We all have guiding principles we use to move through our lives. These may have come from our faith, our family, our career, our peers, or our observations about the world. These principles are used to guide us, so we can grow and develop. In Faithwalking, when we talk about guiding principles, we are specifically referring to intentionally chosen guiding principles that we can have access to in moments of anxiety. In order to do that, it’s very important to understand what guiding principles are, and why we need them.
Why Do I Need Guiding Principles?
Guiding principles help me become the person I choose to be. Guiding principles empower me to act in life based on my very best thinking. Some questions to consider are: Where is my life out of alignment with who I intend to be? Are the principles I live by truly mine or were they handed down to me from someone else? Where do I experience embarrassment or guilt about the way I behave? Who do i want to be in the world and how do I want to be? Guiding principles that are well thought out become our map for living.
We need our guiding principles readily available in areas where we are consciously competent. In these areas, we are having to consciously and actively work to live into the person we want to be. Our guiding principles help keep us on the right path and going in the right direction when we become anxious and emotional. As we move into unconscious competence, we no longer need our guiding principles written down, because they become a part of us.
Guiding principles that are written down give us access to our best self. We are our best self when we are calm and thinking clearly. Well thought through guiding principles allow us to “be” the person we hope to be in every situation. Guiding principles enable us to respond rather than react to our anxiety in the ways that we typically react. To be useful in times of high anxiety, our guiding principles must be clear, compelling, and easily accessible to us.
When do you need guiding principles? Ask yourself these two questions.
- Where in your life do you consistently give in to your feelings or to your anxiety?
- Where are you out of integrity with what you claim to believe?
What, Exactly, Are Guiding Principles?
Guiding principles can be many things. In one sense our positive vows are guiding principles. Other guiding principles can center around goals of differentiation, emotional maturity, or our life’s mission. Our guiding principles will be the things we are known for and remembered by. When establishing our guiding principles we need to remember to define them as clear declarations. These are declarations of who we are living into, not with “I wish” or “I want to be” statements but with “I am” statements.
The Declaration Doesn’t Finish the Work, It Begins the Work
The story of the Declaration of Independence reflects what I believe guiding principles are really about. The founding leaders of this nation decided they wanted this country to be free and they made a declaration. But the day the declaration was signed did not mean they were free. For the next several years they had to fight for their freedom daily. They won some battles and they lost some battles but ultimately the war was won because they stayed at the task and didn’t give up. Just like they did, we will have to fight for our guiding principles until they become our way of life. There will be successes and there will be setbacks but we can become who we desire to be if we don’t give up.
It is going to take everything we have to live into our guiding principles, and we are going to have to wake to up daily and fight for them. We can declare things all day long, but if we don’t do anything to make changes, nothing will be different. We must practice living out our guiding principles daily so that they finally become just part of who we are.
Notice also, that the founding leaders didn’t use hopeful or wishful language. They didn’t declare a “hope” of freedom but rather a declaration of freedom that they began living into. A declaration makes us cross the line. A declaration requires risk, challenge, and action. Guiding principles must be declarations. (For further reading The Three Laws of Performance, by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan page 81 and 82)
Establish Guiding Principles with the Pyramid of Guiding Principles
Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden created a pyramid of success. Borrowing from his idea, we can create our own pyramid of guiding principles. These can be built on one another, starting with a strong foundation. It works by using a significant guiding principle as the foundation, and then building from there, one important principle after another. Ultimately, our life purpose would be at the very top of the pyramid.
In order to help you better understand how to build your own pyramid of guiding principles, I will share mine and the process for creating it. My foundational guiding principle is Self-leadership. I start with a word, and then a phrase, and then bullet points that flesh out what that really means to me, so I can deeply understand the intent of the principle. I don’t want to be led by my feelings or other people, so self-leadership is a requirement – and the foundation on which I choose to build my pyramid of guiding principles.
The next tier in my pyramid is balance, enough, and courage. Courage gets right to the heart of vows, such as “I risk being wrong and I am willing to share my ideas before they are fully thought through.” Enough gets at my shame, and Balance addresses one of the lies I’ve believed about myself. The blocks in my pyramid above those are Safe/Accepting and Empowering. I want to be a person who treats others with unconditional love and welcome and I want to help liberate others from the things that keep them in bondage.
For the top of my pyramid my guiding principle is Wholeness. That is my life purpose. I choose to be restored to wholeness in every area of my life and to actively participate in restoring the world to wholeness. We can’t work toward making the world whole if we are not becoming whole ourselves. While we don’t want to delay our work in the world, we can and should be actively working on ourselves at the same time, so we can continue to grow.
The development and use of guiding principles is an ongoing process. They are never really done. I just recently added a new principle, for example, where I felt I had been stuck. What I have found in my own experience is that I excel when I use language that gets me moving. To move forward with the development of our guiding principles, we want to use language that makes us think “YES! I want to be that.” We want to use language that is powerful enough to get us up and into action with enthusiasm.
Remember, we all have a variety of guiding principles already. We all have things that unconsciously guide our lives. The question is, are you being intentional and proactive about who you want to be in life, or are you being reactive and unthinking? Guiding principles that are well thought through, clear, and written down enable us to live the life we desire to live. Our guiding principles will determine what we are known for.