The Following Your Principles Rather Than Worrying About The Prizes Approach


Different people have different philosophies of life. Each approach has both pluses and minuses. So they often aim to build on the pluses and manage the consequences of the minuses.

Some people aim to keep following their principles and do not worry about the prizes. They aim to be true to their values, pursue a spiritual path or follow certain guidelines.

This does not mean that they do not work towards achieving specific goals. They may aim to perform well in sports, pitch for business or work to build a more peaceful world.

Such people focus on what they can control, however, rather worry about what they can’t control. They continue to do their best and perform fine work. They recognise that achieving the ultimate goal, however, may be influenced by forces beyond their control. 

They often follow The Dalai Lama’s approach to worrying about things they can’t control. He said:

If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry.

If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever. 

Some people spend a lot of their time worrying about getting the prize. They worry about whether or not they will get promotion, gain status or be seen as successful. This can lead to them straining, tightening up and failing to do their best.

Some people follow their principles, keep doing fine work and, as a by-product, also get prizes. The real prize for them, however, is following their principles each day.

Some sports coaches take this path. They encourage their players to keep following the agreed principles rather than worry about the scoreboard. As Bill Walsh, the American Football coach, said:

Keep following the standards of performance and the score takes care of itself.

Looking at your own life, can you think of a situation when you took this path? You may have been helping a person, leading a team or doing another activity.

What were the principles you aimed to follow? How did you manage your emotions if you started worrying about the prize? How did you return to following your principles? What happened as a result of taking these steps?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you followed your principles rather than worried about the prize. 

Describe the specific principles you aimed to follow in the situation. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

Some people can become captivated by prizes. A person may feel that everything will change if, for example, they win a golf tournament, get promotion or win a lottery. They may find, however, that the prize captures them.

Certainly some things may change, but some things will remain the same. They may get more opportunities, but they will still be the same person. They may need to learn how to use the prize, rather than let the prize use them.

Some people who gain prizes become addicted to getting more plaudits. They focus totally on getting the next win, sometimes at the cost of neglecting their values, family or health.

They may get their photo on the cover of a national magazine, for example, but worry when they don’t get the same publicity the following week. They then do anything to achieve acclaim, notoriety or get them noticed.

Roger Fisher – A person
who followed his principles

Some people believe in following their principles, even though there may be setbacks along the way. They continue to hold their nerve, even when there are great things at stake. For some people, these outcomes can also include war or peace.

Roger Fisher was somebody who took this route. He believed that human beings could flourish by focusing on healing rather than hate. He believed it was important to say to people: 

We have a shared concern here. Let’s work together. How do you see it?

Roger helped people to build on what they had in common and taught law students to focus on alignment. This was uncommon in law, where people often took adversarial positions. Here is a video in which he explains this approach.


Roger served in the Second World War as a weather reconnaissance officer. But he was strongly affected by the loss of many friends.

During his service he also flew morning flights over Japan. This was before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to people who knew him, the memory of these flights – and the unnecessary deaths of many people in war – weighed on him.

Although building a great reputation in the academic world, he threw himself into applying the ideas in practice. This involved him working in Europe on the Marshall Plan.

Later he contributed to seeking peace in the Middle East. This involved working on President Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem and the subsequent summit at Camp David. He played a significant part in helping to release the United States citizens taken hostage in Iran in 1981.

Roger helped to resolve the war between Ecuador and Peru. He also spent considerable time in South Africa, helping to bring together people to end Apartheid. He believed the keys were for people:

To sit down together side-by-side.

To focus on the job to do, which was to find a solution.

To work together to solve the problem.

Roger found himself in many challenging situations. Frequently this involved meeting with people who had deep antagonisms and fears.

The aim was to follow the principles that worked. It was important, however, to separate himself and his ego from the situation.

The aim was to help the parties to find a possible solution. Sometimes the negotiations were successful, sometimes they fell apart.

Roger also believed it was vital for the parties involved to show respect to each other as human beings. Wherever possible, it was important to separate the ‘problem’ from the people.

The key was to look for what each of the parties wanted. It was then often possible to solve the problem. The difficulty was that the solvable problem had often become complicated by the personal feelings – such as anger and disappointment – becoming wrapped in the problem.

Roger emphasised the need to understand people as human beings. Sometimes this could be difficult, but it was important to understand what people really wanted. Here is a video in which he describes this approach.

The Economist published the following piece about Roger after his death. You can discover more via the following link.

Roger Fisher was really a fixer. He would relax by mending the plumbing, or laying brick terraces at the summer house he loved in Martha’s Vineyard. But that was tiddler stuff.

At breakfast he would scan the New York Times, looking for bigger problems he could fix: arms control, hostage-taking, the Middle East.

Over dinner the conversation would be sorting out Vietnam, or ending the war in El Salvador.

At his 80th birthday party, most other guests gone, he was found deep in a discussion of peace between Arabs and Israelis.

As long as there were disputes in the world and energy in his body, he was going to help resolve them.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Can you think of a situation in which you may want to focus on your principles rather than become worried about the prize?

You may want to be true to your values in a testing situation, help a person or run an educational project. You may want to take this path when playing a sport, building a business, tackling a crisis or whatever.

What are the principles you want to follow in the situation? How can you translate these into action? How can you manage your emotions if you become worried about the result? How can you do your personal best in the situation?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to follow your principles rather than worry about the prize. 

Describe the specific principles you will aim to follow in the situation.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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