“If only we could think the way we do for ourselves as we do for others”.
That’s the feeling I get when friends have asked me for advice.
It turns out, humans are great at solving the problems of others.
For example, when asked about “how to live life”, here’s what Erasmus said to Peter Gilles in the 16th century:
“In fraternal good humour, be regular at your work, keep a journal, remember that life is short, study Plato & Seneca, love your wife and disregard the world’s opinion.“
Pretty good, right?
Although we’re great at giving advice when asked, we’re not so good at looking at ourselves.
In the words of Naval Ravikant, “so many people go through life until suddenly they realise they have been living entirely the wrong way”.
Yet, if we can get ourselves into states of reflection and detachment, we too can benefit from the advice we are able to give others.
All it takes is a question.
For example, a TED talk on the “8 Secrets of Success” was only created after the presenter was unable to answer the question by a high-school student.
The longer ago he asked that to himself, the more he could have availed of the insight.
So, be the high-school student.
Focus on reflection and deep thinking for yourself and for others, ask things like “what did you learn from the experience? What was the secret to success here? etc…”
It is these stimuli which leads to the answers.
(ii) Turning Your Advice into Principles
So, how do we take advantage of our ability to give good advice?
The answer is, that we need to distil all information into reinforcing an existing or else new principle.
Principle: a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system.
For example, “disregarding the world’s opinion” is a principle, a “foundational” piece of advice that you can use for all decision-making in your life.
To repeat; for all decision-making in your life.
In business, Bridgewater Associate’s secret to having the most revered company culture perhaps in the world is down to their commitment to a set of written principles by their founder, Ray Dalio.
“Although the company manages money, the principles don’t contain a single word about investing. They are maxims about how to think and act in any situation you might encounter at work or in life – if you want to do meaningful things and build meaningful relationships” – Originals, Adam Grant.
Examples include – constantly challenging, being pro-active, sharing mistakes and learnings etc.
In the case of Ryanair, whatever was low-cost would always be the parameter for what to do or not to do.
In both cases, having a foundation of core beliefs to base decisions on lead to optimal performance and clarity.
The same is needed for your personal life.
Having a mental idea of what your principles are would be a good starting point, but a written checklist is what you should aim for.
Once completed, this can be your greatest source of advice.
Note that such a list will and should change as your thoughts and experiences mature, but the process of embedding them (which embraces reflection) should stay the same.
Using your own advice (and that of others) to create a set of principles will 10x your ability to handle life’s biggest decisions.
For example for me, things like learning, growing, and building something that will outlast myself, were part of the reasons why I left my full-time job, and I have never been happier since.
I will reveal my own personal principles plus more techniques for choosing how to live in Part 2 of this post.