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Coaching Leadership Personal growth

Principles and values

Everyone’s got values. Even thieves, robbers, and murders! The key is to understand what shapes those values and how does one intend to apply it in their lives. For me, the answer have always been in the principles that I follow. But aren’t they the same? No, they aren’t!

Principles are self-evident and — as part of most traditions and philosophies over the ages — they’ve been woven into the fabric of societies throughout human history. They often concern human behavior and govern interactions between people. Principles represent an objective reality that transcends cultures and individuals.

Steven Covey

So, fairness, integrity, and honesty are principles just like the law of gravity. Natural laws. Every behavior or action has a consequence. If you drop something, it’ll fall. If I lie to you, you don’t trust me. That’s absolutely no other possibility. (Sure, you can fix things, but that’s a different matter altogether.)

Values on the other hand are your beliefs and opinion you have regarding specific issues, ideas, or life in general that motivate you to act one way or another. Think of them as a guide for human behavior. So, they’re highly subjective and are often altered based on one’s circumstances, demands, and needs. Just like our (personal or professional) goals.

Now, that you know the difference between principles and values, you should know that the timelessness and universality of principles can help you shape powerful values and goals for your life. Principles act as a compass where as values act like Google Maps — they change, often, and you don’t have clue why.

I’m not suggesting that living out your values is a bad thing. Not at all. I’m inviting you to consider establishing a set of principles that can guide your values. This switch will undoubtedly help you evaluate challenges/opportunities, take a stand when you’re in doubt, or find yourself searching for answers.

If you are like most people, I’m pretty sure you haven’t given principles a thought. That is okay. You can always start with listing down the values you believe in. If you don’t, start with this list of 50 core values and narrow down to the top 5 that resonate the most with you.

Once you have your list of core values, deliberate on these questions:

  1. What are the universal, unchanging principles that you can clearly identify?
  2. What are the values that you now hold?
  3. Do your current habits reflect those values and, ultimately, do your habits and values reflect the principles that transcend current circumstances and can provide a purpose and mission for your life?

(H/T: Keith Norris)

Don’t try to answer these in one sitting. Take your time. Preferably over the weekend or the workweek (depending on when you read this). There aren’t any right answers as of now as the questions often need to be mulled over a few times because you streamline it to principles that matter the most. And of course, like values, more isn’t merrier. If everything is a principle, nothing is.

Once you have identified your core principles, go back to your core values. Do they still resonate? If yes, great! If not, review these 50 core values and see if anything from that list aligns with your principles. If there’s something you would like to include to the values’ list, add it in.

Simple, but not easy. The next challenge for you will be to live out the principles and values you have identified. But that just might take you a lifetime to master. The key, as with all things I teach and share, is not to expect perfection but application. You have to let life teach you lessons.