“The object of studying philosophy is to know one’s own mind, not other peoples.”
— William Ralph Inge
Starting from a very young age, we are constantly told what we should and shouldn’t do. Parents and teachers say that you have to go to school and follow all the rules to succeed. Society puts pressure on us to go through a checklist: get a degree, get a job, get married, have kids, work, retire, die. Meanwhile, the media constantly spews out headlines about how we can become the next dropout billionaire like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
But what if you don’t want to do all of that? What if your definition of a great life has nothing to do with any of the things parents, society, or the media is telling you? Maybe you prefer to aim for early retirement and travel the world. Or perhaps you’d like a nice and light day job while pursuing side gigs on evenings and weekends for more fun. In any case, you might want something different than what other people try to tell you is right.
“The one who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd.”
— Albert Einstein
There are many paths that we might take. The most important thing is that we decide for ourselves what to do, without succumbing to the pressures and expectations of others. That is the essence of creating your own personal philosophy for life. Ultimately, you are creating your own definition of what it means for you to be happy and successful, along with carving out your own path to get there.
No one can create your personal philosophy for you. But you can answer 3 fundamental questions that will help you build the foundation of it. By doing so, you will have your starting point and much of the ideas that may eventually become part of your personal philosophy for life.
What are your values?
“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”
— Roy E. Disney
Your values are the basic and fundamental qualities that you use to describe your character. Having values is important because they help you to create your own definition of who you are. Having that definition will help you to stay on the right track to becoming your best self.
For example, consider the following list of values:
Just by reading those 8 words, you could get a pretty good idea of what a person with such qualities would be like. If you were to define such a list of values for yourself, then you essentially have a picture of your ideal best self. You can use those values as a guide for how to live and work towards that ideal character, becoming the best you can be.
Your values don’t necessarily have to be from that list above. They can be any words that you can think of that you’d like to use to define your character. You can go through a very simple exercise: list ten words that you would use to define your best self. For some ideas, check out the lists by James Clear and Mind Tools.
Now that you know your values, you have a clear picture of what it means to be your best self. You can go about life practicing those values and living in a way that will help you eventually reach your full potential.
What are your principles?
“It was high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, ‘always do what you are afraid to do.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Principles define the way you act and make decisions. The purpose of having principles is to have a system for how you should act in different situations in your life, with an emphasis on maintaining the consistency of positive methods.
For example, some of Aristotle’s great life principles are:
- “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” — build good habits and avoid bad ones
- “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” — Teamwork makes dreams work
- “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” — Always do what you love
- “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” — Delayed gratification and always think long-term
If you consistently followed those kinds of principles, they will lead you to a very particular form of life. Clearly, you will be aiming to establish good habits, work in teams, focus on work that gives you purpose, and always aim for long-term gains. The principles are simple and easy to understand, yet have very powerful and positive implications.
You can establish your own principles for living life depending on what you want to achieve. You can make a list of simple, easy to understand principles that you can always refer to when in doubt. Your principles will guide your actions and decisions to be consistently good and ultimately make sure that you live your best possible life.
What are your goals?
“If you’re bored with life — you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things — you don’t have enough goals.”
— Lou Holtz
Your goals define the future that you wish to achieve. You set your targets, whether they be about career, finances, fitness, or relationships, and then you take action to move forward towards those targets.
The purpose of having goals is to give yourself something to strive for. Without a goal in mind, you wouldn’t have any solid reason for personal growth or achievement. Life would probably even get boring. But with goals, you’re making the effort to constantly improve yourself and achieve more.
The most important thing is to have goals that you’re passionate about and that push you to grow. For example, here are a number of goals in different categories:
- Get promoted at work to be a Team Lead
- Build a net worth of $1 Million Dollars
- Plan and execute an amazing birthday party for my girlfriend/boyfriend
- Travel to 10 different countries by age 35
- Do 50 pushups in a row
Each of those goals would push you towards achieving something new and growing as a person. By the time you’ve achieved them, you’re going to be a totally new person: stronger, smarter, happier, and better overall. And you’ll have gathered some amazing life experiences and memories along the way.
You can set your own goals based on what you want to improve in and who you wish to become in the future. Think of what your life would be like if it were amazing. Then, create amazing goals that are in line with that amazing life. That’s ultimately how you will learn, grow, and live a fulfilling life.
Philosophy is ultimately the study of how to live your best life. Defining your own personal philosophy will give you the knowledge and framework to live that best life. You can create your own personal philosophy by asking yourself 3 fundamental questions:
- What are your values ?— to define your character and the person you want to be
- What are your principles ?— to define how you will act in life
- What are your goals? — to define the achievements which you will strive for and how you will grow
To learn more
50 Philosophy Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon
The Last Days of Socrates by Plato