Make Better Decisions by Defining Your Personal Ethics


Have you heard of The Butterfly Effect?

Imagine for a moment a butterfly beating its wings as it crosses a meadow full of wildflowers.  Each beat sets the surrounding air in motion creating little swirls of movement.  One of those swirls nudges a pocket of warm meadow air into motion taking along with it a column of moist meadow air. 

Over the next week or so more moist air is lifted up until a thunderstorm forms, and ultimately spawning a tornado.  All this from the graceful beating of two small wings.

Our decisions are like the Butterfly Effect.  The beat of our life, our decisions, therefore influencing our overall happiness. 

An Example of Personal Ethics

(or not)

Have you ever found money laying on the floor?  Maybe it was at work or while shopping?  Ever had a friend become upset and insult you during what started out as an interesting political discussion?  You receive a small inheritance and could put it toward retirement or buy a new car.  In each of these cases, what do you do?

So, do you try to find the owner of the money?  Give it to the staff at the information desk?  Do you pocket it and celebrate your good fortune with a delicious Mocha Latte?

On the way back to your car, enjoying your Latte, did you pretend not to notice the mother and daughter searching the spot where you found the money?  Did you feel it, that tinge?

Knowing your ethics helps you make better decisions.  And when you chose poorly, gives you a base to make better choices in the future.

Ethics are like a mountain that lifst you up.  From higher ground horizons are wider, your vision clearer.

From a strong foundation you can reach the stars.

What are Personal Ethics?

Personal ethics

-moral principles that frame your world and guide your decisions.

Let’s go deeper into personal ethics and explore what they are.  Ethics are principles for determining correctness, what’s best, what’s right.

Ethics help you make better decisions, evaluate people and situations and have better results.  A trick Aristotle used was to select words triggering larger ethical principles and concepts.

Aristotle used four simple words as the basis for his personal ethics.  His choices were:

  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Courage
  • Justice

Personal ethics encapsulate your True Beliefs.  Knowing your truth and living it leads to a happier life. 

Why are Ethical Decisions Important?

In his book Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote that "living well and doing well are the same as being happy".  Don't you find yourself happy when you are being true to yourself and immersed in whatever you are doing?  Even work?

Your ethics provide insight into your past, give meaning to your present, and foretell your future.

Pondering our ethics for even a moment changes us. There’s that jagged tinge of regret for a past shortcoming. An ongoing internal debate about our next move. A sense of wellbeing from decisions grounded in who we really are.

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."  -Aristotle   Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions]

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”


Ethical principles could be single word or take the form of a short phrase or motto.  Whatever form they take, they help you choose the right course, your next step.  No two people need the same ethics.  One person might place a high emphasis on “Courage”, while someone else might to prefer the word “Valor”.

Understanding your personal ethics can:

  • Help you make better decisions.
  • Help you chart your own course.
  • Help you learn from your past.

What are Value Ethics?

Aristotle was a philosopher who lived 2,300 years ago.  He developed a system for making decisions based on an individual’s unique character and principles.  He called this philosophy Value Ethics.

Aristotle taught that decisions based on four key ethics lead to a happier life.  Those ethics are: prudence, temperance, courage, and justice.[1]  We don’t use words like prudence and temperance very often, so here are the definitions for you.

Prudence, seeing ahead, wisdom, good judgment caution, training ourselves to use reason.

Temperance, moderation in action, restraint.


Courage, bravery, confronting uncertainty, moral strength.


Justice, being fair, impartial, just, conforming to laws, taking right action.


For over 2,000 years people have followed Aristotle’s lead and weighed their decisions against their ethical values. 

Reference:  [1] Aristotelian ethics

How to Create a List of Your Own Personal Ethics

The fastest way to create a list of personal ethics is to use Aristotle's Value Ethics.  

Another option is to create your own list of ethical trigger words.  To help with that I've created a spreadsheet containing over 75 words that describe ethical principles.  The spreadsheet will help you find those 4-7 words that define your own personal ethics.

To create your own personal ethics list, join my list.

How to Make Better Decisions

Your personal ethics acts as a filter. Now that you have your own list of personal ethics, you can use it to gage events, people and decisions.

Take for example a decision at work. Let's say your boss assigns you the task of meeting with an unhappy customer. You’ve heard the customer is upset and wants immediate action and solutions. You know the first step should be a phone call, but you hesitate. You’ve never done something like this before.

That hesitation is a signal to take a moment and consider your course of action.

Let’s say your list of ethics are:


You quickly run through your list of ethics. Considering the current situation, here’s some actions they inspire.

Friendly: Be friendly, let the customer know you are on their side.

Courageous: You have done difficult things before. Facing difficulties has always helped you grow.

Generous: You can do more than the customer expects. Don’t tell them how to solve the problem, personally solve if for them. You can work through your company’s bureaucracy easier than they can.

Fair: What is a fair solution for them and your company?

Detached: Remain detached from the outcome. You know the customer is upset. Remaining detached allows you to be objective and calm. Your calm approach will help calm the customer.

Determined: Resolve and be determined in solving this problem. It might take several calls and some footwork on your part. Your determination will help win the customer’s trust and reduce their frustration.

This line of thought can happen quickly. Creative solutions appear immediately as you consider each of your ethics. Instead of worrying, procrastinating and making things worse. You can quickly create a course of action. A set of easy to follow steps. Steps that ring with honesty because they are based on what you truly believe.

Daily events like this help you develop your ethic muscles. The more you practice, the more you become the person you want to be.

Ethics and Decision Making Wrap up

Sound ethics is a cornerstone of your happiness. Your personal ethics solidifies what’s important and defines the kind of person you become.

You may choose to adopt Aristotle’s four ethical principles or select principles with a unique personal flavor. What’s important is that they trigger thoughts of what’s correct, what’s best, what’s right.

Our choices can spawn tornadoes or clear blue skies. Filtering your decisions through your personal ethics can transform your life.

Your Next Step

Try using your list of ethics on a problem you’re facing. What new insights appear? What other uses can you think of for your list of ethics?

Let me know in the comments below!

Tom Damoth

Tom is passionate about turning dreams into reality. When he's not working on Voycoo, you'll find him hiking, taking photographs, or training for his annual 100-mile bicycle ride. Tom is the creator of Voycoo, a To-Do List with a twist.