“Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the
foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life,”
writes investor Ray Dalio in his bestselling book, Principles. Dalio
focuses on skills like decision-making, investing, and managing
organizations. While reading through it, I became inspired to put
togethermy own list of principles that I’ve devised after more
than five years of interviewing and coaching elite performers in
sports, business, and beyond. Like Dalio’s, these principles are a
foundation for a better you.
1. Stress + Rest = Growth
Whether you want to grow your body or mind or get better
at a specific skill, you need to push to the outer limits of your
current ability, and then follow that hard work with appropriate
recovery and reflection. Decades of research in exercise science show that this is how you get stronger and faster, and the latest cognitive science shows that this is also how you get smarter and more creative.
2. Focus on the Process, Not Results
The best athletes and entrepreneurs aren’t focused on
being the best; they’re focused on constant self-improvement. When you
stop stressing about external outcomes — like whether you win or lose,
attain a certain promotion, or achieve some other form of validation — a
huge burden is lifted off your shoulders and you can focus your energy
on the things you can control. As a result, you almost always end up
performing better. Research shows that concentrating on the process is best for both performance and mental health.
3. Stay Humble
Humility is the key to growth. If you don’t maintain an
open mind, you’ll severely limit your opportunities to learn and make
progress. The best athletes trust their training programs but are also
constantly looking for new ways to improve. Same goes for the best
thinkers and creatives; they tend to be confident but not arrogant,
and they check their egos at the door. Knowledge is always evolving and
advancing — if you want to evolve and advance with it, you need to keep
an open mind.
4. Build Your Tribe
There’s an old saying that you’re the average of the
five people you spend the most time with. Turns out that’s true. A large
and growing body of behavioral science research shows that motivation
(or lack thereof) is contagious. One study, “Is Poor Fitness Contagious?Evidence
from Randomly Assigned Friends,” found that up to 70 percent of your
fitness level may be explained by the people you train with. Other research
shows that if you work on mental tasks with people who are internally
driven and love what they do, you’re more likely to end up the same way.
If, on the other hand, you surround yourself with people who have a
negative attitude and are focused solely on winning the rat race, you
set yourself up for a less fulfilling experience.
5. Take Small, Consistent Steps to Achieve Big Gains
Habits build upon themselves. If you want to make any
kind of significant change, you’d be wise to do so gradually and over
time. In Stanford researcher BJ Fogg’s behavior model,
whether someone takes action depends on both their motivation and their
ability to complete a given task. If you regularly overshoot on the
ability side of the equation, you’re liable to become discouraged and
quickly flame out. But if you incrementally increase the challenge, what
was hard last week will seem easier today. Put differently: Small and
consistent victories compound over time, leading to massive gains.
6. Be a Minimalist to Be a Maximalist
You can’t be great at everything. Regularly reflect on
what matters most to you and focus your efforts there. In the words
of Mayo Clinic researcher and human performance expert Michael Joyner:
“You’ve got to be a minimalist to be a maximalist; if you want to be
really good at, master, and thoroughly enjoy one thing, you’ve got to
say no to many others.”
7. Make the Hard Thing Easier
Willpower is overrated. Rather than relying completely
on self-control, intentionally design your environment to make the hard
thing easier. For example, if you (like everyone) are constantly
distracted by your smartphone, don’t just turn it off — remove it altogether
from where you’re trying to concentrate. If your challenge is eating
healthy, instead of relying on your willpower at 9 p.m. after a glass of
wine, simply keep the brownies out of the house. This applies to
everything. Don’t just think about how you’re going to accomplish your
goals; think about how you’re going to designfor them.
8. Remember to Experience Joy
At first, this may sound crazy. Who doesn’t want
to experience joy? But many Type A people are so driven to keep growing
and progressing that sometimes they forget to be fully present for
special moments or neglect to pause and celebrate their milestones.
Don’t fall for this trap — it’s an especially dangerous one. “Moments of
joy don’t just give us happiness — they also give us strength,” says Adam Grant, author of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. When things aren’t going well, we can fall back on happy memories to give us the resilience to move forward.
There is nothing fancy about any of these principles,
though they do work best when all are applied together. Build them into
your life and they will help you do it — whatever that is — better.