Last updated July 1st 2019.
Inspired by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, I wrote this “Mission Statement” to remind myself of the things I care about.
- Maintain a cosmic perspective
- Cherish the Earth and all life forms
- Love, and take care of those around you
- Listen to others and speak only when you mean it
- Acknowledge your mistakes and apologize
- Encourage diversity without labeling
- Never stop learning and never give up teaching
- Be conscious and cautious when speaking
- Refrain from idleness and aim for greatness
- Constantly test your beliefs
- Be resourceful but patient
- Never throw a stone without two birds in mind
- Develop a new skill every year
- Don’t take yourself too seriously
- Never let your drive dwindle
- Have a purpose
- Make the mornings yours
- Seek financial freedom
- Remember that these rules are yours—and only yours!
1 - Maintain a cosmic perspective
Our Sun, the driver of almost all life on Earth, is nothing more than a lonely star in a vast, empty space. This little star is 4.2 light‑years from its nearest neighbor, and belongs to an undistinguished galaxy which hosts another four hundred billion stars. Furthermore, this galaxy (the Milky Way), is just one of two trillion galaxies in the observable universe!
…allow that to sink in…
This is something that human brains have a hard time understanding. The dimensions and time periods that make up the universe are beyond the reach of our primal and myopic survival instinct. Our lives are ephemeral compared to the Cosmos. Even our entire civilization is nothing but a spark in the lifetime of the universe. It is important to keep these facts on your mind every day; it should make it easier to come to terms with the fact that you are NOT the center of the universe, and that your needs are no more urgent than the needs of any other life form.
2 - Cherish the Earth and all life forms
The ultimate goal of your existence is the advancement and the prosperity of humanity. This includes the wellbeing of the Earth and all the life forms on it. It is a big responsibility, so don’t get caught up on trivial day‑to‑day matters. Everything you do, at the individual level and at the global level, must have the ultimate goal of making the world a better place.
Our species is very young and we have yet much to learn. Einstein aptly called war “an illness of childhood”. Oppressive dogmas such as religion, nationalism, and other forms of tribalism are other signs of how infantile human societies can be. But don’t lose hope, someday we will grow up.
3 - Love, and take care of those around you
Your family and your friends are a very important part of your life. You should always stay in contact with them despite the distances—and be there whenever they need you. A phone call, a hug, a handshake, a kiss; these things make a difference in their lives and therefore on yours. Remember what Dag Hammarskjöld said: “It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses”.
4 - Listen to others and speak only when you mean it
Like Stephen Covey said, “You’ve spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening?” It is not as easy as it sounds. Always make sure you have understood the other person’s point of view before you speak. Listen emphatically and be conscious of their feelings... then, and only then, when you have truly understood them: speak.
5 - Acknowledge your mistakes and apologize
Apologies are of paramount importance, and they must not be taken lightly or dishonestly. A sincere apology will (not only) help rebuild trust, but it will also create a stronger memory of the actions that led to the error. Failing to apologize leads to unnoticed errors, and unnoticed errors are doomed to be repeated. As hard as it is, you must expose your mistakes as much as you can; this will ensure you don’t make them again. Like George Washington said, “errors once discovered are more than half amended”. Nonetheless, it takes a good amount of effort and self‑critique to “discover” your mistakes.
6 - Encourage diversity without labeling
Celebrate and encourage different opinions and diversity—for that is the essence of progress. Make sure you acknowledge and appreciate every individual that crosses your path—especially kids, their innocence reminds us to be human. Embrace the huge variety of beliefs, cultures, humor, behaviors, and principles out there. However, don’t label people around that. Even when they like to label themselves, you should never set boundaries to those labels or treat them any differently. Chances are, each person has a unique version of the beliefs and idiosyncrasies associated with their (self‑imposed) label, try finding it.
It is also important for you not to adopt any labels. You are an individual with a very unique set of principles and beliefs. Your principles are not (and should not!) be in perfect harmony with anyone else’s—for no one else has lived the way you’ve lived, or experienced the things you’ve experienced. If you must apply a label, say what Christiaan Huygens said: “The world is my country, science is my religion”.
