10 Guiding Principles to Live By: Part 3

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If you’re familiar with Ruth Soukup’s podcast and book, Do It Scared, you might remember that she has her “Seven Principles of Courage.” I took that list and incorporated them into my own principles to live by. I want to explain why each of these is important to me, and how practicing them yourself can lead to a healthier, happier life.

Since this turned into a really long post, I’ve split it into three parts. This is part 3. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

7. A Bit of Prep Will Save Hours of Panic.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Have you heard that one before? Usually from a parent telling us to take our vitamins or a doctor talking about why vaccines are important. This principle is pretty similar.

When we take the time to do a little planning and preparation, it saves us oodles of time in the long run otherwise spent running around in a hasty panic because someone forgot to pack a kid’s lunch.

There is also this phrase: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

That’s a true statement—but not an excuse not to plan. Planning gives us the direction and the focus needed to pivot back on track once we do meet “the enemy”. Whatever that enemy is.

How it Works in My Life

This principle comes to life in my morning and evening routines. I stage my lunch, set the coffeemaker to auto-brew, lay out my clothes, and make sure I have everything ready to go the night before. And when I take the time to plan out my month, week, and day, I see a marked improvement in my ability to focus on the most important things.

I am a planner at heart. And I know that not everyone is—my husband, for example, isn’t a planner. It’s not in his nature to do so, and so I don’t expect him to do the same kind of planning that I do.

For me, taking the time to know what I want to do ahead of time helps when things inevitably change their course and require me to pivot. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far this year is that it’s okay to pivot.

How it Can Work for You

If you’ve ever had a moment or string of moments that sends you into a tailwind of panic because you didn’t plan anything (at all), you might want to pay attention.

I don’t doubt that most people’s heads are filled with thoughts and to-dos and reminders. At any given moment, though, we can really only hold on to about four thoughts at the same time. So, save yourself the future panic and start writing them down. As David Allen says, our heads make terrible offices. Our brains are for having ideas, not holding them!

If you’ve ever gotten to the store without a list and forgot half the things you were supposed to buy, this is why!

8. Embrace Honest Feedback.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t read the label from inside the bottle”?

It means we’re blind to our own shortcomings. We can’t see what others see about our behaviors and actions. We might think we’re the greatest at X, Y, or Z, and be totally deluding ourselves.

This is why we must embrace honest feedback. Marshall Goldsmith talks about getting feedback in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. The idea is that we don’t know what to improve until someone tells us.

We might be able to suss it out on our own with a lot of self-reflection and personal questing. But the fastest way to figure it out and the method that has the biggest return on investment is by asking others for their honest feedback—and then just thanking them. No opinions or arguments, just thanks.

How it Works in My Life

I have a tough time reeling back my tendency to share my opinion on feedback. It’s a work in progress. A really good example of embracing honest feedback is during performance evaluation time. Nobody likes talking about performance, and less than nobody likes discussing areas of improvement.

It’s uncomfortable.

I was able to read my manager’s comments before going into my performance evaluation meeting, and so I was prepared to discuss the comment that made me sit back and say “Huh. I wonder why he wrote that.”

That preparation (advance notice, if you will) let me go into the meeting and be able to receive the honest feedback he had for me—and not feel bad about it.

As a result, I’ve been able to recognize when I do the thing we discussed and shift my patterns accordingly.

How it Can Work for You

Again, accepting honest feedback is really, really hard. Especially when we don’t know what that feedback will be, and suspect there’s probably something in it we don’t want to hear.

Let me encourage you to ask one person (spouse, friend, coworker, or boss) for suggestions on improving a part of your life that you already know you want to improve.

Baby steps!

Don’t jump right into the deep end on feedback—you’ll start drowning in a mire of perceived negativity and overwhelm. We don’t want that.

9. Balance is Overrated.

The pursuit of “work-life balance” can drive people insane. Seriously. The second definition of “balance” according to Google is:

“A condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.”

If you work 40 hours a week, you are spending the “best” hours of your weekdays away from home. If you work more than that… Well, your “balance” is seriously out of balance.

