My General Operating Principles: 37 Principles for Making Hard Decisions
“Jeez, man, that motorbike almost ran you over!”
I gave a perfunctory wave to the British backpacker, acting as if crossing a busy street in downtown Saigon without looking was normal behavior and strolled on.
The Vietnamese office worker turned his head back at me and glowered before rolling his right wrist back and accelerating away on his red and black Yamaha Nuovo.
The white cord of my Apple earbuds ran underneath my t-shirt into my pocket as I absentmindedly strolled down Bui Vien Street on the way back to my apartment after an unproductive afternoon work session.
Though I had a podcast running in the background, it wasn’t the interview that was distracting me.
My flat mate, David Hehenberger, had just invited me to hop on a bus with him the next day to go to Mui Ne, a small town on the beach near Saigon. I had spent most of the afternoon agonizing over the opportunity.
On one hand, it would definitely be less productive than if I stayed in Saigon. Yet, it could be more productive in the long run if I got off the computer for a couple of days.
But was productivity even the point? What’s the point of being productive most of the time if you can’t enjoy a trip out of town periodically?
But at the same time, I’m not that will-to-pleasure by nature.5
Maybe I should make the decision based on what would be a better story? I would definitely remember the trip to the beach in twelve months, but probably wouldn’t remember what I did if I stayed in Saigon. At the same time, it’s those countless hours spent stacking rocks, that, added up, lead to building castles.
What did my decision to go or not go to the beach indicate about my identity? What does the fact that I’m considering what going to the beach says about my identity say about my identity? Is it worth considering every action as an expression of underlying principles and personal core values instead of just accepting that in the big scheme of things most individual actions probably don’t matter much?
This is how an afternoon is wasted.
The following week, I read Work the System by Sam Carpenter. Carpenter suggests that every person and business have a set of General Operating Principles. When there’s no established process for doing something, your General Operating Principles are a set of principles, heuristics, and rules of thumb to enable more effective judgements for modifying existing systems or creating new ones.
When I’m faced with a decision that I am having difficulty making, I read over them and often find a bit of insight which helps make the decision. I also read them over each week as part of my weekly review, so they are in the front of my mind before making any big life decisions.
Below are my General Operating Principles, I have cited the source when I remember where it’s from.6
General Operating Principles: My Personal Core Values
- I value living an integrated life. I have systems that allow me to move towards my desired outcomes in business, relationships, health, and spirituality. (Source: Jurgen Dhaese)
- I take a long-term perspective. When making decisions, I consider second and third order effects. I realize that it’s compound interest over the long term that leads to results. I play long ball.
- My heuristic to break my personal systems and commitments or take on a new commitment is “Fuck Yes or No.” I do not do so lightly, nor do I feel guilty when doing so is a “Fuck Yes.” (Source: Derek Sivers by way of Mark Manson)
- I move towards The Resistance. I am always moving away from my comfort zone into growth opportunities, into my stretch zone. (Source: The War of Art)
- I study to increase my skills. I recognize that a steady diet of reading and contemplation is vital to personal development and my happiness. (Source: Work the System)
- I prioritize establishing and enhancing meaningful personal relationships. I always have time for family or a true friend.
- I do not try and push people through the door, but I always aim to leave the door open and be available. I believe the ship sails with the tide.7
- I seek first to understand then to be understood. I think from the other person’s point of view before my own. I listen actively and empathetically when others talk. (Source: 7 Habits)
- I respect others’ time and opinions. I am timely and dependable.
- I am deliberate in my actions. When I feel the need to rush, I ask myself, “do I so undervalue my ability to make an impact that I feel compelled to rush and create an extra five minutes? My actions and thoughts feed my mind signals of abundance.
- I seek out and value new experiences and travel when they allow me to create and deepen meaningful relationships, provide renewal, and foster personal growth.
