4 min read

General Operating Principles - Heuristics for Living

We all have techniques for making decisions: rules of thumb, procedures, heuristics, aphorisms, principles. But do you know what your principles are?

Are your principles an amorphous cloud, floating somewhere in your head, ready to be blown away by stress and difficulties? Or are they etched in stone, in the forefront of your mind, ever present for hard decisions?

Write down your general operating principles. Write everything down, even if it seems trite or obvious or embarassing.

Read them often. Review and update them as you see fit.

Many of my principles are borrowed from Marcus Aurelius and other Stoics

I'm copying this idea from Taylor Pearson, check out his blog its great.

Over time, I'd like to develop these into something more comprehensive, like Ray Dalio's Principles

Here are my general operating principles as of 7/27/2017:


Be in shape.

Sleep and vegetables beat every hyped up fad diet.

Move everyday.

Decision Making

See things as they are, not as they should be.

Do not concern yourself with things outside of your control.

To be smart, avoid making stupid decisions.

For every major decision, consider second and third order effects, give them more weight than first order.

The Obstacle is the Way.

Get Feedback often.

Reflect on your decisions.

Choose the option with more optionality.

Take on projects with big upside, low downside.

Did you make the correct decision or the 'right' decision? Ignore hindsight bias.

Never rationalize your poor behavior.

Always think 10x, or 100x

Use negative visualization to overcome your fear of failure.

There is no 'right time' to begin. Perfect is boring.

Keep your identity small.

Falsifiable statements and beliefs only.

Work with your monkey mind. Build systems to avoid cognitive biases.

Prediction of complex systems is impossible.

Remember iatrogenics. Often the best action is to do nothing.

Do not fear the unknown: embrace it.

Do not fear randomness: embrace it.

Hormesis is necessary to truly be alive. Seek out challenges or you will wither away.

When you make a mistake, introspect and learn from it.


Other people are everything - your talents are nothing if you do not use them to help others.

Do not be a burden to others (to the best of your abilities). Be a net positive.

LISTEN to others. Seek understanding first and above all.

Work hard to deepen existing relationships.

Don't expect others to behave like you do.

Run away from liars, backstabbers, big egos, extremely negative people. If they treat someone else poorly, one day they will treat you poorly.

Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Ego, bitterness, jealousy, and anger are NOT PRODUCTIVE.

Know yourself: your strengths, your weaknesses, how you work, your values.

Resource Allocation

One day you will die. Respect your time.

One day everyone around you will die. Respect other people's time. Show up on time. Keep your obligations or don't make them.

Build in redundancy.

Ruthlessly minimize the non-essential.

Arrange your day around deep work.

Batch similar tasks. Single task. Multitasking doesn't work.

Spend less than you earn.

Invest in assets that bring you more, don't blow money on luxury things

Get 'Fuck you' money. Or at least 'screw you' money (a few months expenses).

Barbell (Min/Max) your resource allocation.

Have a place for everything, and put everything in its place.

Prioritize learning from the classics and from the fundamentals. Ignore neomania. Lindy Effect.


Don't float.

Finish your projects. At 85% completion throw everything you have at finishing.

Never say "I should..." or "I need to...". Do it.

Never gossip or whine. Blow off steam by doing the work. Exception: when you see fraud, gossip away.

Reflect often.

Everything worthwhile takes hard work. Do the work.

Stop looking for the silver bullet. There is no silver bullet. Only a shit-ton of lead ones.

Move into the Flinch. Fight The Resistance. "How do you break Runner's Block? You go for a fucking run." - Ryan Holiday

No rush. Deliberate, considered action.

Use overwhelming force to overcome things holding you back.

Do not preach. Let your actions speak for you.

Choose your own path. Don't do things just because everyone else does.

Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life. Discipline is freedom.

Take responsibility for everything in your life. It doesn't matter whose fault it is.

You can weather any hardship.


Never stop learning.

Take time to review the fundamentals.

Take time to Tinker.

"Tinkering -> Heuristics -> Practice"  over "academic knowledge"

Via Negativa is more useful than Via Positiva. Disconfirmation is more rigorous than confirmation.

Small efforts everyday, compound interest is more powerful than you think.


Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you see fraud and don't shout fraud, you are a fraud.

Only trust the opinion of someone with skin in the game.

Your Principles

Did you find any of my principles useful? Do you have a useful heuristic that I don't? Let me know: james@jamesstuber.com

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I'll be going through my list of principles and adding attribution to each one that I can. Until then, most are sourced from the following: