Key to happiness: finding your guiding principle and shaping your life around it.

Hi amazing people! Today I wanted to write about an exercise I've been practicing for some years and that I think is really helpful in guiding us toward our greatest happiness. It's what I like to call The Guiding Principle Exercise.

We all have a guiding principle that defines us. Sometimes we know it and live by it and sometimes we haven't given it much thought in order to really harness its power. A principle by definition is:

noun:
a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

As individuals we each have something that is truly the foundation of who we are. This foundation is the rawest materials from which we are made. It is a fabric that runs through us and has been there from the moment we were born. We can see it rather clearly in children under 7-years old. Why? Because they aren't yet concerned with how they are perceived, but are rather living as they truly are and as they truly feel (how magical!)

Unfortunately, as we age and are taught the social behaviors that are "appropriate" we quickly begin to let that unfiltered version of ourselves sit in the backseat as we navigate the way we want to appear to the world (a.k.a. build our reputation) or build a life based on what we are taught is "right".

Of course, that's not the way we should be living and it is the reason why so many of us find ourselves a bit immersed in sadness. “Be yourself” is one of the most used phrases of all time and while it's absolutely correct it covers too much territory and makes it intimidating to even know where to start. So, where do we start? Start with The Guiding Principle Exercise.

The Guiding Principle Exercise

1. Really sit and think about the thing that drives you. What is something that just isn’t a negotiable part or characteristic of who you are? I've found that a shortcut to this is to think about a person that just rubs you the wrong way and think about why they bother you. Are they cheaters? Maybe your guiding principle is loyalty. Are they unfair? Maybe your guiding principle is justice. Are they loud with a warrior-like aggression? Maybe your guiding principle is peace. Etc. Talk with friends and family -parents are great- and ask them how you were as a toddler. Ask your friends how they see you (make sure these are longtime friends who have known you a while).

2. Hone in on the areas of your life where you’re really happy. How do those areas or people match your fundamental vibe, your main principle? Perhaps your main principle is servitude and therefore your job as a nurse is a huge source of happiness no matter how stressful the job is. Maybe optimism is your guiding principle and that’s why you love every second of being out with your happy-go-lucky BFF.

3. Find areas of your life where you are lacking in happiness, where you feel unfulfilled or where you feel downright angry. Notice how those things don’t align with your guiding principle. Perhaps your guiding principle is leadership and therefore being in a job where you are asked to be in a submissive position constantly taking orders is a source of great (almost unbearable) sadness. Or perhaps your guiding principle is respect and you find yourself in an unsatisfactory relationship with someone who is constantly flirting with people or checking them out right in front of you.

If your guiding principle is respect, a relationship with a man like this will not align!

4. This is perhaps the most difficult step. Live and choose only the things that are right with your heart and with your guiding principle! Everything -and I mean everything - either does or doesn’t align with your guiding principle. From your relationships to your job to the music you listen to and to the clothes you wear, everything either does or doesn’t fit. Imagine that you are a tree. The root of the tree is you, the trunk is your guiding principle and the branches are all of the different areas encompassed by life. Everything must come from you and must be filtered through  your guiding principle in order to grow.

To help you get started, I’ll use myself as an example and then give you a list of guiding principles to get your thoughts going.

My guiding principle is FREEDOM. I need freedom in everything I do. I cannot live without the liberty of coming and going. The greatest moment of my life was getting a car for the first time at 17. That car meant freedom and therefore it meant everything. As a child, I wanted to dance and be left to my devices. I hated the tight pigtails my mom put on me everyday and preferred by wild curls. I dreaded shoes and took them off any time I could. I crawled at 4 months and was potty-trained by 1. My mom says I did not want to be contained or controlled.

I'll let you guess which one I am.

Places where my guiding principle didn't fit:
Past relationships with controlling people and schedules. Friendships that placed too many pressures on me. Platforms where I wasn't allowed to say what I wanted. Jobs where I was micromanaged. Girdles, Spanx and overly tight clothing. Tight hair do’s. Restrictive diets.

Places where my guiding principles fit perfectly:
Friends that loved me but didn't expect me to call religiously or be in constant contact. Love with unconventional people who never tried to control me, but rather wanted to run with me. Jobs where I was trusted and where the work I did was more important than the time I spent behind a desk. Flowy clothing, open roads, and 1960s rock n’ roll.

I make all decisions on my guiding principle, down to the clothing I wear. I am happy when I operate from a place of freedom. This is the key to my happiness.

I'm listing here only some of the many guiding principles to help you start brainstorming.

  • Freedom
  • Order
  • Servitude
  • Leadership
  • Spirituality (Liquid)
  • Terrestrial (Rooted)
  • Extroversion
  • Introversion
  • Loyalty/Consistency
  • Fluidity/Adventure
  • Optimism
  • Realism

There are many more! I'd love to hear them and how this exercise worked for you.

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss with you the impact your reputation can play on living by your guiding principle, as well as the one and only downside to finding your guiding principle. Stay tuned.

Good luck and much love as you explore the road back to your greatest destination: YOU!

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