Principles for a Healthy Psychological Life

Ray Williams
10 min readApr 28, 2024

For the past four decades of helping people live better lives, I’ve come to believe and encourage others to consider certain psychological principles that can aid them in living fulfilling and meaningful lives. The following briefly describes some of those principles that may be useful for you.

  1. Take responsibility for your life as much as you can. While some events and people can be outside of your control (e.g., trauma and tragedy), most of us experience life in which we have choices and decisions in our control. By embracing this belief about things inside your control, you can stop acting like a victim and allowing others and external events to control your life.
  2. Reality is often a matter of personal perception, and people respond to their perception, not an “absolute and fixed truth.” People react to their experiences. Our senses, beliefs, and past experiences give us a map of the world in which to operate, but a map can only be partially accurate. You remember your experiences by creating internal representations in your mind depend on your filters — your values, beliefs, and experiences. People act and react according to their personal reality, not reality itself. When our map of reality is skewed or faulty, we encounter dissonance and chaos and can bring it to others.
  3. Perception is projection. If something or somebody triggers a strong negative emotional reaction (anger, fear, hurt, sadness, guilt, pain), either you are reacting to an experience in your past life, or you are seeing something in yourself that you won’t face, and then projecting that onto the other person or event. So whenever you have a strong negative emotional reaction to someone’s behavior towards you, the place to look is inside yourself. What value, promise or commitment are you not honoring to yourself? What behavior are you not happy with? Clean up your act before you judge someone else’s.
  4. The person with the most behavioral flexibility (choices) will control the outcome. Almost every situation presents choices for you. Avoid either-or polarity. Much of anxiety and stress is created by excessively focusing on things outside your control that are not choices you can make.
  5. Most people are doing the best they can. Few people are purposefully “wrong” or broken. People make decisions and take actions based on their map of reality and the resources they think they have. If they are faulty or limited, problems occur. Even severely mentally ill people have brain chemical problems or behaviors that can be altered. Clarify your decision-making and choice strategies so they can be improved.
  6. Don’t take the position that people having difficulties automatically need to be rescued, which only develops dependencies and a victim mentality. Given their map and resources (which may be severely limited) people make the best choice or action they can at the time. Respect the other person’s map of reality even if you disagree. Their choices may be self-defeating, bizarre or immoral from your or society’s perspective. Given more or better choices and a way to expand their map, they can make changes if they want to.
  7. Every behaviour initially has a positive intention from a personal perspective, even if that perspective may be distorted. All our actions have at least one purpose — to achieve something that we value and reward us, even though that may end up being destructive to self or others. People don’t deliberately choose to be “evil.” Separate the intention behind an action from the action itself. Separate the behavior from the person’s character. A person is not their behavior. You can find the behavior unacceptable without finding the person that way.
  8. The unconscious mind is a powerful force that balances the conscious mind. It controls everything the conscious mind doesn’t, including your autonomic physical system, memories, and emotions. We are not conscious of all the information that the brain processes or of many other thinking and emotional processes in our unconscious mind. The conscious mind can only deal with a limited number of things simultaneously in the present. Most of the decisions and choices we make are done unconsciously.
  9. Communication means not simply what you intend but also, the other person’s response. The response may differ from the one you wanted, but there are no failures in communication, only responses and feedback. People process information differently depending on their internal representation (visual, kinesthetic, auditory). If you’re not getting back the result, your communication is not received as you think it should be. Take responsibility for improving your communication, and don’t automatically blame the receiver of it.
  10. Mind and body form a system that cannot be separated. Your physical body and its characteristics, behavior, and state cannot be separated from your mental and emotional self and vice versa. Research has shown that each cell in our body has intelligence, and your heart and gut are your second and third “brains.” When we change our thinking and emotions, we can change our bodies.
  11. More analysis and rumination do not necessarily produce better decisions. Much of our best learning comes from acting intuitively and then learning from the results, particularly the failures. Trial and error is still the best method of learning. You can never have all your “ducks” in a row in advance for the perfect decision. If you want to change your life, over-analyzing and ruminating on your past problems is unproductive. Focus on the outcomes you want in the present and the future, and develop new thinking patterns which will change your brain chemistry. Using a balance of intuition and rational thinking most often produces the best results.
  12. Both success and failure can help you improve. Positive reinforcement for success is a good motivator. And failure equals feedback if you learn from it. When you fail, the result is the failure. That doesn’t mean you are a failure. The important thing is not to let your thoughts about failure generalize into a judgment of yourself that you are not “good enough.” A failed experience does not make a failed person.
  13. Putting your feelings and emotions into words increases your emotional intelligence. Labelling your emotions or feelings reduces the brain’s amygdala alarm centre response that triggers negative feelings. This also has a beneficial effect on your health. Teaching children early how to label their emotions at the time they happen increases their ability to regulate their behavior.
  14. Cultivating empathy, compassion and kindness for others and yourself increases your emotional intelligence and strength of character. Brain research has shown that this process can also reduce the likelihood of depression and help combat stress. Showing compassion, empathy and kindness toward others benefits them and increases your well-being. The most important person to be compassionate with is you. Science tells us that self-compassion rather than self-criticism or judgment strengthens your resilience and stress-coping ability. Self-compassion comprises three elements: self-kindness (being kind to yourself rather than self-critical), mindful self-acceptance, and common humanity (seeing your negative experiences as a normal part of the human condition).
  15. Emotions are the key driver of decision-making, not logical, analytical thought. Our logical processes are often only rational justifications for emotional decisions. Because of how our brains work, it is impossible to decide without emotion.
