How Strong Principles Create Strong Willpower

Willpowered Day 1 Task List:

- Establish principles that I will not break under any circumstances

That is what I penned in my journal on September 26th as I was about to embark on this new adventure with Willpowered.  

I knew that before there were any subscribers, before there were any customers, before there was even an article written, I was going to need to establish a higher standard that I would always live up to. 

Here is what I wrote: 

1.    I always have the willpower to do what is right

2.    Become a better person today than I was yesterday

3.    Do not endorse any practice that I am not willing to do myself

4.    Keep absolutely every promise I make

5.    Always be honest and authentic

6.    Do the little things right

7.    Have a great perspective

8.    Be early

9.    Live each day on purpose

10. Greatness is a journey without an end

Each one of them has a deeper meaning to it. Each one of them inspires me to become a better person. And each one of them makes it easier for me to be the person that I truly want to be in life. [1]


A principle is something that you stand for so strongly that you will fight with everything you have not to break it.  

According to Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People): 

“A principle is a natural law like gravity…principles are objective. Gravity… if you drop something, gravity controls. If I don’t tell you the truth, you won’t trust me-that’s a natural law. If I tell you the truth consistently and try to live it and apologize when I don’t and try to get back on track, then I’m living a natural law-repentance, making improvements, showing change.” [2]

Principles are objective laws that are a part of your unique character.

You always keep your word.

You are always kind and respectful.

You are always hard working. 

Together, they make up the best version of yourself. The part of you that you want to live up to every day. We stick to these principles because we want people to think of us as the best version of ourselves, not the worst one.

Not the one who always lets you down. 

Not the one who is rude and disrespectful.

Not the one who is lazy. 

And deep down, we all want to be that best version of ourselves.


“It’s just one day. What does it matter if I skip meditating?" 

I’ve told myself that many times before. I’ve been exhausted, stressed or focused on something else. It's always near the end of the day, when my routine has been thrown off and the last thing I wanted to do is meditate.

I just wanted to relax on the couch, watch some TV and go to bed. But when this happens, I always remember:

Principle #3 - Do not endorse any practice that I am not willing to do myself  

Principle #6 – Do the little things right

And, of course:

Principle #1 – I always have the willpower to do what is right 

Then all of the sudden I get a rush of energy and it isn’t nearly as hard to summon the willpower that I need to do what is right. 

Scientifically, when are fighting for a higher standard or something that we believe in, we activate a part of the brain that energizes and enables us. This is also known as “Want Power”. This creates a rush of energy as you begin to believe that you really can achieve something with a greater purpose. [3]

So having a set of principles that you will not break will make it easier for you to identify with the best version of yourself. And as you continue to identify more with this best version yourself through your principles, you will begin to become them.

The caveat, of course, is that you must truly believe in the purpose of each principle. If you put something on your list that you are not passionate about, you will not be able to find the Want Power that you need to stick to it.


Unfortunately, there is no scientifically proven ideal method to determine what your principles are. Each person is different and we value different things. We all have different moral, spiritual and familial priorities. 

Therefore, there is no universal "best way" to determine what principles will lead you to become the best version of yourself. 

So I will simply share with you the step-by-step process I used to come up with my list of 10 principles. It has worked for me and everyone I have consulted, but it may not be ideal for everyone. 


You will need to completely unplug yourself from the outside world. You do not want any distracting thoughts or communications that may intrude on this time of serious self-reflection.

So take care of everything you need to do. Get to a place where the outside world won't need to contact you for at least several hours.


One of the biggest problems people face when coming up with principles is thinking too much about what they "should" write down.

They think about what their family, friends, or culture believes that they should value and write that down. While these may be good things, if you do not truly believe in them, you will not stick to them when they are inevitably challenged by the pressures of life. 

So take an objective approach to yourself. To do this, I studied myself as if I was an entirely new species - separate from all human and societal norms. Then I asked questions like:

- What is the purpose of this new species called Colin?

- What motivates it?

- What does it do better than any other species?

Yes, this is kind of silly. But this allowed me to view myself through an entirely different lens. It helped me discover thoughts and motivations that I would have never come across had I not gone through this exercise. This helped immensely in coming up with my principles.


The first thing you want to learn about yourself is what is truly important to you?

Family? Spirituality? Duty to your country? 

Remember, look at yourself objectively. What have been your priorities in life? What have been your passions?

