The Power of an Organizing Principle

Here's how to use it to create lasting change

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What did Gandhi, Jesus, Mother Teresa and Sam Walton have in common?

They stood for unwavering integrity of principle followed without exception. If one had to sum it up:

  • Gandhi = non-violence in thought, word, or action, no matter what.

  • Jesus = turn the other cheek and forgive the fellow, even if he’s beating you to death

  • Mother Teresa = love is the only antidote to hopelessness. Even for the so-called dregs of society.

  • Sam Walton (founder of Walmart) - There is only one boss: the customer. Find ways to exceed the expectations of your customers.

Each of them made their life’s work an example of their organizing principles without exception.

So, what’s an organizing principle?

An unexpressed understanding or context that influences our life and choices, whether we realize it or not
  • Organizing principles affect not only individuals, but also businesses, societies and civilizations

  • Like (our version of) common sense they influence our perception of the world

  • To uncover our organizing principles, we start by becoming aware of our behaviour and what we do repeatedly: our habits

Patterns made visible

Human beings aren’t rational, but we rationalize.

We come up with explanations for our thoughts, speech, and actions, much of which can be pretty automatic: e.g. why we endlessly scroll through Twitter or Instagram accounts, or why we first open the fridge and then wonder why.

It’s easier to illustrate this with a few negative examples:

If we repeatedly leave the toilet seat open (to the displeasure of our partner), that’s not an organizing principle, but an indicator of being unaware of our actions.

If we repeatedly keep putting things off until the last minute, then there’s something behind that resistance that keeps us stuck in a rut.

If we repeatedly get angry at trivial things, then something in our self-esteem needs attention.

If we repeatedly enjoy judging others and putting them down, then we probably don’t notice that we’re judging ourself just the same.

If we repeatedly indulge in pleasures that later bring guilt or shame, then it’s a sign of being dominated by addictions beyond our control.

We can rationalize all we want but, unchecked, such patterns will lead to predictable results: the overall diminishing of our happiness, our health and our relationships.

This isn’t surprising, as these patterns aligned with (negative) principles like lack of awareness, anger, pridefulness, unhealthy desire.

This isn’t preaching, it’s (my) painful lived experience.

Some unwarranted personal honesty

I never thought of myself as a negative person (ugh), but in recent years I was frequently repeating words like: “Not now. I’ll do it later” and “Life’s so hard…” and “Who cares, anyway...”

Sure, there had been big life changes (new country, new language, new struggles) but as time passed things kept getting worse and my thoughts hardened into a distinct change in attitude. It showed up in my energy, body language, my health.

Meanwhile, when my friends would ask if I was OK, I never admitted a problem.
By somehow pretending that it was life that needed to change, and not myself - I had denied the glaring need to self-correct.

I had chosen the wrong organizing principles – apathy, fear, pride – while remaining oblivious of how far I’d steered off course. It was a wake-up call.

Aligning with Power

Good news: once we become aware, we can just as well choose to align with powerful organizing principles.

One of my favourite writers, Dr. David R Hawkins¹ says–and we recognize this from experience–that certain organizing principles uplift us:

  • Kindness, gentleness, compassion, love, courage, forgiveness…

  • And while some might see them as weak or submissive, they are in-fact profoundly empowering. He calls them Power.

  • Then there are negative attractors–shame, revenge, anger, pride, craving, envy, condemnation–that inevitably make us go weak. He calls them Force

Power comes from aligning with the dominant attractor patterns that support life.

Attractors are organizing principles, and organizing principles have different levels of power.

This is one of the secrets of the success of powerful people. Their entire lives are automatically and effortlessly organized by their complete and total alignment to very high and powerful principles.

– from ‘The Map of Consciousness Explained.’ Hay House. Kindle Edition

Overcoming initial resistance

We often see change as threatening or painful–more so than it may be in reality.

The first step to growth is setting an intention for ourself that’s meaningful and aligned with Power.

There’s a common saying for those who embark on a spiritual practice: “When you show up with an intention, the opposite shows up too.” Why? Because our intention now sets up the conditions in which we get to make that choice.

Deciding to become a kinder person? It may create situations and opportunities to choose kindness, or its opposite.