  16. Looking at your experiences from a detached, third-person perspective can give you a more realistic view of reality. A third-person perspective accentuates perceived changes when people seeking self-improvement focus on differences between their present and the past.
  17. Cognitive distortions and biases can distort your view of reality and yourself. These biases can include catastrophizing, personalization, confirmation bias, and others. They can distort reality and narrow and restrict your ability to be open-minded and less judgmental.
  18. Thoughts and emotions are not facts. In essence, they are merely electrochemical processes in our brains, which may be stimulated or caused by various things, from indigestion to negative memories or instinctual and primitive reactions. These thoughts and emotions represent what is happening, not the happenings themselves. So, it’s important to challenge or accept thoughts and emotions for what they are consciously, not unconsciously.
  19. How you feel when stressed is not an accurate measure of reality. You are not your emotions or feelings. Just because you are afraid doesn’t mean you are in danger. Just because you are feeling alone doesn’t mean everyone doesn’t love you. Just because you think you might fail doesn’t mean you will. Listen to how you talk to yourself, shine a bright light on those thoughts, and challenge them. Are they true? Where is the evidence?
  20. Telling yourself to NOT think about something is telling you to do the opposite. You strengthen and reinforce a thought or emotion by trying to force yourself not to think or feel about something or attempting to block or repress it.
  21. Everything in life is temporary, even if it feels like it will last forever. A fundamental principle of the Universe is temporariness. Nothing lasts forever, not a thought, an emotion, a life, or a phenomenon. Hence, the famous expression, “This too shall pass.” Wanting, needing, or fearing something will last forever produces suffering.
  22. The most important time to live is the present. While we can reminisce on wonderful memories of happy past events or, conversely, painful memories of past events or have positive or negative thoughts, dreams, or fears about the future, living there doesn’t help us deal with the present. Focusing on how you want to think, feel, or be in the present moment is the most important time to live in.
  23. Being happy can be a state of mind and a choice. While having a reasonably comfortable material life, genetics, or life experiences influence our happiness, research shows they are not absolute determinants. Even peole in the most dire circumstances have been shown to experience happiness. Living your life on an “if…then” belief will have you chasing happiness forever. Being happy and grateful for what you have are more powerful reasons.
  24. The journey is as important as the destination. While having a positive view of what you want to be or achieve in the future is essential, having your mind and emotions always focused is a prescription for disappointment and unhappiness. The journey — how you live your life in each present moment is more important to the quality of life.
  25. There’s a difference between doing your best under the circumstances and desiring perfection. Perfection is the enemy of good. If you strive to make others, the world, and most importantly, yourself perfect, you have a prescription for unhappiness and disappointment. This doesn’t mean accepting mediocrity but learning to value things as they are. “It is what it is.” Striving for excellence is not the same as striving for perfection.
  26. Developing good habits and eliminating bad ones is more productive and successful than setting audacious goals. In particular, setting a goal that is too challenging or too far in the future frequently leads to non-attainment, a lack of motivation to keep trying, cheating on the goal, or suffering and unhappiness. Developing good habits that are incremental and repetitive, along with eliminating bad habits the same way, has a higher success rate and eventually contributes to more successful goal attainment.
  27. Focus on building your character and virtues more than your skills and abilities. Be more concerned about your character than your professional reputation or resume. Focus on building your strengths of honesty, dependability, loyalty, trust, integrity, compassion, kindness, courage etc. Good looks attract the eyes. Good character attracts and nurtures the heart.
  28. Accept people the way they are. Stop trying to change people so that you will like them more or they will like you. That is self-centered and egotistical. This doesn’t mean ignoring or condoning disrespectful or abusive behavior. But deal with the behavior in terms of what you will do, not what they will do. Individual behaviors are not character unless they are repetitive over time.
  29. Learn how to respond intentionally rather than being reactive, particularly when you are threatened or criticized. Your brain wants you to be reactive because it is defensive and protective of you. So, in situations that are stressful and test you, become mindful and choose how to respond instead of reacting instinctively. Learn how to pause and breathe before you say or do anything in response.
  30. Know and follow your purpose in life. Figure out why you are here on this earth and what was meant to be your vision, mission and impact on people and the world. Be deliberate about finding this out, and use it as a blueprint for all your decisions and choices. Live a life that has meaning.
  31. Develop a personal code and live the code. The fundamental platform for the code should be: Do not harm others by word or behavior. Treat everyone with respect. Be a kind and compassionate person. Then, add whatever else you want to your personal code. Share it with those close to you, then commit yourself to live up to it.
  32. Ask for what you want in life, and say no to what you don’t want. There are two parts to having a healthy and strong sense of self-worth: asking others for what you want directly and confidently and saying no to what you don’t want — which is another way of setting boundaries and communicating clearly what you won’t tolerate or accept.
  33. Stop holding grudges and resentments. People may have done you wrong or caused pain you didn’t deserve. Holding on to the pain, grudge, or resentment hurts you more than it hurts them. The antidote for this is forgiveness. Remember, forgiveness is not forgetting nor approval of what someone may have done to hurt you. It’s getting rid of the pain and toxicity in your heart. Forgiveness is a powerful way to let go of resentment toward others, which no longer serves any purpose but is a way to heal your heart and let go of the pain you still may be carrying
  34. Regularly express gratitude towards others (and yourself). Gratitude serves several purposes. First, it is positively acknowledging and appreciating what others or you have or experienced rather than focusing on what is missing or lacking in life. Second, practicing gratitude helps you live in the present rather than in the past or the future.

You can find a more detailed examination of these principles and more in my books, The Journey to Self-Mastery: Unlocking the Secrets to Personal Transformation, Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces, Virtuous Leadership: The Character Secrets of Great Leaders, and I Know Myself and Neither Do You, all available on Amazon.



Ray Williams

Author/ Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others