I just finished reading a book called The Slight Edge which mentioned many great concepts including the importance of having a philosophy in life. When I got to that part of the book it brought me back almost 15 years.
On September 1, 2007 I was at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California - watching my alma mater's football team host the #15 team in the country, Tennessee. DeSean Jackson had an insane punt return that I'll never forget, and Cal won that game. Fast forward a few weeks later and Cal is now ranked #2, facing Oregon State at home. While we were still playing them we saw the news that #1 LSU had lost to Kentucky in triple overtime. So now we're the presumptive #1 team in the country - we just have to beat this outmatched Oregon State team. Well, we lost that game and a bunch of others, finishing the season unranked at 7-6. Since then Cal football has been anywhere from terrible to good but mostly middling. The team hasn't sniffed greatness since those times.
During that period the coach that exemplified excellence in our athletic conference was USC's Pete Carroll. And while I hated that guy because his teams routinely manhandled mine, I had to respect him. One thing in particular really rang a bell with me and has stayed with me all these years. A reporter asked him what his secret to success was and he responded that if you intend to be successful you've got to have a philosophy.
He repeated that message in a different setting in this video:
In The Slight Edge, author Jeff Olson was talking about exactly this - the key to living fulfilled is to know one's philosophy and to make virtually all decisions pursuant to that philosophy. Along these lines, I once met a guy named Trevor McGregor who provided a framework for determining your philosophy which involves asking yourself, "Does this (action I'm considering) make the boat go faster?" This question pushes you to develop a philosophy.
1. Do I realize I'm in a boat? I need to know the vehicle through which I will achieve my goals.
2. Do I know which way the boat is pointing? What's my goal?
3. Do I know who's in my boat? Who's on my team that'll help me go faster and further? Do I have anybody in my boat who's not rowing or worse yet, rowing in the wrong direction? If so I need to fix that!
4. Do I attempt to view every decision through the prism of making the boat go faster? Am I disciplined and honest enough to admit to myself that something I'm about to do doesn't get me any closer to my goals?
I lived the first 32 years of my life not realizing I was in a boat by myself, rowing in a circle.
Then I started making incremental progress, and today I have clear answers to all four questions. I've got clear reasons, clear purpose and clear goals. I have a philosophy permeating my life.
However I still screw up - constantly. While writing the last couple paragraphs I've read useless complaints on my neighborhood's social media page and watched a mariachi band on Facebook.
However on the whole, I've accomplished a lot in the past three years and it has been greatly facilitated by the work I've done in asking myself these four questions.