Life is full of challenges. I’m not denying that — I’ve had my fair share — but life can be simple if you introduce principles into your daily routine.

According to self-made billionaire investor Ray Dalio, whose book ‘Principles’ inspired me to develop a set of my own, principles serve as the foundations for behaviour that get you what you want out of life.

What are principles?

Principles are fundamental truths that are universal in nature. For example, if you drop something, it will fall on the ground. This is a natural law that is controlled by the principle of gravity. Human behaviour is more complex, but still follows the same rules. If I consistently lie, you won’t trust me; this is also a natural law.

“We control our actions, but the consequences that flow from those actions are controlled by principles” — Stephen Covey

Leadership expert John Maxwell describes this process with great clarity:

Imagine you have a large tree in your garden and you want to cut it down. You acquire a large sharp axe, and strike the tree five times every single day. And I mean every single day — this is important. So every day you go out to your garden and strike the tree five times. Another day, another five times. Another day, another five times. Another day, another five times.

What do you think will happen?

You WILL get closer to your goal every single day, and the tree WILL eventually fall down. This is a fact. This is a universal law of nature.

It’s the same for human behaviour. If you always walk your talk, people will respect you. If you meditate every day, you will be less reactive. If you regularly remove negativity from your life, you will be happier.

The point is, if you implement principles on a regular basis, it is a natural law that corresponding improvements will occur over time.

I apply principles to every aspect of my life. They guide my actions in times of uncertainty, and provide me with a road-map when I’m feeling stressed. My life is much simpler, and the gains have been extraordinary.

This list is far from exhaustive, but here are 9 core principles that have led to remarkable changes in my life.

1. Life it up

This is one of my favorite life principles. It directs me to bring joy, energy and present moment awareness into my encounters with others. Even when I’m not 100%, I just ‘life it up’, and the energy it creates is astounding. I recently extended this principle after listening to the fun-loving and brilliant Adam Robinson on the Tim Ferriss show. He suggests that we should lean into every moment expecting magic — what a way to live.

2. Keep all of your fires burning

I have a tendency to get excited by things I love. This is great, but can lead me to ignore other important area’s of my life. I use this principle to ensure balance, and regularly assess several key areas of my life. These include: relationships, social, career, health, learning, spiritual, finance, and personal growth.

Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

3. Take relentless action

If nothing changes, nothing changes. This seems obvious, but so many people expect change without ever taking action. They might talk about acting, but rarely act. I like to take relentless action, which simply means taking action every single day. I meditate every day. I write every day. I practice gratitude every day. I work on my number one goal every day.

I show up every single day.

When you do this, important things get done, and you’ll make massive progress in your life.

4. Practice consistency over intensity

Action gets you started, and intensity has its place, but consistency is the holy grail. Ten hours on a treadmill won’t prepare you for a marathon; it might kill you, but only consistent daily exercise will make you fit. It’s the same for anything worthwhile: eating healthy, building a business, personal development and relationships. Buying your partner flowers on Valentines Day is great, but if you’re a dick for the rest of the year, well… you’re a dick!

5. Seek negative feedback

This is not for everyone, but I ruthlessly seek negative feedback on a daily basis. This is not ‘negative’ in a conventional sense. It is a form learning which, for me, is 100% positive. When I’m neck deep in a project, I find it difficult to see the wood from the trees. So when I want a different perspective, I simply ask someone: “what would you do differently?” or “what am I doing wrong?” Another question I randomly ask people is: “how do you see me limiting myself in life?” Not everyone is comfortable answering these questions, but when I do get feedback, the benefits are immense.

6. Set audacious goals… and don’t forget to zag

Most people are competing for the same things. “The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most competitive.” — Tim Ferriss. I’m a big fan of Mr. Ferriss, and I’d love to meet him some day. But not as a fan — I plan to appear on his podcast. I even know what I’m going say. I’ve been zagging for over a year now, and the results have been phenomenal. It doesn’t always work, so it’s important not to get too attached to your goals, but when it does work… WOW. Chat soon Tim.

Photo by Nacho Bilbao on Unsplash

7. Play the long game

One of my audacious goals was to reach out and learn from some of Ireland’s (and the worlds) most successful individual’s. It worked, and I acquired some fantastic tools and connections along the way. But I wanted more, and I impatiently felt the urge to contact them again. As you can imagine, these are very busy people, and might not take kindly to an eager beaver harassing them for their time. To alleviate my impatience, I implemented the principle ‘play the long game’ into my life. This has paid huge dividends, and I have since developed close relationships with several of these high performers. This would not have occurred if I pestered them with emails.

8. Prioritize and execute

I stole this principle from former Navy SEAL commander and leadership expert Jocko Willink. It is particularly useful when you have a heavy workload. It involves taking a step back to assess a situation, choosing the task that will have the biggest impact, and executing it. When that’s taken care of, you move on to the next task, and then the one after that. When I feel overwhelmed, this is my go-to principle.

9. What would ‘Eckhart’ do?

In times of uncertainty, I think of someone I respect and ask: “what would they do in this situation?” This provides me with an alternative perspective when I feel stuck. I often use spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, but depending on the situation, it’s best to be selective.

There is nothing fancy or special about these principles, but life is so much simpler if you follow this process. Instead of feeling stuck, uncertain or overwhelmed, you’ll have a road-map to guide you in times of need.

I’m not saying it’s easy, and you will need to show up every day. But if you follow these steps, you’ll be amazed by the results.

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  • Brian Pennie

    Brian is a PhD candidate studying the neuroscience of mindfulness, a practice that provided him with the foundations to recover from long-term addiction.

    On October 8th 2013, Brian experienced his first day clean after 15 years of chronic heroin addiction. Instead of perceiving his addiction as a failure, he embraced a second chance at life and went to university to study the complexities of human life. He graduated with a degree in psychology in 2017 winning several awards, including a fully funded PhD scholarship in Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. Since then, he has become a lecturer at University College Dublin, published academic writer, motivational speaker for mental health awareness, and personal development consultant in both commercial and private settings. With a relentless belief that we are what we think, his mission is to show people that change is possible, demonstrating actionable steps through a lived experience.