In the beginning this may seem discouraging, but the key is to habitually remind ourselves of what our original intention is, and to affirm its meaning, value, and motive in our life.

We won’t need willpower or effort or force to propel us.

It’s our alignment with powerful organizing principles which starts to pull us toward that desired intention.

Here are some examples:

Courage and self-honesty
  • Instead of turning away, we decide to tackle something every day that scares us

  • Admitting that we are powerless over _____, and that and our lives are out of control… (this is first of the 12 steps of AA that offer a path out of addiction)

Willingness
  • Doing something each day to bring order and aesthetic value to our environment

  • Doing something each day to improve our health or relationships

  • Deciding to spend time learning a new language, or reading a book each day

Gratitude
  • Each morning, writing about three good things that we’re grateful for

  • Every weekend, connecting with a friend and expressing gratitude for how they impacted our life

Compassion and lovingness
  • Getting a pet or a potted plant and taking care of it

  • Deciding to become a more friendly person

  • Becoming willing to see an opposing point of view, or accepting why someone we resent couldn’t be any different: “That’s the best they could do given how they see the world”

  • Examining past failures and choosing a forgiving attitude towards oneself… “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”

Starting with baby steps

Massive wins don’t happen overnight. Aligning with positive organizing principles is about process not perfection.

  • From research in self improvement, we know that tiny habits repeated over time can make a huge difference

  • From compound interest, we know that a 1% improvement practiced regularly and repeatedly leads to massive gains over time

  • Conversely, we know that a 1-degree shift in a ship’s direction over time can lead it hundreds of miles off course from its intended destination

We set a desired intention, then make a decision to act on it repeatedly.

We can become aware of the obstacles that show up, and try to create conditions that align with powerful organizing principles.

It doesn’t take an enormous amount of will-power. As James Clear writes about transformation and sustained success:

Changing your beliefs isn’t nearly as hard as you might think. There are two steps.

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.

  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

Want to become a better writer?
Become the type of person who writes 1,000 words every day.
Small win: Write one paragraph each day this week.

Want to become strong?
Become the type of person who never misses a workout.
Small win: Do pushups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Like goes to like

Power arises from aligning to powerful organizing principles (as iron filings align in a powerful magnetic field). Greatness results from applying powerful principles without exception.

The lives and examples of great geniuses, artists, composers, athletes, true spiritual mystics revolve around organizing principles that forever inspire us to realize our own potential.

To quote Dr Hawkins again:

What inspires us in the physical world are things that symbolize concepts with powerful meanings for us.

Such symbols realign our motives with abstract principles. A symbol can marshal great power because of the principle that already resides within our consciousness.

Meaning is so important that when life loses meaning, suicide commonly ensues. When life loses meaning, we first go into depression; when life becomes less meaningful, then we finally leave it.

If our lives are dedicated, for instance, to enhancing the welfare of others and everyone we contact, our lives can never lose meaning.

Power vs. Force (p. 115). Hay House. Kindle Edition.

“Actions express priorities”

If the principles already reside in our consciousness, then we don’t need to go looking for ‘motivation’ out there.

  • Do you recognize any organizing principles acting in your life and surroundings? Are they aligned with your intention for yourself?

  • Have you identified any habits or patterns you would like to change?

  • Do you use a mindful practice for your spiritual or emotional well-being?

  • Are you inspired by someone who embodies a powerful principle?

And finally, what do you plan to do about it? No amount of thinking is a substitute for doing.

I hope these quotes leave you with something to act upon:

“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words.
Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions.
Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits.
Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values.
Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.”

“If you want to change the world, start with yourself”

- Mohandas Gandhi

“Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

- Mother Teresa

“What we guard against around here is people saying, ‘Let’s think about it.’ We make a decision. Then we act on it.”

- Sam Walton

“We are responsible for the effort, not the outcome”

– from the Bhagwat Gita

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Footnotes:

  1. The consciousness research of Dr David Hawkins has created a paradigm shift in our understanding of mind, body and spirit, and the letting go of suffering. Learnings from it are the primary inspiration for this newsletter. If you’d like to dig further into his writings, I’d be happy to share notes. Just hit reply.

Thanks again for being here,

Amogh (see you on Twitter)