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16 principles to live by

Last updated on maart 25, 2020

Time to read 9 minutes

With 2020 underway, I looked back at 2019 as a year in which I made a leap into what they call living with intent. The biggest improvement I made, was adding a new principle to my ever changing ‘principles to live by’-list: take good care of your body. 2019 was the year I chose pyshical health – both in food and exercise – as the one thing to get better at. The benefit I sought? To feel fit. And it worked! Added benefits: losing weight and sleeping better.

Why a list of principles to live by?

It’s not the only principle I live by, but one of many. I thought I’d tell you them to inspire you (or not of course) for this year to come. I’ll be frank: some of mine need a little work. To me, maintaining these principles is more worthwile than setting goals that seemingly come out of thin air. In my view, principles:

  • issue goals of their own, throughout the year
  • are applicable to all of life
  • keep life simple

Choosing principles as your center

Renowned author Stephen Covey backs me up, if you will, on living by principles. He saw choosing principles to live by as the only true ‘center’ in one’s life, as he wrote in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® . This center is your guide for when responding to situations, good or bad, occur. Your family can be a center, your work, religion, and even you – whatever it is you let you guide yourself by. Your chosen center makes you (auto-)respond in certain ways, such as when your boss calls you late at night and your work is your center, you’ll break off anything you’ll do to make your boss happy.

What in fact is a principle?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary summarizes aptly what a principle is:

a. a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption
b. (1)a rule or code of conduct
(2)habitual devotion to right principlesa man of principle
The beautiful thing of principles is, you get to choose your own! I’ll show you mine. You tell me yours in the comments!

1. Take care of your body

This is the one I improved on most in 2019. Having a fit and able body gets you more quality hours in the day – it benefits your mind as well. In practice, you could do the following:

  • Work out 5-6 days a week, with at least one core training
  • Make a point of getting at least 8000-10.000 steps a day
  • Choose meals with intent
  • Eat low-carb most of the time
  • Avoid sugars best you can during the work-week (in weekends cut yourself some slack)

2. Be thankful for what you do

I’d like to be thankful for the opportunities I have and the things I’m able to do. Whether this is work or in private life. In other words, I count my blessings, big and small. I can’t say I do it daily, but weekly at least.

3. Focus on growth

Philosophical essayist C. Joybell C. says exactly what growth means to me.

“I’m unpredictable, I never know where I’m going until I get there, I’m so random, I’m always growing, learning, changing, I’m never the same person twice. But one thing you can be sure of about me; is I will always do exactly what I want to do.”
― C. JoyBell C.

Learn from everything you do. In practice, it means being proactive. It is the way to learn, if you ask me. At work, I sometimes take on tasks or projects I’m not quite sure I’m competent enough to fulfill. I feel very vulnerable then, but oh, the joy, when things work out is fantastic. And if it doesn’t work out, I have otherwise learned something new about me or about the environment I’m in. Expand on your comfortzone, I’d like to think this principle is about. Or just ‘Do something!’ as Mark Ronson puts it in his famous book The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck.

explore, learn, grow

4. Acknowledge your mistakes

Admit when you’ve made a mistake and take responsibility. Acknowledge them for yourself: “D***, that wasn’t okay.” Then, take the time to explain why it didn’t work out the way you imagined to anyone you’ve dooped and apologize. It’s liberating. And people will like you better for it, including those who are close to you, although it may take them some time.

5. Think win-win

Searching for the best possible outcome of any situation is fun! What is not better than getting what you want and let other(s) profit too? I try to have the big picture in mind when I propose something. If you see it as a sport, win-win will be fun, even if you’re a win-lose person. All this sound familiar? Indeed, it’s Covey’s mindset of abundance: there is enough for everyone. I fully support it. It has however an easy pitfall. If your proposal doesn’t sound good, it will be perceived as win-lose or as patronizing. Choose your words and tone carefully.

6. Choose solitude from time to time

The world we live in, especially as a millenial or someone from the iGen, is a world of Fear of Missing out (FOMO) and hyper-connectedness. We take a lot of information. The internet is a favourite companion, as is meeting people and having something to do, always. This lifestyle is not sustainable. You’re taking in so much information in those events, your brain doesn’t get to relax. Plan solitude and leisure. Build in a leisure evening one a week – don’t meet with friends or stay late at work – and it’ll make a difference. You can really ‘make up your mind’ in those hours.