7 - Never stop learning and never give up teaching
T. S. Elliot said that “we must not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. Travel as much as you can. Don’t forget that learning is a never-ending process, enjoy it—because it doesn’t stop after graduation. Find a mentor. Read two hours a day, give good books a second read, and write about what you read—for it is the only way to keep these memories solid in your mind. Your library must never stop growing.
There is no point in learning anything in life unless your intention is to teach it—or to leave behind some evidence of your learning experience. Besides, teaching is the best way to (truly) learn something. So teach what you learn, and teach facts, not opinions. Educate people and let them decide what to believe; especially the younger ones, because that’s where your influence can go the furthest. Teach passionately, but keep in mind that some people may not be ready to learn what you have to teach. At the same time, remember that only the best teachers can avidly turn every situation into educational opportunities.
Two more things on learning: (1) every time you meet someone new, make it very clear to them that you want to learn what they have to teach—again, especially the younger ones, because they are the most honest and the least bound by preconceived notions—encourage them to share their knowledge. And (2), be careful when saying the word “no” (or “no thanks”). Stop, and think about the doors you are about to close when declining help, advise, or suggestions. Always ask for more, and never brush off a suggestion.
8 - Be conscious and cautious when speaking
All the points expressed in this document are encouraging you to be more conscious and cautious of your actions. However, these two states of mind should be most alert when speaking about (or doing) something you are good at—or something you are passionate about. That is because these are the moments when you can either sound arrogant, bore your audience to death, or miss important details by making the wrong assumptions and taking things for granted. Not everyone is in your current state of mind, so start by understanding them and proceed slowly while being aware of their reactions.
Furthermore, discussing controversial subjects can very easily lead to misunderstandings and poorly expressed ideas. A good antidote for this is to ask them about their opinions (from an objective standpoint) instead of telling them about yours; no matter how correct you think you are. An even more conservative approach would be: “Where there is no occasion for expressing an opinion, it’s best to be silent, for there is nothing more certain than that it is at all times more easy to make enemies than friends” – George Washington.
9 - Refrain from idleness and aim for greatness
Never settle for average results or ordinary methods—it is important NOT to expect or demand others to do the same—but as far as your actions go, aim for greatness! Mediocrity is the default consequence of a lack of self‑improvement. Always be honest, ruthlessly self‑critical, and only compare yourself to others as a way to to improve your methods—not to establish a totem. Because there is no totem. Life is not a race, and if it were, you must only beat yourself! “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self” – Ernest Hemingway.
10 - Adapt
Humans have become the dominant species on Earth because of our ability to use the tools at hand. In the past, using fire, sticks, and stones guaranteed our survival. But today we live in an era where technological advances are the new sticks and stones—so make sure you keep up with technology. Learn to use the tools at hand proficiently in order to adapt to this rapidly changing world.
Keep up with ideas too. We are undergoing a cultural revolution where conservative and outdated dogmas are constantly being rejected or redefined. Adaptation guarantees survival and promotes evolution.
11 - Constantly test your beliefs
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it the superficial appearance of being right” – Thomas Paine. Make sure you constantly put yourself in situations where your opinions and beliefs are put to the test, and don’t refrain from change. It’s very easy for a belief to become what David Foster Wallace called a ‘blind certainty’: “a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t know he’s locked up”. Many people live this way—but don’t fool yourself—at any time it could be you! Make sure you burst out of your ever‑forming bubble once in a while and never cling onto things, doesn’t matter if they are not material.
12 - Be resourceful but patient
When you start developing a new skill, make sure you start with the bare minimum, and make sure you learn how to use basic tools before developing complex techniques. “The more simple any things is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered” – Thomas Paine. There is no need for advanced tools unless they make a significant difference. So whenever you consider acquiring new possessions, developing new methods, habits, or skills, think deeply about the difference they will make… Is it real? Or is it just flare?
Very often the paraphernalia associated with a particular activity distracts us from the main goal, and in search for the glory we see in those who are good at it, we are tempted to mimic what they do without understanding why they do it. So, remember, there are no shortcuts in life, no quick-fix solutions. You are a unique individual and you must seek unique methods that work for you and only you. This is done most effectively through small, solid, and simple steps. Work hard for what you want and never settle for half measures—because good things take time, don’t forget that.
