How to Figure Out What you Stand For

March 9th, 2010

Some people are uncomfortable talking about their beliefs.  Well, I’m not one of them.  I think it’s important to know what you believe.  The reason is that some people think they believe something but their actions say otherwise.

But how do you know what you believe?

The answer is getting a religion.

NO. NO. NO. I am NOT a cult leader bent on converting you, and I am not a missionary trying to get you to follow a religion.   Here’s what I mean:

IBM founder Tom Watson once said, every business needs a religion. By religion, he meant knowing your core values and beliefs. And then taking those values and beliefs and crafting it into a powerful message.

It is a very powerful thing to have in business. But even more so, it is even more powerful to have your own “religion”. Whether you are a member of an organized religion or not, you still have to know that you stand for. Don’t let anything dictate to you what you believe.  The fact is no one can do that.  You need to ask yourself what your core values are.

So, how do you do that?

A Technique for Discovering What You Stand For

I learned a powerful  technique from legendary copywriter Gary Bencivenga. He calls it the Credo technique. Credo is Latin for “I believe.” If any of you were raised Catholic (for full disclosure, I was not) you might be familiar with a Credo.

The Credo technique involves actually spelling out what you believe. You’ll be amazed at the power of this technique. Actually spelling out your beliefs gives you focus and vision.

But it’s not as easy as you think.  When you write down your beliefs, you should look closely.  If your actions don’t follow, then it is NOT a core belief.  For example, if you say “I believe that my mind should be free from drugs or alcohol” and then you have the occasional beer, then it is not a core belief.  This process is not about passing moral judgments on yourself, it’s about figuring yourself out.  And besides, it’s fun.  You might discover things about yourself that you didn’t know.  And don’t start writing about what you don’t believe.  That takes too long.

As an example, I thought I’d share with you some of my core beliefs. This is by no means all of them, but they are pretty fundamental to what I stand for.  And for full disclosure, I wrote these beliefs out years ago and blogged about these beliefs and this method on several occasions.  But I have never needed to edit these beliefs in any way.   I hope Google doesn’t think I’m a flogger because of it.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Love ’em or Hate ’em: Here are my Values

I believe most problems stem our inability see reality as it is—both our inward reality and outward reality.

Cultivating awareness of what is objectively true is the key to personal growth. I believe that our failure to objectively see ourselves in an honest way prohibits us from growing. So, it is critical to find a method to see reality as it is. My personal method is Vipassana meditation.

I believe in testing your assumptions

Most limits are self-imposed because of the assumptions we make about ourselves and others. By testing those assumptions, we prosper.

I believe that many of the things we do and believe come from our culture and not from any conscious intention

Having lived abroad for many years has taught me that our “values” and “norms” are by and large cultural rather than personal. Hence, the assumptions we mostly test are the ones given to us through our cultural upbringing.

I believe that good decision-making starts with logic and reason.

Though much is made of thinking with the “gut” or intuition, human reasoning is the one thing that separates humans from animals. Using critical thinking skills will not always lead you to the right decision, but I believe it gives you the best chance of making that right decision. And if reason were so unimportant marketers wouldn’t try so hard to get us to turn it off (and they do try…REAL hard).

I believe that the more simple your life, the more satisfied you will be

Most possessions we possess do not bring us any happiness or fulfillment but are a means to an end. By making things simple and not pouring your time and energy into things, you give yourself time to grow and prosper.

I believe that it’s OK to be contradictory

I embrace my own contradictions. Foolishly striving for consistency leads to bad decisions and self-imposed limitations. Understanding that consistency does not equal truth was a big step forward in my personal development.

I believe that a sense of humor can help you overcome most hardships

With some exceptions, I believe that a sense of humor is the most powerful tool in your arsenal for overcoming adversity.


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