Are you living by your own rules, or by those pre-defined by others?
Principles: they make life easier. In a set of principles I have a decision-making matrix. My principles are general enough that they cover a wide swathe of situations.
Principles govern my behaviour in a consistent manner. When the world is going to shit around you, knowing how you will handle the fan-splatter effect creates a rock-solid foundation of confidence in your actions.
The prime reason I have principles is for energy. Consistent action in certain areas cuts down on the energy overhead usually reserved for decisions. Making decisions takes a bajillion joules of energy from your life every day. I only have a limited amount of energy. The more energy I conserve, the more I have to use elsewhere. It’s the effect on your energy bill of having three minute showers instead of skin-blistering hour long marathons. Although saving personal energy is far more satisfying. I hate three minute showers.
It’s the same reason corporations systematise their regular actions. If they find something happening frequently, they create a system that fast-tracks the simple stuff:
- Been in this situation before? Check.
- What did we do last time? A, B and C.
- Did A, B, and C get us what we wanted? Check.
- Do A, B and C.
Number three is key. We need to decide what we want, and create our principles based on that.
In the past, I have been overpaid by my employers. I used to fret about whether to tell my employer and give the cash back. I was torn between money and morals.
What did I want? I wanted the cash, but I also wanted to not stress about 1) whether my employer was testing me, and 2) whether I was doing the “right” thing (more on the “right” thing in a moment).
Action One was giving the cash back. I would be relieved of anxiety and stress, but I would be poorer. Perhaps my employer would think of me as an honest person, but this would give me no benefit in real terms.
Action Two was keeping the cash. I would stress about it, but I would have more money, a very real benefit.
My current over-riding principle in this situation is: keep the cash, AND don’t stress. Why? Telling my employer about paying me too much gives me no benefit at all. In the past, perhaps, an employer would then regard you as an upstanding and honest employee who could be trusted, which may have given you an advantage at some point. Nowadays, your boss could not give a shit about you or your apparent do-goodiness.
As for not stressing, if my boss found out and asked for it, I could simply play dumb and pay it back. If he didn’t find out, then I have the money. It’s a win/win.
If you give the cash back, you boss says “thanks!”, and you walk home $100 poorer. What’s the point? You’ll feel better about yourself? Why? Because you’ve “done the right thing?” You’ve done the WRONG thing. You have exchanged value for fluff i.e. moral virtue.
Let’s talk morals for a moment. I would hope that most of you reading this would know that morals are the rules imposed on your behaviour by an external force. That force is cultural, and its main proponents are the parents and teachers who educated you.
Morals can be loosely defined as a code that defines appropriate behaviour. Literally, a code of conduct. That code is divided into a series of principles for each behaviour.
I reject externally imposed morality because in general those morals benefit society more than myself. Society in this case being most people in my country who are not me, and primarily those people with lots of money and power who are also not me. I don’t reject all of society’s morals, I merely reserve the right to choose the ones that work for me and reject the ones that belong in a bucket of shit.
Morals should be personally defined according to principle and the cultural matrix in which you live. For example, I might want to slaughter my neighbour for stealing some mayonnaise when I went out for a kebab. Goddamn delicious-mayonaisse-stealing asshole. If I did so, because of our culture the police would kidnap me and remove my ability to live freely for a number of years. Butt-rape in prison is not an outcome that I desire, therefore I reject murder as a behavioural outcome of principle. Not because it is inherently “bad” in all situations, but because the culturally-imposed repercussions of murder are extremely bad for me.
We should also talk about “good/right” and “bad/wrong”. What is good and bad is also culturally defined. I would hope that you also know this as an educated man. I define “good/right” as that which energises and benefits me and my family over the short to long term. I define “bad/wrong” as the opposite of that. Simple.
Not everything good and right is possible. Not everything bad and wrong is avoidable. This is cultural impact on personal morals, and it’s just the way things are.
So let’s talk specifics. I want to talk about one of the most important of my principles. This one has saved me so much energy over the years, and so much stress and heartache.
Do what you say.
This one guiding principle has helped me in so many ways. Back when I was a loser I would make plans with friends that I never intended to keep. Or I would be in two minds about whether to go out with them. I now know that if I am going to say I will do something, I’d better move heaven and hell to do it. If that is to be the case, I have to be careful with my words, and not promise anything I cannot deliver. That means I have to maintain awareness during conversation and also be discreet.
This principle not only cuts down on stress, it also makes me into a better, more aware person.
This one principle cuts down an incredible energy overhead. I no longer have to think about whether I going to do something or not. Have I told someone I would? Yes? Then I am doing it. The social benefits of such an attitude should be obvious.
This one principle is so internally satisfying that it should be elevated to a religious precept.
The correlate to this principle is: Watch your mouth. Don’t say anything you don’t plan to follow through with.
I got this off a good friend. Once I asked him if he wanted to hang out. He said he’d like to, but for whatever reason, no.
I was taken aback. Who the hell could be so honest? What sort of person didn’t mitigate at all? I was so impressed with his behaviour that I adopted it on the spot. Nowadays I can’t believe I was ever that soft…
The moral of this story is: Begin to create your own morality. Decide on the principles that both enhance the energy in your life and cut out the crap.