What is a Life Philosophy?
Some people may read this question with confusion. They may think “I have lots of things I’m pursuing. I have lots of goals, lots of ideas, tons of dreams. What are you referring to?” Some people, however, they get it.
They know the answer and say “This is what I want.”
The coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Pete Carroll, has a great life philosophy and over the past couple decades it has served him well. But Pete didn’t always think in a way that was guided by an overarching philosophy. It wasn’t until his low point of being fired by the New England Patriots, that he realized something needed to change. A friend suggested he create a life philosophy. And that’s exactly what he did. For the next year, Pete read endlessly and took meticulous notes. Finally, he arrived at a guiding philosophy that would be the theme for the rest of his life. And when the opportunity came to implement it within the USC Football program, he made it the very thing that drove all of his actions.
Pete lives by a simple yet very actionable life philosophy:
| Do things better than they have ever been done before.
For Pete and everyone else who understands the importance of their philosophy, they chose it for good reason. They chose it because it gives meaning to everyday actions.
Why does it matter?
The key to creating a meaningful life philosophy is first understanding it’s purpose. What’s the reason for it, and why does it actually matter?
For an athlete, it’s essential that we understand sports are not everything. While they are extremely important and tremendously fulfilling; you cannot be an athlete for your entire life. Your athletic ability is a type of currency that loses its value over time. And when you eventually do stop playing sports, you will need other types of valuable currency that only grow in value over time.
Having a life philosophy that extends beyond sports and into other areas of your life, will ensure you are rich down the road. As athletes, our actions outside of sports can have a drastic affect on how we train and compete. Learning to overcome obstacles, develop trust, and strengthen our mental capacity all contribute to becoming a successful athlete. To think that sports life and everyday life are separate is entirely misguided.
Sports influence life and life influences sports
However, while you are still caught up in sports life, it’s a great time to create and fine tune a life philosophy that will guide you through your daily training and competition.
Here are 6 reasons you need a life philosophy:
1) Illustrates a plan of action
It’s a common tendency to get caught up in our massive dreams, hopes, goals, and ambitions. It’s a fun thing to do and exciting to think about how our lives could turn out. One of the most common ways we do this is by setting goals. Sometimes they are specific goals for the things like winning a national championship or being in the starting lineup. We also set out for long term achievements like being named an all-star, gaining the respect of our peers, finding a career that we truly love.
Having these types of goals are essential for a life well lived and a meaningful existence. Without them, we lack purpose and ultimately we end up just nonchalantly floating through this life never truly fulfilled or satisfied. Knowing most of you out there, I’m sure you have goals and ambitions, so there isn’t anything to worry about. You’re well on your way to success. Right?
Well here’s the thing. Having a life plan full of goals is great, but it’s not enough. To put it simply, you can’t have a life plan without a life philosophy.
Sure, you have massive hopes and dreams, but how will you get to them. Showing up is definitely half the battle, but what about the other half. What will you do once you show up, and how will you act in a way that is pushing you towards your goals?
Creating a life philosophy is intended to help answer that question.
2) Gives you a starting point
One of the ways a life philosophy guides you is through providing you with a starting point. In other words, it gives meaning to everyday actions. From the moment you wake up, to the moment your head hits the pillow, you are bombarded with thoughts, decisions, and actions.
How will you respond?
The best way I can illustrate this is through something I mentioned in another post.
It’s called the Goal Hierarchy:
At the top, you see one big goal. This is your overarching goal, the long term one that you set out for; it’s the national championship or the all-star nomination. Below that are a series of smaller and smaller goals. And below those smaller goals are everyday actions. The one’s you wake up to on a daily basis.
These actions essentially make up your day and the choices you make will affect the path you take.
When it comes to poor choices, it’s things like: cutting a workout short, eating a burger instead of a salad, yelling at your teammate, or copying someone else’s assignment. At the time of making these decisions, they may seem inconsequential, but they actually play a bigger role than we may realize.
Let’s take a closer look at the goal hierarchy below. On the left side, we can see that some poor choices were made. As a result, some of the level 3 goals were either not achieved or only partially achieved.
On the right side, however, we see plenty of good actions/choices and all the level 3 goals being achieved.
Moving up a level, we start to notice level 2 goals having some issues. We can see that the achievement of certain level 2 goals on the left are essential to the achievement of some other level 2 goals. Looking at the level 2 goals, as a whole, we see one as “very questionable”, “somewhat questionable” and “achieved”. On top of all that we see our Level 1 goal. And we have to wonder, is 1 out of 3 goals enough to achieve it? I think you already know that answer.
As you can see, having a guiding life philosophy not only gives you an overarching theme for the life you hope to achieve, but it also gives you perspective into the everyday decisions. It allows you to ask yourself with every action you take, “does this fit into my life philosophy?”
3) Helps to define what actions matter
Taking a step back, looking at our goals, and understanding how they interact with each other is a healthy practice. It gives a fresh perspective and reminds us why each innocuous decision actually can have a positive or negative impact on the big picture.
But how do we really know what is positive or negative?
When we want to achieve something, we so often look forward to positive outcomes, happy emotions, and always getting what we want. We get caught up in all the positive experiences we are going to encounter that we don’t actually prepare for the suffering we are bound to face.
We are not ready for what I call “pro-negatives experiences”. These are experiences that have the potential to be perceived as negative, but by reframing their importance and significance to growth, they become valuable to your progression.
For an athlete, you have a chance to do this on a daily basis. Next time you are about to head into practice, remind yourself of the importance of these next couple hours. Remember that in order to achieve your long-term goal of “X”, it requires you to stay focused in every practice. no matter what you encounter.
