How to Create Your Guiding Principles in Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Mountain Is You" by Brianna Wiest. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are guiding principles in life? Why do you need rules for your life?

In The Mountain Is You, Brianna Wiest says that having principles can help you achieve your purpose and ideal self. She also helps you create principles that are unique to your goals and needs.

Keep reading to learn how to create guiding principles for your life.

Develop Guiding Life Principles to Achieve Your Purpose and Ideal Self

Once you’ve identified your life purpose and the person you’d like to become, Wiest says you must create life rules that will help you achieve and maintain these goals—Wiest calls these guiding principles in life. These rules should represent personal commitments that you believe in and that will shape your life in the long term. For example, if you have a life rule to cut ties with people who regularly make you feel bad, you’ll live a life surrounded by positive people who encourage you to be your best self. Life rules will help you make hard decisions and face difficult or triggering situations, encourage you to continually pursue your goals, and help you overcome barriers that may cause you to stray from your intended path. Living by your rules will ensure that you’re happy and always progressing toward the best version of yourself.

To create life rules, Wiest recommends making a list of things you value and genuinely care about, a list of feelings you want to experience regularly, and a list of things that make you uncomfortable or produce anxiety. Create rules that will help you reach the things you value, experience the feelings you desire, and manage the things that cause you anxiety.

For example, if you value travel, want to feel inspired throughout your life, and feel anxiety around financial issues, you can create the following life rule: “I’ll set aside money every month so I’ll be able to travel without having to worry about the financial burden of it. I’ll spend an hour each week researching travel locations to gain inspiration and foster my love for travel.”

Ultimately, Wiest explains that these rules should pertain to every area of your life that’s important to you—this can be anything from finances to skill development, relationships, career building, communication, and so on. Most principles won’t result in immediate gratification, but over time, they’ll pave the path to achieving your life purpose and ideal self.

Principles Aren’t Always Accurate

While Wiest suggests creating personal principles to guide your actions and decisions, the philosophy of moral particularism suggests that this might not always be the best way to promote personal growth. The theory asserts that moral principles are too black and white to accurately guide your actions in every situation. While the theory specifically refers to moral principles, the same fundamental assertion can be applied to Wiest’s claim about personal principles—sometimes, there will be delicate nuances and heterogeneous situations where the best decision is not the one that your principles would suggest. 

Consider the personal principle mentioned above—to cut ties with people who make you feel bad so you can live a happy life surrounded by positive people. While this might be a great principle to live by in most situations, following it blindly might actually hinder personal growth. 

For example, maybe you feel bad around someone because of your own underlying belief, not because of something they’re doing wrong. In this situation, cutting ties with that person might be a form of self-sabotage that lets you perpetuate the negative underlying belief and causes further negative emotions in the future. Instead of following your principle to cut ties with them, maybe you should confront the underlying belief that’s causing you to feel negative emotions around them. 

Ultimately, moral particularism suggests that you should consider all the nuances of a situation before blindly following your principles.

How to Create Principles That Work

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown agrees with Wiest that your principles must be based on the things that are most important to you and applied to all areas of your life. She adds a few recommendations that can supplement Wiest’s advice and make your principles more effective and actionable:

After creating your list of values, Brown advises choosing the two most important items on your list and prioritizing them. This is necessary because having too many values may restrict your ability to commit to the most important things. You can apply this to Wiest’s recommendations by prioritizing the two items on your list of values that will most effectively produce the feelings and manage the anxieties you’ve compiled on your other lists. Then, make sure these two values are represented in each principle you create.

Next, Brown recommends making these principles actionable by brainstorming how you can implement them in real life. First, compile a list of actions that support your principles—for example, if your principle is to set aside money to travel, you could read about investing or create a travel fund. Next, compile a list of behaviors that go against your principles and that you should therefore avoid—for example, don’t pull from your travel fund to pay for weekend getaways if your real priority is a month-long trip abroad. Finally, recall a moment when you lived by your principle. This will motivate you and remind you what to strive for.

How to Create Your Guiding Principles in Life

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  • Why the only thing standing in your way of achieving your goals is you
  • How to achieve your life purpose and become your ideal self
  • How to identify your self-sabotaging behaviors and stop them

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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