- I strive for simplicity. Would eliminating a system or saying “no” save time, energy, or money? I believe that less is more and always seek to do more of less. (Source: Work the System)
- I focus all my energy within my circle of influence. I do not concern myself or worry about things over which I have no control. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
- When I truly believe in something, I do not quit. I have pigheaded discipline and determination. I recognize the value of consistency, commitment, and grit to accomplishing challenging goals. (Source: The Ultimate Sales Machine)
- I do it NOW. I seize inspiration. I don’t delay an action if it can be done immediately. I touch it once. I implement immediately. I ship.8 (Source: Getting Things Done)
- I choose to react proactively to events beyond my control. I take 100% responsibility. I recognize that problems are gifts that inspire me to action. A problem prompts the act of creating or improving a system or procedure. When one occurs, I think, “Thank you for this wake-up call,” and take system-improvement action to prevent the setback from happening again. (Source: Work the System)
- I am a leader. I don’t manage problems; I work on system creation and improvements in order to prevent problems. I create, connect, and inspire. (Source: Seth Godin via Cam Collins)
- I act honestly. I am bold and clear with others in asserting my needs. I do not avoid confrontation because of fear.
- I recognize the importance of being well-rested to good decision making and quality work. If I’m tired, I get rest and then attack the problem when I’m fresh.
- I go into Terminator Mode at 85% complete. Once I get to 85% complete, I start obsessively focusing on the project that’s 85% complete. The mind will play all sorts of tricks on me if I let it, trying to seduce me into doing something unrelated or new. I never give in to that. I get hungry and focused when I get to 85% complete; I get it done. (Source: Sebastian Marshall)
- I don’t complain or whine. I don’t blow off steam by talking about problems; I do it by executing and being proud of my work. (Source: Sebastian Marshall)
- I recognize that I am what I do today. If I don’t do it NOW, I won’t do it ever. Every action is not an event but the laying down of a new neural pathway for habit creation.
- Everything I do, I do because it serves a bigger vision I have for myself and the world. I don’t use words like “need to” or “have to” or “should.” I recognize that once you get past physics, reality is entirely negotiable. I choose to create reality that I want to exist.
- I realize that wisdom and passion are the result of experience. They’re acquired by people who do the work day in and day out. I know that the castle is a bunch of rocks.
- I believe that I can get all I want out of life by suspending my ego and taking a no-excuses approach to achieving my goals with open-mindedness, determination, and courage and by relying on the help of others who are strong where I am weak. (Source: Ray Dalio — Principles)
- I invest in my self-perception and don’t emotionally invest in how others perceive me or my work, good or bad.
- I believe that vulnerability and authenticity are the paths to true connections and meaningful relationships. (Source: Models)
- I operate with urgency. I understand that I have a limited time on Earth and every second has an opportunity cost.
- I think in Power Laws. When confronted with a challenge or opportunity, I ask, how can I 10 times this? (Source: 80/20 Sales and Marketing and 10x Talk)
- I believe in the 80/20 decision-making rule — Is it unconventional? Will this multiply (not add) results? (Source: The 80/20 Principle)
- I live as if I were living already for the second time and as if I had acted the first time as wrongly as I am about to act now. (Source: Man’s Search for Meaning)
- I believe in the power of radical focus. I say no to 99 out of 100 great opportunities. (Source: Warren Buffet via Darren Hardy)
- I value integrity, meaningful relationships, and legacy above other currencies. (Inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk)
- I believe that relationships are reality, the fabric of life, and the Universe. My priorities, to-do list, and calendar reflect that I actively treasure the people in my life.
- I think like an investor. I create plans that protect downsides and define deadlines. I don’t internalize losses. I value correct decisions over right decisions. (Source: What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars)
- I value speed of implementation. I am slow to commit, but when I do commit, I execute quickly, violently, and without regret. (Inspired by Certain to Win and Patton)
- I optimize for optionality. I recognize the Extremistan nature of modernity and act accordingly. (Source: Antifragile)
This is a living document. I started with just three or four and have added many and removed some over the past few years. In the future, some will come off the list, more will be added, and most will be refined.
How to Find Your Personal Core Values
The technique I recommend to find your personal core values (and the one I used) is simple: If I read, hear, or watch something which particularly resonates with me, I add it to a list.
When some life experience (usually a mistake) occurs, I reflect on it and add my learnings to the list.
In this way, I have gradually started to put together a list of principles that I hope effectively combines both external wisdom and my own personal core values.
I didn’t go to the beach. At least at this point in my life, I have too much respect for (and fun) stacking rocks.
P.S. I would recommend you make your own list of General Operating Principles, and keep them easy to access. I keep mine in the Shortcuts of my Evernote. If you’d like to steal some of mine, you can download a copy of the 37 General Operating Principles here.
Originally published at Taylor Pearson.