13 - Never throw a stone without two birds in mind
For every one of your actions—for every stone you throw—killing one bird with one stone is not enough. This applies to even the most mundane tasks. For example, if you have to run an errand, make sure you pick up something from the store while you are at it. If you are going to the bathroom, make sure you use that short pause to do something else. Now extend this simple idea to more complex and grander tasks. However, don’t multitask, human brains can’t multitask! It will always result in two poorly performed actions. The “birds” must be killed in series, not in parallel, and the whole operation is carefully planned before the stone is thrown.
14 - Develop a new skill every year
First, as an athlete, each year, learn and dedicate that year to a new sport. Second, as an individual, each year, learn and dedicate that year to a new hobby or a new aspect of that hobby. Keep your mind in check by learning new techniques and abilities every year. But be careful, the competition culture that we humans are so fond of has engraved in our brains that our happiness and success depend on our victories. But in reality, happiness and success depend on being satisfied with our own abilities—regardless of rank.
15 - Don’t take yourself too seriously
Pride, when unconstrained, is one of the most detrimental feelings a person can have. Another common stumbling block is the fear of being wrong. Never allow pride or the fear of failure limit your actions. Learn to laugh at yourself. Humor is a great way to keep your pride in check.
These two common feelings (pride and fear), are also major sources of insecurities; they force you to hide your feelings and isolate you from other people. So laugh as much as you can, let people in. Develop a good sense of humor—and since you are not the funniest person in the world, make sure you surround yourself with humorous people and situations. Make yourself approachable through little acts of kindness and humor.
16 - Never let your drive dwindle
The flame of enthusiasm is hard to keep alive, and its strength relies on your psychological and physiological states. The food you eat, the sleep you get, the emotions you allow yourself to feel, and your interaction with your environment, all have a tremendous effect on your drive and enthusiasm. Now, notice that all of the above are under your control! Make sure you take the necessary time to prepare healthy meals every day, to work‑out at least an hour a day, to take a daily nap, and to sleep 7.5 hours a night—for a healthy body and mind are easier to shape and steer than ailing ones.
Regarding your psyche, be cautious of the emotions you allow yourself to feel. Especially stress, anger, disappointment, or frustration. Remember what Victor Frankl said referring to his time in concentration camps: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. You can choose to be happy in the same way you can choose to love someone else, both of these should be conscious decisions, and should be made every single day.
One last thing: even the healthiest of habits can lose its effectiveness when done unconsciously. So be conscious of your habits, don’t let them become mindless routines, and don’t forget Ben Franklin’s motto: “early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”.
17 - Have a purpose
Choosing your purpose is the most important decision of your life, and it should be based on the principles stated here. Never lose it! “More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent” – Billy Sunday.
18 - Make the mornings yours
The morning is the most important part of your day, do not skip it, miss it, or take it for granted! Exercise, make a healthy breakfast, and meditate before your day begins. In other words: sharpen your body and your mind before you walk into the everyday battlefield. As Martin Luther said: “I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer”... Obviously Martin Luther's quote is an exaggeration—and prayers are quite ineffective—but meditation does help you shed useless thoughts, and in a way prayer can be considered meditation.
19 - Seek financial freedom
Your financial well‑being is a vehicle for achieving the principles and ideas stated in this document, not the other way around. Make money your servant, not your master. Refrain from debt. It might be true that financial freedom (wealth) is a prerequisite for happiness, however it is not the sole source of it. “If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability” – Henry Ford.
Unfortunately, our societal fabric is a river of avarice and consumerism in which we are all swimming (although some are just mindlessly floating). Don’t let that current drag you! Materialism, just like mediocrity, is the inevitable result of the absence of an opposing force.
20 - Remember that these rules are yours—and only yours!
Always, always, ALWAYS remember that all of the above applies ONLY to you! Never expect or demand other people to act the way you act, or think the way you think. Sharing and preaching these little cute quotes won’t make you a better person, applying them will.