Whether we realize it or not, we each have a personal philosophy, a set of fundamental beliefs about how life works. Our personal philosophy determines what we do and how we interpret what happens to us, and as you might guess, it’s critically important.
We can think of it as a series of answers to important questions:
- How should I spend my time?
- Should I do as much as possible or as little as possible?
- How should I handle problems?
- What is success, exactly, and how do I achieve it?
Our personal philosophy is a lens, a pair of glasses through which we see the world. The problem is, most of us haven’t had our prescription checked in years.
If you’re happy with your life, your personal philosophy has played a part. And if things aren’t going so great, changing it might be where you need to start.
What a Poor Philosophy Will Do for You
Before I discovered personal development, my personal philosophy looked something like this:
- Wait for instructions so you don’t make a mistake.
- Do it perfectly or not at all.
- There’s plenty of time. Later is better.
- It’s all about relaxation. Work is just an annoying interruption.
- When a problem arises, a little complaining does the trick.
- Six Dr. Peppers a day is just fine, thanks. (Seriously, I guzzled the stuff!)
This led to a lot of frustration (not to mention an expanding waistline). I figured my best bet was to wait for an authority figure (usually a teacher or boss) to tell me what to do.
I was constantly looking for validation from others, and I was terrified of making a mistake because I believed making mistakes meant I wasn’t smart.
As a perfectionist, I often failed to act until the very last minute, paralyzed by fear of error. I spent thousands of hours playing video games, looking at work and school as interruptions.
I gave in to the urge to bitch and moan when problems came up. It just felt good, you know?
Also, I drank six Dr. Peppers a day (this one needs no elaboration).
What a Good Philosophy Will Do for You
Once I realized I was largely in control of my thoughts, my actions, and (therefore) my life, I gradually made changes to my personal philosophy:
- Don’t wait for instructions. Mistakes won’t kill you, but timidity might.
- Done is better than perfect.
- Time is constantly slipping away. Act.
- Relaxation is only satisfying when it’s balanced with work. Or, as Jim Rohn has put it, “Make rest a necessity, not an objective.”
- Complaining doesn’t solve anything; it only makes you feel worse.
- The fewer Dr. Peppers consumed, the better.
I realized that the most successful people are those who take initiative, who write their own instructions. They see mistakes as learning opportunities.
I started looking at time as the most precious commodity available. The older I get, the stronger I feel about this.
After years of taking too much leisure time (and feeling lousy as a result), I flipped things around: I now spend as much time as possible doing meaningful work and less time relaxing. I find this makes me much happier.
I started to pay attention to how much I complained and realized it was a lot. I worked to minimize it and focus on the good in each situation, and voila! I started to find less to complain about.
No more soda. Good riddance!
Evaluate Your Personal Philosophy
Let’s check your glasses and see if you need an adjusted prescription. You can do the following exercise in about ten minutes (five if necessary):
- Write down 5 things you believe about yourself and the world.
- Take a cold, hard look at these beliefs. Which of these are helping you live the life you want, and which aren’t?
- For each belief that needs to change, identify a more helpful belief you could install in its place.
- Review your new beliefs each day for 3 weeks. Reassess. Do you feel better or worse?