In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about a principle-oriented approach. This approach is said to be the fundamental compass that determines our choices to lead an effective life. What I find interesting is his argument as to why we would want to choose such an approach :
One way to quickly grasp the self-evident nature of principles is to simply consider the absurdity of attempting to live an effective life based on their opposites. I doubt that anyone would seriously consider unfairness, deceit, baseness, uselessness, mediocrity, or degeneration to be a solid foundation for lasting happiness and success. Although people may argue about how these principles are defined or manifested or achieved, there seems to be an innate consciousness and awareness that they exist.
I would like to take your attention on the last sentence. I was personally disappointed when Stephen stopped his discussion at that point. That being said, later down the road I understood that his book’s purpose wasn’t about introducing spiritual or philosophical ideals. The book is concerned with giving you exactly what you need to get on your way. I do think that this makes the book one of the best I have ever read in the self-help category since it is driven by a very specific objective : teach the layman effective living.
This does not mean it is sufficient for a curious fellow who is trying to find out the truth for himself(me and maybe you?). I have not yet found a companion book to the seven habits that goes deeper into human nature, will and empowerment. Although there is a great supplement called Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. It is well written and depicts what can happen to a human being when he is placed in an environment that devalues him on every facet of his personality. There… we might just find out what pushes people to go beyond themselves.
Ultimately it is a choice. For as long as we are interested in unconscious self-inflicted pain and a craving for acting like a victim, there is not much out there that will change our mind. To clarify, the choice that is presented to us is processed by our brain. Every choice has multiple outcomes. Each outcome is valued. When we choose the outcomes that leave us worst-off, were actively looking for problems. Were drilling down a path and reinforcing it. It becomes easier and easier to choose the path until it becomes automatic. This could have happened very early in our growth, without us even knowing about it.
I suppose that the difficulty lies in understanding how we will feel when we apply values like honesty, goodwill, courage and morality if we’ve never consistently acted upon them. The reverse is also true. When you lived in mediocrity for years, it can feel like you don’t even know how it would be to feel much of anything else. It’s a numbing of the senses. In the same way that demonstrating a lack of courage leads to cowardice, living below our potential leads to a lack of energy, of willpower and sensitivity. The key here is to experience, to objectively look at the results… and avoid all shame that will arise from trying out new paths. A cruder, more visual example is seeing yourself bathing in a tub filled with shit. If you were born in there it is your existence. You don’t know better, you don’t know there is another reality that makes life blissful(and less stinky!). Now let’s suppose you did know about the better world, about cleaning up your water. It becomes evident that clear water is what we want to bath in. Hence choosing the positive principles.