I would like to believe that a lot of us here on this earth desire to become better versions of the person we currently are. Meaning, we desire to engage with each other in a healthier, more productive way. But we mess up…a lot. At least I know I do.

So how do we change on the inside so that it reflects naturally on the outside?

Growing up, my father taught me that learning to adopt principles was the most effective way to experience real change. So, I would ask him, “How do I learn to adopt principles?” His response was very upsetting, “Principles are more caught than taught.”

What the heck does that mean!? You mean I can’t learn a principle? I didn’t understand in the slightest. His response was to give me a principle. “Here,” he would say “study this until you know it by heart. Then study it until you learn to live it.”

It took a while, but sure enough, the more time I spent on a principle, the more it started to make sense to me. And the more it started to make sense to me, the more I started to see areas of my life in which I needed to apply it. And once I saw that, I started applying it in those areas until it didn’t take thoughtful effort to do so anymore. The principle was caught!

I have found this to be true for most people I meet with: Continually focusing on one principle at a time seems to be an effective way to “catch it.” Because of this, I will share a new principle each month…for a while at least. It will not be a principle I just think is important, but one I am also focusing on “catching” in areas of my own life. It might take longer than a month to catch, and that’s okay. Learning to focus on one area for an entire month will take you a long way.

The great thing about learning to catch a principle is that one simple principle can apply to several areas of our life.  Let’s use the principle of this month as the example:

Be quick to listen and understand, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”

Sometimes, when in small groups of friends, I get energized with the engagement and begin to get louder and louder, also talking over others. I don’t like to do this. This principle applies.

Sometimes, when my wife is talking to me, I am more focused on what I’m doing than listening to her. I don’t listen or understand what she is trying to communicate. Or sometimes, I answer her before she is finished talking, thinking I know what she is about to say. I don’t like to do this. This principle applies.

Sometimes, when I am talking with teams, I talk so fast I stumble over my words and don’t allow much opportunity for others to ask questions. I don’t like to do this. This principle applies.

These are just a few examples. If I tried to fix each individual example, I would miss the core of the issue. I would also get frustrated because it would be too much to remember to learn, leaving me feeling overwhelmed. Learning to adopt the principle in my life speaks to the core issue, which then easily applies to several other areas. This produces real change because I’m not just focused on covering up each symptom, I’m finding a cure.

Back to the principle. Let’s break it down a little. When we are focusing on listening, it’s not just about hearing the words someone speaks. It’s about understanding where they are coming from. We don’t always have to agree, but we should strive to understand their point of view and why they hold their point of view because who they are has value.

Being slow to speak doesn’t mean our focus is on trying to remember the words we want to say while the other person is talking. Learning to be slow with our words means we are thinking first, before we speak (sometimes, words aren’t even necessary), after listening to the other person. This ensures the right words come out, showing the one we are speaking with that we understand them.

Also notice that the principle doesn’t say, “don’t be angry.” It says, “be slow to anger.” Not all anger is bad. It depends more on what we do with that anger. If we are slow to anger, we are better able to control it. If we are better able to control it, we are better able to decide a better course of action than blowing up at someone when they really upset us.

If listening is sometimes an area you struggle with, I would encourage you to write this principle down for yourself. Keep it somewhere convenient that you can look at and read, over and over again. Don’t stop until you start seeing yourself holding to it in situations you normally wouldn’t.