Principles of Life and How to Create Your Own

Principles of life, Isaac Newton and the apple

Isaac Newton & gravity

What Are Principles?

The world is a network of cycles and patterns.  Things like, the time between meals, the passing of the seasons or the ups and downs of economies.  For example, one principle, based on thousands of generations of experience, is that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. 

Principles are like formulas that predict how things behave.  But here is the fun part.  You can also use principles to assist you in solving seemingly unrelated problems.    

Say you were in a rowboat, adrift on the ocean.  The lone survivor after your ship went down.  You had food and water, but no compass, radio or cellphone.   Without a reference point, you would probably just row in circles till your food and water ran out.  But knowing just two additional things can help you out.  One was that ancient principle about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  The other is you know the port you sailed from was in the east.  Knowing the sun follows the same pattern every day, you decide to row into the sun in the morning, then in the afternoon, row away from the sun.  Following this simple procedure will eventually lead you to safety.

For almost every cycle or pattern, there is a principle that can help you get where you want to go.

Examples of Principles

Scrum cycle


In 2001, a group of seventeen software developers published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development (1).  That manifesto includes the developer’s principles for creating software.  Their principles are:

  • Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
  • Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months)
  • Close, daily cooperation between businesspeople and developers
  • Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress
  • Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  • Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  • Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  • Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly

In the early years of Microsoft Windows, a new version was released every year or two.  All too often, these upgrades resulted in crashed computers, lost data and frustrated customers.  The programing steps to create these early versions were mapped out in great sequential detail that spanned months or years.  Unfortunately, things like hardware improvements, programing bugs, or changing customer needs, could upset the entire timeline and cause additional programing that delayed the software release for months.  Sometime around 2014, Microsoft started adopting an Agile approach.  Today, Microsoft updates the Windows 10 application or security modules every few weeks.  This frequent delivery of usable software is a core part of Agile’s principles.

Financial success

Ray Dalio, ranked as the top hedge fund manager of all time, has built his fortunes by creating and using principles.  Ray didn’t start at the top, he built his way there by studying his successes and mistakes, finding the root causes and devising principles to help him make better decisions in the future.  As a sample, here’s Ray’s principle for getting what you want out of life (2):

Use the 5-Step Process to Get What You Want Out of Life

  1. 1
    Have clear goals
  2. 2
    Identify and don’t tolerate problems
  3. 3
    Diagnose problems to get at their root causes
  4. 4
    Design a plan
  5. 5
    Push through to completion

This is just one set of principles that Ray uses.  He has many others that contribute to his success.  Principles covering things like:

  • Life Principles
  • Work Principles
  • Building and Evolving Your Machine

So far, we’ve looked at how principles help castaways, software developers and an investor.  Here’s one last example of principles at work. 

Design Principles

Have you ever noticed how Apple’s logo has evolved over time? (3)  It’s a great example of design principles at work.  Whether designing a logo, an advertisement for a product, or a poster for an event, designers use design principles to make their work engaging and memorable.  Some common principles of design are:   

  • Unity/harmony
  • Balance
  • Hierarchy
  • Scale/proportion
  • Dominance/emphasis
  • Similarity and contrast

Combining design principles with elements like color, line, shape and space, help Designers craft images that cause us to pause and take in their message.  Whether an ancient cave painting of bison, or a poster for the latest blockbuster movie, the principles of good design repeat themselves over and again.  And situations that repeat themselves are the perfect place to utilize principles.

How to create your own principles

How will you use principles?

Everyone's needs are different.  Would you like to use your principles to help you personal life, work life or both.  This question is key.  You might have noticed in Ray Dailo's example, he created principles that covered both his work and personal life.  Over time, as I focused on understanding my principles they evolved that way too.  I find there is so much overlap between my personal life and work, that to be the person I want to be, it's advantageous to merge them.

Research and gather ideas

Next, do an internet search on related topics like: “religious principles”, “business principles”, “scientific principles”, “writing principles” “_____________ principles”.  Just about any topic will result in many, many ideas.  You can print these off and use them as idea starters in the next step, brainstorming.


This process gives you the freedom to generate a lot of ideas.  To start the process: locate a pen, some sticky notes and a quiet room with a blank wall.  It can also be helpful to ask a few people you trust to join your brainstorming session.  They can build enthusiasm, offer different points of view and prevent self-editing.  Make sure everyone understands that in the brainstorming session, there are no bad ideas.  The goal is to jot down as many ideas on sticky notes as possible in the time you allow.  As far as time goes, I suggest no more than thirty to forty minutes. 


After a short break of ten minutes or so, return to the wall and organize the stickies into groups.  As you start to organize the stickies, you will notice themes or groups developing.  Don’t worry about being absolutely correct or overthink this step.  The purpose of using stickies is to allow you to easily move things around.  If you see new patterns of themes developing later on, it’s easy to adjust.


The next step is to review your principle and make it shine.  Look over each of your groups and write its essence down on a new sticky note.  It’s important to write several versions, each on a separate sticky note.  Try rearranging the words or testing the sentence with your experience.  You may want to let these ideas marinate for a day or two and then revisit them with fresh eyes.  When you're done, it will feel right and sound right too.


The last step is to place your principles someplace where they are easy to access.  This could be on a wall near your desk, in a notebook or, on Voycoo's dedicated principals page. 

Some other reasons to consult your principles are:

  • When looking for shortcuts or solutions to problems
  • When facing work related obstacles
  • Exploring how to respond to challenging world events
  • When an unexpected event turns your personal world upside down
  • Principles are helpful in creating your own personal vision

 Defining your principles before you need them and having them close at hand, provides you with a valuable tool to save time, avoid known problems, and improve your results.  

Leave a Comment

I'm always curious to hear what you think.  What are some of your favorite principles?  Has there been times principles have really helped you?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.


(1) Agile software development, Wikipedia

(2) Principles by Ray Dalio - Summary

(3) Evolution of Apple’s logo

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.