Principles vs Goals

Picked up Ray Dalio’s Principles: Life & Work recently (highly recommend, book report coming soon), and it immediately helped me synthesize something I’ve been struggling to articulate for years. 


There’s a huge difference between principles and goals. It’s easy to get them mixed up, or to replace your principles with goals.

Principles are the guiding light of the way you live your life, informing every decision you make.

Goals are benchmarks or destinations to strive for, informing the way you spend your time.

I used to have my principles fully sorted. It was easy to do so when I was devout, because the purpose of religion is to be a ready made set of principles to pick off the shelf and apply. But as I watched the principles I’d believed in so fervently prove themselves bankrupt over the last decade, it wasn’t easy to find new, working, durable principles.

But it was easy to make new goals. And I did. I made some enormous goals and achieved many of them, including near impossible multi year goals. But achieving goals without principles steals some of the satisfaction of achievement, and makes it much more difficult to calibrate a new round of goals.

I still want to be a believer.

My new principles will be based in a positive sort of secular humanism. My unsorted list so far:

  • Life exists because it must, and this is beautiful.
  • Life is in a constant process of optimization, a cycle of explore / exploit.
  • Optimization is healthiest when it benefits the whole.
  • We are good enough to figure out how to help optimization / evolution along, and do so for greater full benefit.

Of course, there are a great many thinkers across the historical and cultural spectrum to borrow from. In the end, I hope I’ll be able to compile my complete list of principles and cite a diverse set of sources for each one.

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