Take some time to write down anything and everything that has been important to you. When you write down what you have prioritized through an objective lens, you will begin to feel both energized and ashamed by what you see. This will give you great insight into what has been important to you in the past, and what you want to change in the future.

When I went through this exercise, I was energized to see just how important things like self-discipline and taking a long-term perspective were. But at the same time, I was ashamed about how many promises I had broken and white lies I had told.

This helped me realize what was truly important to me. Clearly, self-discipline and perspective were an important part of becoming the person that I was. But keeping promises and being honest were an important part of who I wanted to become. 


Now that you have everything that is important to you written down, you have probably noticed that you have a pretty long list. Mine was over 25! There are lots of things that are important to who we are and who we want to become. 

But, if you have 25 priorities, then you really have no priorities. So now it's time to determine what is really important to you.

So determine the ONE THING that you will prioritize above all others. If you could choose just one thing to be important in your life, what would it be? Your family? Your religion? Your life's work? 

To me, it was willpower (shocker, I know). 

But in studying myself, it was obvious that learning about the science of willpower was my ultimate passion. Also, exerting my willpower in life was what I was extraordinarily good at. And if I could devote my life to strengthening my willpower, I knew I would become a better writer, researcher, leader, son, friend, etc. 

Once you have found your top priority, move on to the second. If you could have only 2 priorities, what would they be? Then repeat the process for your top 3 priorities, top 4, etc. 

There is no set number of priorities that you should have. The key is to have as few as possible while still having enough to become the person that you want to be. Simply be mindful of when there seems to be a big drop-off in the importance of one priority to the next.


Now that you have your priorities, it is time to put them into a list of actionable principles. To turn a priority into a principle, think about how that priority can be applied to a real-life situation where you will be tested. 

For example, my second priority is "learning and growth". But learning and growth in itself is not a principle. So I had to think hard about how I could live up to the value of learning and growth in my daily life.

So I came up with the principle of "Become a better person today than I was yesterday." Now I have a clear statement that is tested every day. Now I must make sure that no day goes wasted. I must use every day as an opportunity to grow. 

There is also no requirement that you must have 1 principle for every 1 priority. Going back to learning and growth, another principle that I took from that is "greatness is a journey without an end." 

That statement is tested every time that I think I have achieved something "great". It reminds me that no matter what I have achieved, I always have more to learn. That whatever this achievement is, it will always be merely "good" compared to what I can accomplish next.

Continue to make a list of actionable principles based on your priorities. Again, there is no set number of principles that is "best". I didn't mean to do 10 (I promise), I just ended up with that amount when I felt I had clearly stated all of my priorities into principle form. 


It is quite likely that whatever your starting list is, it will not be your final list. We all change our priorities as we get older. The important thing is to not change them too frequently. If you are constantly changing your principles, then you do not truly believe in them. 

So set up a process to review and amend your principles. This could be a annual or biannual review in which you determine if you are still willing to fight for your principles. If you are not, then it might be time to make a change to your list.

Personally, at the end of every day I write down whether or not I have lived up to each of my principles. If I fail to live up to a certain principle too often, I take some time to reflect on whether I need to change myself, or I need to change my principle.

This process ensures that my principles are always up to date. But it also ensures that they are seen through my decisions and actions, rather than simply on a document on my computer or written in a notebook somewhere. 

No matter how admirable your list of principles is, it doesn't matter if people cannot see them through your actions. So make sure each one of them is up to date and that you are giving your best effort to live up to them every day. 


Having a list of principles is not only great for your personal growth and development, it is also great for your willpower. Having a list of principles that you strive to live up to will give you the energy and motivation you need to become the best version of yourself.

Determining what your principles are is a very personal process. The 6 steps I described above will help many of you find and create your list of principles, but it may not work for everyone.

The most important thing is that the principles you come up with bring out the version of yourself that you truly want to become. Whether that is the greatest worker, the greatest writer or the greatest parent - your principles should be a reflection of your unique ideals and values. You may not always live up to them, but you will become better for the effort. 


  1. Baumeister, Roy F., and John Tierney. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.

  2. Miller, S. (2009, January 16). Q & A with Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Retrieved May 13, 2015, from

  3. Vohs, K., Baumeister, R., Schmeichel, B., Twenge, J., Nelson, N., & Tice, D. (2008). Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: A limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 883-898.

  4. McGonigal, K. (2012) The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery.