This is the third and final draft in my three-part series on living a principle-centered life. In the first draft, we talked about identifying our center(s). Following that, we talked about operating from a principle center. In this final draft, let’s delve deeper into how creating (and living) our personal mission statement will help direct our lives in the right direction.
A personal mission statement, is a statement of your values in action based on correct principles. It acts as a self-governing constitution for our lives, not unlike the written principles that nations measure their respective laws against.
In other words, it’s the code by which we live.
Similarly, this statement acts as a personal constitution against which every decision in our life should be evaluated, especially in regards to the most effective uses of our time and attention. It serves as a document by which we make everyday decisions, as well as life-changing decisions for the future.
Like a country’s constitution, a personal statement remains fundamentally changeless.
A personal mission statement reveals its value most readily in difficult situations and crises, offering a handy reference point that always gives us clarity on what is to be done.
It’s even more valuable when things around us are constantly changing, acting as a guiding compass that helps us navigate the complexities of life. It enables us to remain centered, and it guides our decision-making process.
Victor Frankl said we don’t invent our mission in life as much as we detect it.
We are all unique, and we ought to use our strengths to contribute to this world. Our meaning comes from within. We can proactively choose who we want to be (our character) and what we want to do in our lives (our contribution).
Writing or reviewing a personal mission statement forces you to think clearly and align your behavior with your deepest values and beliefs. You are no longer driven by the situations in your life. You are acting and no longer being acted upon. You have a sense of what you’re trying to do, and you have the values written down as a result of the process so you can make it happen.
Creating a fully-formed mission statement can take weeks, if not months. It takes deep reflection, careful analysis, and many rewrites before the final one can emerge. Even then, you must review and refine it constantly as ever-changing circumstances force new insights upon you.
Here is how we can start the process, which is just as important as the final output. Take a few hours out of the occasional day to be in total solitude. Start by relaxing your mind using deep breathing so that you become quiet inside.
Using our right brain, we visualize images and feelings from the three main areas of our lives, and we capture those things in concrete words with our left brain, thereby creating a written mission statement. It’s important that we keep these ideas broad so we can create a more balanced statement, which will also be easier to work with.
You can draw upon your notes, jotted ideas, or favorite quotes to inspire you to write your statement. Covey says that writing is a psych-neural muscular activity which helps us bridge and integrate our conscious and sub-conscious minds.
You can also use affirmations to help you become more congruent with your deeper values in everyday life. Covey shares that a good affirmation comprises of five factors: it’s personal, it’s positive, it’s in present tense, it’s visual, and it’s emotional. The example he shares in the book when dealing with his children who are misbehaving:
It is deeply satisfying (emotional) that I (personal) respond (present tense) with wisdom, love, firmness, and self-control (positive) when my children misbehave.
Once you have this written down, you can spend a few minutes each day to relax your mind and body and visualize the situation in detail. The more clearly you can visualize, the more deeply you will experience it. Then, if/when your child misbehaves, rather than choosing a normal response, you can consciously choose a response captured in your affirmation. If you do this day after day, your behavior will change because now you are acting out of your own value system rather than the one given to you by others.
Let me share a part of my personal statement, which comprises only some of my values so you get a sense of what it looks like:
- go with the flow (avoid resisting things)
- make principle-centered decisions
- be loyal to those who are absent
- do the right thing
- be intentional
- start with why
- make different mistakes
- listen twice more than talk
- money is only a means to an end
- think long-term
Of course, the idea of a mission statement goes well beyond individuals and countries alone. In fact, it extends to any group of people with a shared set of values and vision, such as a family, a team, or an organization.
In design school, I was part of a cohort that was responsible for creating a charter—i.e. our values as a team. Every member was involved in creating it, because we learned there was no commitment without involvement.
I remember one of our earliest assignments as a cohort was to create a charter of sorts that guided us through how we were going to work together, what was acceptable, and what wasn’t. It was a mutually set of agreed-upon guidelines that we articulated together and were in consensus with. Of course, we went through a creative process to come up with it.
You can also create a family mission statement based on the shared vision and values of your family, but the important thing is to get everyone involved.
Having and practicing a mission statement is also vital to successful organizations. It makes all the difference in the world between a) organizations constantly reacting to the outside world, and b) the ones that are working proactively based upon a set of shared values. Unfortunately, most organizations develop a “mission statement” simply for the sake of having one, which results from a lack of involvement from others.
I hope this draft inspires you to create your own personal statement as a way to help you navigate the complexities of life. As Covey says, people can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. Having a personal statement works at every level, whether it’s an individual, group, organization, or nation.
Once we are able to operate from a principle center, we can use the power of a personal mission statement to define a personal creed for our lives. It becomes the standard against which we evaluate every decision in our lives. It remains fundamentally changeless.