Ray Dalio oversees Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. Dalio writes about his most fundamental life and management principles in his text titled Principles which is required reading for all employees at Bridgewater. A major part of Bridgewater’s corporate culture is a relentless focus on the open discussion of mistakes and weaknesses.
I like to expose myself to motivational texts, videos, or self improvement books from time to time for my personal journey of constant advancement. Around 95% of all self improvement texts are crap, but every once in a while, I’ll come across some ways of thinking that are used by people that have actually achieved a significant level of success and aren’t focused on just selling books or some sort of program. Ray Dalio is one of these people.
Dalio writes about making mistakes and weaknesses, something that individuals generally try to suppress and cover up — even to themselves:
Unlike any other species, man is capable of reflecting on himself and the things around him to learn and adapt in order to improve. He has this capability because, in the evolution of species man’s brain developed a part that no other species has – the prefrontal cortex. It is the part of the human brain that gives us the ability to reflect and conduct other cognitive thinking. Because of this, people who can objectively reflect on themselves and others – most importantly on their weaknesses are – can figure out how to get around these weaknesses, can evolve fastest and come closer to realizing their potentials than those who can’t.
However, typically defensive, emotional reactions – i.e., ego barriers – stand way of this progress. these reactions take place in the part of the brain called the amygdala. As a result of them, most people don’t like reflecting on their weaknesses even though recognizing them is an essential step toward preventing them from causing them problems. Most people especially dislike others exploring their weaknesses because it makes them feel attacked, which produces fight or flight reactions; however, having others help one find one’s weaknesses is essential because it’s very difficult to identify one’s own. Most people don’t like helping others explore their weaknesses, even though they are willing to talk about behind their backs. For these reasons most people don’t do a good job of understanding themselves and adapting in order to get what they want most out of life. In my opinion, that is the biggest single problem of mankind because it, more than anything else, impedes people’s abilities to address all other problems and it is probably the greatest source of pain for most people.
Some people get over the ego barrier and others don’t. Which path they choose, more than anything else, determines how good their outcomes are. Aristotle defined tragedy as a bad outcome for a person because of a fatal flaw that he can’t get around. So it is tragic when people let ego barriers lead them to experience bad outcomes.
People who worry about looking good typically hide what they don’t know and hide their weaknesses, so they never learn how to properly deal with them and these weaknesses remain impediments in the future. These people typically try to prove that they have the answers, even when they really don’t. Why do they behave in this unproductive way? They typically believe the senseless but common view that great people are those who have the answers in their heads and don’t have weaknesses. Not only does this view not square with reality, but it also stands in the way of progress.
This explains why people who are interested in making the best possible decisions rarely are confident that they have the best possible answers. So they seek to learn more (often by exploring the thinking of other believable people — especially those who disagree with them) and they are eager to identify their weaknesses so that they don’t let these weaknesses stand in the way of them achieving their goals.
So, what are your biggest weaknesses? Think honestly about them because if you can identify them, you are on the first step toward accelerating your movement forward. So think about them, write them down, and look at them frequently.
Successful people understand that bad things come at everyone and that it is their responsibility to make their lives what they want them to be by successfully dealing with whatever challenges they face. Successful people know that nature is testing them, and that it is not sympathetic. How much do you let yourself off the hook rather than hold yourself accountable for your success?
In summary, I believe that you can probably get what you want out of life if you can suspend your ego and take a no-excuses approach to achieving your goals with open-mindedness, determination, and courage, especially if you rely on the help of people who are strong in areas that you are weak.
If I had to pick just one quality that those who make the right choices have, it is character. Character is the ability to get one’s self to do the difficult things that produce the desired results. In other words, I believe that for the most part, achieving success – whatever that is for you – is mostly a matter of personal choice and that, initially, making the right choices can be difficult. However, because of the law of nature that pushing your boundaries will make you stronger, which will lead to improved results that will motivate you, the more you operate in your “stretch zone,” the more you adapt and the less character it takes to operate at the higher level of performance. So, if you don’t let up on yourself, i.e., if you operate with the same level of “pain,” you will naturally evolve at an accelerating pace. Because I believe this, I believe that whether or not I achieve my goals is a test of what I am made of. It is a game that I play, but this game is for real.
Read the full text of Ray Dalio’s Principles here.