A case could be made that the idea of first principles started with the biblical story of the Ten Commandments. As the story goes, Moses’ first principles were written down and brought to the people as guidelines for living an honest and honourable life.

I’ve written previously about the importance of knowing your personal core values. First principles are similar but a bit more expansive. Like the Ten Commandments, our personal first principles give us a solid foundational philosophy that guides our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Ultimately, they are our philosophy of life and help us stay on track to becoming the person we desire to be and living the life we really want.

The constitution of a country is another excellent example of first principles. Anyone who reads a country’s constitution will have a good insight into what the people stand for and how that country governs itself. Our own first principles are akin to our personal constitution.

“I will never initiate physical violence” or “I will give 5% of my income to charity” could be two examples of personal first principles. “I will be kind to myself” or “I will be happy for my friends’ successes” are two more examples. 

Without clarity around our first principles, keeping our thoughts, emotions and behaviours lined up with our vision of our best self is challenging. 

Why not start writing out your first principles to provide clarity and support for the person you aspire to be? Just start with one. Writing them down is key. Record more as you decide to commit to them.

I consider myself blessed to have discovered Desiderata (a poem by Max Ehrmann) very early in my life. I loved it so much that I decided to adopt it as my personal philosophy of life. I wasn’t aware at the time of the concept of first principles, but it naturally represented my first principles. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a copy of Desiderata posted somewhere in my home, so it’s always part of my awareness. It’s a reminder of the person I want to be. Perhaps it might appeal to you as well? It is written in its entirety below.

I hope you see the benefits of first principles and take some time to explore and record your personal first principles. Additionally, find a way to keep them front and center in your day-to-day awareness.


With Loving Kindness,

Coach Billy



Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, 1872-1945