Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.
Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs, cites principles as his key to success.
As with animals, many of our decision-making drivers are below the surface. An animal doesn’t “decide” to fly or hunt or sleep or fight in the way that we go about making many of our own choices of what to do—it simply follows the instructions that come from the subconscious parts of its brain. These same sorts of instructions come to us from the same parts of our brains, sometimes for good evolutionary reasons and sometimes to our detriment. Our subconscious fears and desires drive our motivations and actions through emotions such as love, fear, and inspiration. It’s physiological. Love, for example, is a cocktail of chemicals (such as oxytocin) secreted by the pituitary gland.
While I had always assumed that logical conversation is the best way for people to get at what is true, armed with this new knowledge about the brain, I came to understand that there are large parts of our brains that don’t do what is logical. For example, I learned that when people refer to their “feelings”—such as saying “I feel that you were unfair with me”—they are typically referring to messages that originate in the emotional, subconscious parts of their brains. I also came to understand that while some subconscious parts of our brains are dangerously animalistic, others are smarter and quicker than our conscious minds. Our greatest moments of inspiration often “pop” up from our subconscious. We experience these creative breakthroughs when we are relaxed and not trying to access the part of the brain in which they reside, which is generally the neocortex. When you say, “I just thought of something,” you noticed your subconscious mind telling your conscious mind something. With training, it’s possible to open this stream of communication.
Many people only see the conscious mind and aren’t aware of the benefits of connecting it to the subconscious. They believe that the way to accomplish more is to cram more into the conscious mind and make it work harder, but this is often counterproductive. While it may seem counterintuitive, clearing your head can be the best way to make progress.
Knowing this, I now understand why creativity comes to me when I relax (like when I’m in the shower) and how meditation helps open this connection. Because it is physiological, I can actually feel the creative thoughts coming from elsewhere and flowing into my conscious mind.
But a note of caution is in order too: When thoughts and instructions come to me from my subconscious, rather than acting on them immediately, I have gotten into the habit of examining them with my conscious, logical mind. I have found that in addition to helping me figure out which thoughts are valid and why I am reacting to them as I do, doing this opens further communication between my conscious and subconscious minds. It’s helpful to write down the results of this process. In fact that’s how my Principles came about.
If you take nothing else away from this chapter, be aware of your subconscious—of how it can both harm you and help you, and how by consciously reflecting on what comes out of it, perhaps with the help of others, you can become happier and more effective.