mistakes and design solutions to your problems to evolve. Dalio sums it up in his equation, “Pain + Reflection = Progress.”

Treat each mistake like a puzzle that, after you solve it, reveals a gem. Each gem continuously makes you stronger, and more gems help you ascend to higher levels of play where the challenges get greater.

Radical Open-Mindedness

To recognize the truth and embrace reality, you must accept that you are wrong and relentlessly find ways to increase the chances that you are right. Dalio calls this radical open-mindedness. Taking in more information, especially from other highly credible people, can only allow you to make better decisions, which will bring you closer to your goal.

Would you willingly blind yourself into doing something wrong? Most people do this.

Recognize that the chance that you independently always have the best answer is extremely low. Accept the possibility that others might see something better than you and point out threats and opportunities you don’t see.

Always be fearful that you’re wrong and you’re missing information. Don’t say “I’m right,” ask, “How do I know I’m right?”

Disagree Thoughtfully

Being open-minded will make you seek other smart people and explore their viewpoints, especially when you disagree with each other. This may create emotional conflict, but you need to do it to embrace reality.

The key is to have “thoughtful disagreement” with the other person. This means your goal is not to prove that you’re right, but rather to find out which view is true and decide what to do about it.

Your ego may get in the way of getting new perspectives from other people. But if you care about your goals, you should be more afraid of missing important ideas than being proven wrong. What stings more—being wrong about something, or ultimately failing your goal?

People are wired very differently. They think in different ways and have different blind spots. This promotes conflict and misunderstandings with poor communication. Practice thoughtful disagreement to see their viewpoint, and arrive at the truth together rationally.

Embrace Reality: How Honesty Improves Work

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Ray Dalio's "Principles: Life and Work" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Principles: Life and Work summary:

  • How Ray Dalio lost it all on bad bets, then rebounded to build the world's largest hedge fund
  • The 5-step process to getting anything you want out of life
  • Why getting the best results means being relentlessly honest with everyone you work with

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