Also, remind yourself that it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take effort, which doesn’t always look pretty. It looks ugly and it can be painful at times. But it’s worth it.
Having a life philosophy that reframes experiences from negative to pro-negative will ensure you stay focused down the road. It will remind you of what you signed up for and push you to embrace experiences that you would have otherwise not considered important.
4) It gives you freedom
By creating a life philosophy that you are willing to stick with and having one that defines the importance of everyday actions, you become more willing to work through the challenges and embrace the struggle. And now that you know what matters when you find yourself at a crossroads, your decisions will become easier.
In fact, by restricting yourself you actually create more freedom.
How does that work?
Well, when we are open and able to do whatever we want, the list of things to pick from becomes seemingly infinite. As a result, we open ourselves up to make any choice we want, good or bad. And it’s not until it’s over that we often realize which one it was. Or we get so caught up in thinking or worrying about things that don’t help our cause and lose out on valuable time that could have been focused on our goals.
So even though a commitment limits your overall choices, it gives you the freedom to explore areas you actually care about, without worrying if you are missing out on something more important.
To put it simply, if you stay committed to the values instilled in your philosophy, and ONLY those values, here is what you will find:
- Commitment brings freedom from unwanted distractions
- Commitment heightens your focus on the things that make you happy
- Commitment brings easier decision making and shuts out fear of missing out
- Commitment keeps you thinking about highly important goals that lead to greater success
- Commitment = Freedom
5) Gives you an easy fallback
It can sometimes be tough to imagine what all this theory of a “Life Philosophy” looks like in practice, and I’m sure some of you may be reading this and feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea. The idea of creating a philosophy we carry our entire lives seems incredibly consequential.
But I want you to know, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.
A prime example of a philosophy in action is the hall of Famer, Tom Seaver. Over his career as an MLB pitcher, Tom accumulated 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts, 61 shutouts, and a 2.86 ERA. Needless to say, his nomination into the Hall of Fame was an easy decision.
But how did Tom get to that level? Well, when it came to pitching he has a very simple philosophy, “[pitch] the best I can day after day, year after year”. This is what gave him meaning every day and a result defined all of his subsequent actions. In Tom’s words, this is what that looked like:
| “Pitching is what makes me happy. I’ve devoted myself to it, I live my life around the four days between
starts. It determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I’m awake. It determines how I spend
my life when I’m not pitching.”
“If it means I have to come to Florida and can’t get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me
from throwing, then I never go shirtless in the sun. If it means I have to pet dogs with my left hand,
then I do that.”
“If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight
down, then I eat cottage cheese. I might want those cookies but I won’t ever eat them. That might bother
some people but it doesn’t bother me. I enjoy the cottage cheese. I enjoy it more than I would those cookies
because I know it will help me do what makes me happy.”
“I’ve made up my mind what I want to do. I’m happy when I pitch well so I only do things that help me be happy.
What motivates me is to be the best I possibly can day after day, year after year.”
6) Heightens and filters learning
In the study of psychology and more specifically cognitive biases, there is something called the Frequency Illusion. It is typically noticed when a word, a name, or other thing that has recently come to our attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards. It also goes by the name of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (watch this video for a more detailed explanation).
|Quick Example: When you start looking to buy a new Honda Civic, you start noticing Honda Civics everywhere.
When discussing this illusion, many people view it as a negative and something to be wary of. They say that it clouds our judgment and causes people to form beliefs and superstitions that are based on something completely random. This is definitely true. But I believe that through having a life philosophy we can use this illusion to our advantage.
Let me answer that question with another question. Have you recently re-watched a movie? More specifically a mystery that revolved around a twist ending. Maybe something like Momento, Mystic River, or Fight Club.
Well, when you watched it a second time, I’m sure you viewed it in a whole different light. You knew how things were going to end, you knew the overarching theme of the story, and you understood how everything connected.
As you watched, you began to pick up on subtle hints and clues that point towards the final conclusion. It’s almost like you had a new sense and you began to notice small details that flew over your head the first time around.
Having a well-defined life philosophy works the exact same way. By defining what you care about, what matters, what gives you meaning, and where you are heading – you see the world in a different light. You’ll begin to read books with a more practical intention, you see every rep as a stepping stone, you look at every interaction with consequence.
Ultimately, you stay focused. And with the right philosophy, it’s a focus on what truly gives your life meaning. Nothing else.
Creating a Life Philosophy
This article was intended to illustrate two things, (1) what exactly is a life philosophy (2) and why you need one. And more specifically, how having one can improve your life as a Daily Athlete.
Woven throughout this article is a theme of self-discovery. So much of this idea revolves around the specifics of YOU. Your personal story, your interests, your passions, and your ultimate goal.
My hope is that I have given something which has inspired you to create your own life philosophy. One that is unique to your own situation.
Creating a meaningful philosophy that guides your everyday actions can be tough and it takes a lot of reflection. It also takes the right kind of reflection.
It’s easy to just get caught up in thought, wondering about what you care about. But if you spend all your time just thinking without any guidance, you are most likely just going to stay in a constant cycle of ideas. Forever brainstorming, but not writing anything down or coming to a final conclusion.
I understand this process can be challenging so that’s why I built the “Creating a Life Philosophy Handbook”.
In this exclusive material, I provide some key elements and guiding principles for how to create an effective life philosophy.
- 3 Parameters of a Life Philosophy
- 10 Steps for Creating a Life Philosophy
- 7 self-reflective questions
- Extra content on goal setting
If you would like the receive your very own copy of this Handbook for FREE, please include you email below and we will send it straight to your inbox.