Benjamin Franklin had a lifelong practice for personal improvement that centered on his thirteen core principles. He called them his thirteen virtues and you can do a quick google to find his list. He evaluated himself against these personal ideals systematically, seeking not overnight successes but incremental improvement. His practice was to score himself every day in each of the thirteen areas and also have an area of emphasis each week. By focusing individually for brief periods he was able to see gradual improvement across each of his values over many years.
I read this story in my teens, my twenties, and again in my thirties but it wasn’t until I became a father that I took articulating my own set of principles seriously. If I was going to be responsible for raising kids the right way I needed to understand what I stood for myself. If I was going to help my own kids succeed, I needed to understand what had made me successful and what I needed to focus on to help me be more successful in the future. The result of my drafting became my own list of seven principles, they are listed below. These seven principles speak to different parts of myself and took me months of drafting, journaling, and revision. They are the voice of wisdom that I turn to first when confronted with difficult choices.
So how do you find your principles? Set the conditions to allow you to think and write about it over time. Schedule recurring quiet time with a pen, a pad, and a carrot. The quiet time is a necessity to do good work. Author Neil Gaiman has a rule about writing that I have adopted. “When I am in writing time I have the option of either writing or not writing but nothing else. No distractions. After five minutes of staring out the window it loses a bit of its charm and I get to work.” The pen and pad have the advantages of being screen free and a bit slow. It helps me to focus and the speed, or lack thereof, of the writing pace helps me to think and be more deliberate. The carrot actually isn’t a carrot but is something to look forward to that makes the experience of writing pleasurable. My carrot is espresso or tea and French pastries from my favorite coffee shop. Even on the days that I don’t really want to work on the important stuff, I can always get out the door and to my work spot at the coffee shop knowing that a latte and raspberry-rhubarb croissant await. Those are my carrots and they really do help.
So set the time, eliminate distractions, and make sure you have a carrot. The rest is up to you and some deep thought about what makes you tick, what seems to apply in any situation you have or ever found yourself in, and those things that represent the very best of you.
Here are my 7 core principles:
1) Enjoy life, it is the only one you get
2) Value connection to close friends and family
3) Make sure what you do for a living is worth doing
4) Make promises sparingly and always keep them
5) Maintain health, you only get one body
6) Kindness and courtesy always
7) Help others who deserve it
These personal principles help guide me throughout life and in my business. Stay tuned for the next post on creating core values for your business. Spoiler alert, they are similar but not the same as your personal principles.
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