7. Forgive yourself and others

Forgiving is not an easy feat for most people. Dwelling on staying mad at yourself or others for doing something foolish or wrong, only sparks worry. And that keeps you up at night. See the painful situation for what it is, acknowledge it and let it go. Yes, even if your partner cheats on you for instance. Forgiving the other, gets you back into love; otherwise you’ll look at everyone you meet as potentially harmful to you. However understandable, the price for not forgiving is much higher than to forgive.

“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” 
 John Keats, Letters of John Keats

8. Set a happy end to difficult conversations

Say, you and your partner have your differences, and you’ll get snappy from time to time. That’s okay, to a certain extent. Don’t leave each other angry or frustrated. Not because someone could die or something sinister like that, but just because you’ll feel better when you do.

9. Put it in perspective

perspectiveTry to put things into perspective best you can. Blowing things up in certain situations messes up your energy and stress levels and, worse, it keeps you awake. If you ask yourself these questions, it might help you downplay it a bit. Whatever ‘it’ may be.

  • How important is it?
  • What’s the impact?
  • Does it happen frequently, or just on a few occasions?
  • Can I do it differently next time?
  • When I look back at this situation, what will I say?

10. Work on your relationships

First things first: decide which relationships are worthwhile. You don’t have to be friends with everyone. Many millenials have what one calls weak ties, and a lot of them. Social media makes it easy to maintain weak ties. But ask yourself: why am I doing this? Choose conversation over connection. Cal Newport in his book Digital Minimalism states that the internet is merely a means of connection, but lacks the quality of conversation. Texts and social media do not replace this. A ‘like’ doesn’t say anything about the quality of your relationship to that person. Don’t do it. Don’t comment either.

Use the internet to connect for having a drink or dinner instead. I’ve reduced my social media to Whatsapp – which feels more like a texting service to me – and LinkedIn. The latter I use because people tend to speak out on how they handled failures and opportunities. And, it’s just work, which is only part of your social life. This year I intend to improve on my relationships by introducing WhatsApp video ‘dates’. A time slot to see and hear friends a bit more. Sometimes the logistics get in the way, so this is again not a replacement of a meetup, but an aid to maintain relationships. The iGen does this well, when I look around. They are looking at their screen a lot, but most of the time they do see each other when talking.

11. Think before you buy

Don’t call yourself a minimalist straight away, if that label scares you. With our everlasting consumerism – a topic which caught on fire after WWII ended and industrial design came about – we tend to have a lot of stuff. And more than one of a product too. In the end, we don’t need that much.

I went in total minimalist mode last year:books, clothing, other stuff I own – I donated it or sold it. And still am selling and donating. It’s a long process. And it’s okay.

‘Think before you buy’ is a minimalist principle in the sense that you think long and hard about the products you need. Not the ones you want, but need. Do I really need it? And then look at brands that support the world.

12. Learn a new skill every year

carpentry toolsLearning a new skill, isn’t that also part of focusing on growth? Sure it is! However, learning a skill has some bonuses – you go from zero knowledge to actually being able to make or do something. The biggest win is the boost in confidence. Indeed, this one is field-oriented, instead of desk-oriented. For example, last year, I didn’t know anything about how to physically defend myself when attacked. I took on a self defense course and now I have this first aid kid in my mind.

While Coursera and other MOOCs out there can surely help you, please pick the courses that allow you to learn to paint, draw, play a music instrument or to use a specific piece of software. You get it, right? You’ll feel infinitely better after completion. So go pick out your course!

13. Live in the now

The now is the only thing you can control. The past is the past and the future hasn’t happened yet. Deal with situations as they come. Try to minimalise worrying about what might happen, or what has happened. Most of our worries have to do with the perception others might have of us. It’s also where the phrase ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ comes from. We want to fit in so desperately, we totally forget that other people don’t think about us as much as we think they do. No really, they don’t. Don’t let them influence you too much. Living in the now is about you and you alone. You can control yourself and not much else, so it’s the only sensible thing to do.

