I was first introduced to the concept of first principle thinking by Shane Parrish with this article. I then read two more great articles by James Clear and Tim Urban as I tried to understand it a little further. With first principle thinking you are trying to find the underlying principles that govern how something functions. The opposite would be to use an analogy to understand how something works. The problem with using analogies is that you never truly understand the important details of what you’re trying to learn.
As I started to read more and more about first principle thinking I realized the reason I am so drawn to this is that it is how I have naturally approached most areas of my life. For whatever reason I have always questioned everything. This got me in a lot of trouble growing up in school. I don’t think I made it more than two weeks my entire life without ending up in the principal’s office. It was never anything malicious, I just always had a hard time accepting things the way they were “supposed to be”.
As I got older, specifically when I met Rachel, now my wife, I started to channel this questioning into more productive areas of life. Well, productive may not be the best choice of words. When you question everything, sometimes it can slow down the act of actually accomplishing things. This has been something I’ve struggled with my entire adult life. There has to be a balance between thinking and doing. I have definitely been on the thinking side of the spectrum.
The first area that I benefited from in using first principle thinking was applying it to my profession of coaching football. I started to ask questions as to why so many coaches did the same thing in their programs. Why did everyone have the same practice schedules? Why do so many coaches copy each other in their schemes? Why do so many coaches motivate their players with fear and punishment? The list of questions grew.
Like many people in life, as I started to get my career together I started to question life more and more. I was raised in the Catholic Church and questioning wasn’t a major part of what I was taught. The questioning started in college but it really took off after having initial success in my career. I figured understanding life itself should rank as a higher priority in life versus figuring out how to win football games.
I started reading just about anything I could to deepen my understanding. I didn’t really want to read what other people had concluded about life, but sometimes that’s hard to avoid. There’s bias in all written information. I read things such as The Bible, which is where my initial understanding of the world came from, the Tao Te Ching, Stoicism, works from Stephen Hawking, and many other religious, philosophical, and scientific literature from all periods of time.
While I’m still on this journey, there is one thing I believe to be true. If you are going to discover the principles of life you have to start somewhere. My mind has always gone to the beginning of the world. I don’t think I can piece together everything else without understanding this. The problem is that there is no definitive “proof” to how everything began. So reasoning from pure facts is impossible. The only thing that makes sense to me is that we must believe something, without pure evidence, which means we must have faith in how our world began.
This article wasn’t written to make you believe one thing or another. It was written to get you to think. If you are going to design your life you have to know the principles from which to build it. For me, this starts with the beginning. I had to decide what I believe to be true in order to understand everything else that I work with in designing my own life.
So, what do you believe?