I don’t think there’s really such thing as “work-life balance.” There isn’t really an equilibrium between the two. Instead, I think it’s a work-life flow or dance.  

Think about it.

When you try to balance on one foot, it never stays still, does it? You keep adjusting and moving it in small motions to account for tiny shifts in your body weight. You are never truly balanced—it’s like trying to keep a ball at the top of a hill when the hill is shaking.

And for most people, the ball keeps falling down the “work” side of the hill. Life suffers. And then they declare that it’s impossible to maintain a good work-life balance.

But balance is overrated.

Sometimes work will require more of us, and we’ll give it. Other times, life will need us fully present for a longer period of time, and we do so. It’s give-and-take, not equal distribution. It never will be an equal distribution, so we should stop expecting that it should be.

How it Works in My Life

On average, I go on one business trip every two months. This year, though, I had trips every month from February through May. In fact, I had three trips in May, but two of them were personal.

When I’m on business trips, especially to conferences, I still have to answer email and take care of my regular responsibilities even though I’m “in session” all day. And that time comes in the evening after the work day is “over.”

If I’m on-site all week, I may not have enough time in the evening to even watch a YouTube video.

But when I’m home, I’m fully home. I never bring work home with me. Some of my coworkers find this astonishing, but to me it makes sense. My laptop only goes into my bag when I have a trip or I suspect there’ll be something preventing me from going into the office the next day (be it the weather or weird power outages).

How it Can Work for You

Caitlin Pyle likes to say that when you work at home, sometimes you home at work. Life happens—we shouldn’t be trying to force a “balance” upon them.

Think about the relationship between your work and life. Is one gobbling up way more time than the other? Is it consistently like that? If it’s just a season you’re in—or a work project that has a fast-approaching deadline, don’t frustrate yourself trying to “balance” the difference.

Recognize and accept that there will be times in your world when work takes over and times when life takes over. And it’s okay, either way.

10. Just Keep Going.

Of the 10 principles, this one is one of my favorites. Just keep going. In Finding Nemo, Dory says it like this:

“Just keep swimming!”

What does it mean?

It means never give up. Even when you think you can’t keep going, you must.

How it Works in My Life

I started running with a Couch-to-5K program and ended up continuing to run after it finished. But I really don’t like hills. The hills are the ones that really get me. This principle (and some variant wording) becomes a mantra with each step.

You can do it.

Just keep going.

You can do it.

Just keep going.

Have you ever had a meta moment where you realize you’re at one place on the path and think about how far you’ve got left to go? Then, later on, you have another meta moment and realize you can barely remember how the time passed, and now you’re almost done?

This happens to me a lot, not just when running. I feel like those “meta” moments are the in-between conscious thoughts that surround the idea to just keep going.

How it Can Work for You

As far as principles to live by go, “just keep going” is the easiest to understand and yet possibly the hardest to execute.

You know you should just keep going, just work through the difficult times, put one foot in front of the other, and come out on the other side with triumph. But it’s not always like that. The valley of darkness can confuse you. It can disempower and discourage you. It can feed depression and anxiety.

But if you don’t keep going, you’ll never reach the other side. You’ll never “get what you want” or achieve your dreams.

Of all of Ruth’s 7 Principles of Courage, “Just Keep Going” is the one that brought her out of depression and multiple suicide attempts and towards the empire she’s running now. If following those words got her where she is now, where could they take you?

Part 3 of my 10 guiding principles to live by finishes up with preparation, feedback, balance (or the myth of it), and the determination to just keep going.

Call to Action

If you’ve read through part 1 (here) and part 2 (here), you’ve now gotten through all 10 of my personal guiding principles to live by. While 7 of the 10 are adapted from Ruth Soukup’s 7 Principles of Courage, my interpretation only draws on her book and podcast for bits and pieces. You can find out more about Ruth Soukup on her website, Do It Scared.

You may realize you’re already embodying some of these principles. Think about which ones, of all 10, resonate the most with you, and which ones you know you should start practicing but you haven’t yet for some reason.

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