Say STOP when your mind goes for a run, and ask yourself these two things:

  • What can I do now to improve my situation? (think small steps!)
  • What can I do differently next time?

And eat something. Or do something. Or make a list of your worries. Stop the thinking for a while.

I know, it sounds very easy, but with practice, you’ll get there. Stop saying I should (have), start by saying I can… in my opinion one of the strongest principles to live by.

14. Feel your emotions and react with intent

Make an effort – and it’s hard, I struggle too, but I try – to really feel emotions. Pain, suffering, joy, elation, goosebumps, they all mean something. How do I feel? Let it simmer in your brain for a moment and only then react. If you react when chaos is happening in your brain, your reaction will be chaotic as well.

“Do not fight your negative emotions. Observe and befriend them.”
― Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm and Mindful in a Fast-Paced World

15. Be kind to yourself so you can be kind to others

Haenim Sunim calls life “not a 100-meter race against friends, but a lifelong marathon against yourself” in his book mentioned above (yes, the title is THAT long). It rings a truth. We tend to make things hard for ourselves. For instance, if you do something that doesn’t fit in your ‘principles to live by’-list. Again, when we’re hard for ourselves, it’s usually about the perception of others. Of how we view ourselves if we were others.

Some of the activities you can do to pick yourself up:

  • Treat yourself to a dinner or lunch sometimes
  • Give yourself credit to a problem well solved
  • Write a list of your past successes and glance at it every so often
  • If someone critizes you, to soothe yourself, think: “oh, they’re struggling with the topic themselves” (it’s true!)

Reinvent instant gratification (the successes-list is especially helpful). If you’re kind to yourself, it’s easy to be kind to others. More tips on being kind to yourself are scattered around the internet: just google ‘ways to be kind to yourself’ and voila.

16. Listen to understand

This is one of the hardest principles on my list. So often you’ll find yourself not listening to someone. Be it because your mind is elsewhere, or your perspective differs so much from what your hearing, you tend to just tell people what is good for them, through your own lens. Accept that you’re coloured by past experiences, what you’ve read or have seen, what you want and so on.

It starts with really being there (no phones or doing something else meanwhile the other is talking). Then with asking questions and so on. Every so often I watch this TED-talk of experienced interviewer Celeste Headlee to remind myself how to better conversate.

These were my principles to live by, what are yours?

These principles keep me at work every day of the year. They spark new activities and new goals to hone them. Do you have such a list and if so, what’s on it? I’m interested to hear about them.



Published inIntentional Living

Eén reactie

  1. Astrid Karsten Astrid Karsten

    Nice article! My principles are:
    Find and live your ikigai
    Getting to know your ‘reason for being’ gives you so much direction, so much self-guidance, that it’s worth finding it out. Your ikigai contains both your inner talents and drive, as well as an outside perspective of what you have to offer the world. What you can contribute.

    Finding ikigai may be a bumpy road and “doing” stuff, experimenting and “failing” are essential to it. Try things out, have fun and feel the calmness of having your northern star.

    Don’t do a little of everything at the same time. Not at work, not at home, not at the sports club. Be there. Finish things. Commit to long term goals and accept the fact that you won’t do other things because of that. This is easier when you have a strong direction or purpose in life. Breath consiously. Listen carefully. Put away your phone and avoid “news” as much as possible. When getting less distractions, whether it is by living as a minimalist, living news/social media-less or otherwise; interactions become richer and more fulfilling. So will reaching your goals.

    Actually these two principles cover it all for me. Also living healthy, sport regularly, think about what you are eating etc are -for me – a natural result of ikigai and focus.

    I am a storyteller, trying to move people in the slightest way. To live up to that I focus on being a writer, speaker and a mom and partner in the here and now. Speaking has a lot to do with the breath, yoga practice is extremely important. Also for being in the now. Writing can best be done without distraction and also is near to a fulltime process. I can not be a great sales person, a leader and trainer at the same time. Being there as a partner and a mom means I can not be in the bar every weekend and join 20 different clubs at the same time. It does mean doing stuff for myself by the way.l

    Well.. all in all, these two principles may look thin, but they definitely help me living my life! (And hold up to resolutions)

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