Cultivate a Code

A common characteristic of many successful and fulfilled people is that they are clear. Clear about who they want to be and what they are trying to accomplish. They have taken the time to develop their own values. They know for what they stand.



Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, sound, and solid blueprint,” Martin Luther King Jr. told a group of graduating students in 1967. We need a proper, a solid, and a sound blueprint


Quote from Atlantic article. Could use as a reason to have a code. Chapter two of earn everything.



This chapter provides several examples of individual codes that were developed by some successful people. Several of the approaches detailed reflect a process that took years if not decades for the individual to develop their own code. It’s not a one and done undertaking. It’s a lifelong pursuit of crafting, revisiting, refining, and adapting as one makes their way forward.


Marcus Aurelius writes in Meditations, “No random actions, none not based on underlying principles.” That’s a very high bar for which to strive. Complete conscious choice for each action.


We can try to start by working to develop some clarity around what’s important to us. Develop a list of traits or ideas that you value. One way to start is to think about someone that you respect deeply and then ask yourself what is it about them that you admire? Is it their calm? Is it their accomplishments? If their accomplishment, what accomplishment? Why? Is it the way they make you feel? By learning what we admire in others, we can develop a better understanding of what is important to us.


Whatever approach we pursue, we’re working to be WITTY. We’re trying to answer What’s Important To Today’s You. Once you have a list of values identified, then consider trying to revise our WITTY to answering What’s Important to Tomorrow’s You. Give some thought to what kind of person do you want to be 5, 10, 25, or 50 years down the road. Consider the question from the perspective of what kind of person do you want to be, not necessarily what do you want to have accomplished or what do you see yourself doing. We’re less interested in the specific role or job you may have had and more interested in getting clear about the kind of person you want to become.


Once you’ve created two WITTY lists, review them and see if there are any items that overlap. If there are, this is great. These would be strong indicators of core values for you. Did you identify independence as being something important to you both today and tomorrow, for example? If so, this would be a core value for you. Perhaps, you observed that you admire a trait in your elementary school teacher that helped you see that you were capable of excelling at math when working at it. You admire their patience and confidence in you. Then you noted you would like to become a person that has a lasting influence on others in the future. If so, a shared value of these two ideas could be one of teaching or coaching.


Ideally, you are able to pull out of your lists a handful of meaningful values for yourself. Three to five are a good number. Your objective now would be to try to develop personal clarity around what each of these means to you. Work to create a definition for each of your values. You could even work to consolidate these into a meaningful acronym.


For example, in working through this exercise over the years I have settled on three core personal values that are represented in the acronym DADA. My values are Discipline, Auto-Didact, and Anteambulo. From these three values, I worked to create definitions for them.


Discipline. Do what needs to be done before what we want to do. Do first things first. Discipline = DIN or Do it Now. Be willing to do what others won’t or W2D WOW. Take pride on doing difficult things. We are what we do. Develop good habits.


Auto-didact. To be a lifelong learner. Willing to take responsibility for my own learning.


Anteambulo. This is a role detailed in Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy which he refers to as “The Canvass Strategy”. The role originated during the Renaissance and means to walk in front or to clear the path. My goal is to help others get better at the things they care about. It reminds me that I need to be looking outside of myself and towards how to help others. It is a lens through which to look at the world. How can I help? What do you need? What is in your way that I can help remove?


These three values combine into the acronym DADA which reflects the role that is most important to me in my life.


One of the benefits of developing your list of core values is that you have a guideline against which you can measure decisions. How many of us can communicate what our core values are? Do we have a clear sense of what is important to us? If you work through an approach like the above, you will put yourself in amongst the minority who are working to put themselves in the best position to make progress.


Once you have determined your values and defined them, the next step is to try to find a way to keep your values front of mind. Can you find a picture or quote that captures your values and keep them near by on a shelf in your office or bedroom? I have had a fake licence plate made up which I keep in my home office that serves as a regular reminder of my values. I had the letters placed on a replica of a State of Hawaii licence plate as that is where we have had most of our family vacations which further connects my values with positive memories. This simple act cost around thirty dollars. There’s no need to go overboard and have bronze or marble plaques made. Taking this step further separates you from most and puts you in an even smaller group of those consciously crafting their own lives.


A final step putting you squarely in select company of the few that do would be to check in regularly to evaluate how you are living against what you have determined is important to you. This can be done by making time to quietly reflect on a few questions. Ask yourself what is an example of how I have demonstrated value X this month, week, or day. The more often you make time to reflect and evaluate your actions against your values, the more likely you are to reinforce your values and refine your actions to be consistent which will inevitably lead to forward progress for you. Writing down your responses to these questions deepens the connection and provides an objective record of your efforts. As you commit to your values and reinforce them with both reminders and your daily actions, you’ll start to see them shape your behaviors. Often, I am working on a task and hear a reminder, notification, or buzz of some kind and instead of falling victim to the pull of distraction, I remind myself that I want to honor the value of discipline, do the task on which I’m focused first, then reward myself with checking the notification once completed. Once you do this a few times, each time you do it, you will reinforce your commitment to your value further.


Though there’s no single approach to cultivating a code, the above reflects a great way to get started.