PRINCIPLES Summary
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Principles Book Summary Review PDF | Ray Dalio

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Disclaimer: This is an unofficial summary and analysis.

About Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio is the founder, co-chairman, and co-chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates. He started Bridgewater out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York in 1975. It is now the world’s largest hedge fund. According to Fortune Magazine, the firm has grown into the US’s fifth most important private company. RayDalio’s net worth is currently just under 17 billion dollars. He also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in finance from CW Post College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Introduction

Ray Dalio overcame an economic abyss to become one of the wealthiest men in America. In Principles, he shares the secrets to his success. The key to developing your principles is becoming a hyper-realist. Becoming a hyper-realist will allow you to view failures as learning opportunities rather than personal attacks. Principles recommends you consider your mistakes as minuscule compared to the machine that is the world. Then, you will stop using mistakes as excuses for giving up on your goals. 

StoryShot #1: Embrace the Call to Adventure

Dalio describes principles as ways to handle scenarios that repeatedly happen in similar situations. You will not start life with principles pre-installed. Instead, you must gain principles from your life experiences. Mistakes are essential for the development of your principles. You must reflect on these mistakes and change your principles accordingly. Think of this as a challenge and an adventure.

It’s easy to adopt the principles of others and conform to society’s foundational ideas. However, adopting this approach means others will direct your life. Your adventure is where you will learn how to live your life. Time is like a river that will carry you forward to these adventures. Once you reach these encounters, you have no choice whether you engage with them. Instead, your task is to ensure you respond well to these encounters. 

The quality of the decisions you make when you encounter these circumstances will determine your quality of life. Particularly, the way you incorporate your mistakes into your principles will determine whether you become a successful person. 

StoryShot #2: Embrace Reality and Deal with It

Ray Dalio is not unique. Instead, he attributes his success to a unique approach that anybody can adopt. The first step in adopting this unique approach is to embrace reality and deal with it. 

Embracing reality involves pursuing your adventures, no matter the sacrifices. For example, Dalio was willing to follow any adventure as long as he had a bed to sleep on and food to eat. This approach allowed him to pursue any positive adventure without fear of failure. He ran after the things he wanted and failed. However, he learned from these experiences and pushed on to the next adventure. After several failed attempts, Dalio got better at pursuing his adventures. Subsequently, these failures became less common. He started to enjoy this process as he saw progress. The essence of these experiences was that Dalio encountered reality. Then, through his failures, he learned how to deal with reality. 

StoryShot #3: Truth Is the Essential Foundation for Good Outcomes

Dalio describes truth as the way the world works. We can use our own evolution and the laws of nature to achieve our goals. Instead of working towards how he wanted the world to be, Dalio became a realist. He still pursued his dreams. However, he based his dreams on the reality of the world. Subsequently, Dalio became more likely to achieve his goals. Creating realistic goals and developing high levels of determination will bring you a successful life. 

StoryShot #4: Identify Your Successful Life

Success is a subjective concept. Decide for yourself what a successful life looks like. Society should not determine success. Instead, your own success is determined based on your goals and values. Plus, your success depends on your ability to embrace the harsh realities of life. 

Embracing the harsh realities of life is difficult. Dalio initially struggled to embrace his realities, but learned that the pain was purely psychological. Once he understood the rewards of facing these realities, he could better deal with the problems at hand. Dalio learned to treat pain as a cue that a great learning opportunity was available. Subsequently, he developed the formula:

Pain + Reflection = Progress

StoryShot #5: Follow the Five-Step Process

Based on his experience, Dalio identified five steps to success:

  1. Know your goals and chase them. What is best for you depends on your nature. You need to understand yourself and know what you want to achieve in life.
  2. Encounter problems that stand in the way of getting to your goals. These problems are painful. If poorly handled, some of them can lead to your ruin. But to evolve, you need to identify those problems and not tolerate them.
  3. Diagnose these problems to get at their root causes. Don’t jump to solutions. Take a step back and reflect to distinguish the symptoms from the disease.
  4. Design a plan to eliminate the problems. This is where you will determine what you must do to get around them.
  5. Execute those designs, pushing yourself to do what’s needed to progress toward your goal.

A successful life involves repeatedly doing these five steps. This is your personal evolution.

StoryShot #6: Overcome the Abyss

The abyss represents the terrible things that can happen in our lives. This abyss can ruin us or profoundly improve us. We have control over how we handle these terrible events. Dalio explains he had his own abyss moment in 1982. He invested heavily in the expectation of severe economic depression. However, this depression never came. Dalio’s view was controversial, and he was proven wrong. The US economy experienced the greatest growth period in its history. Dalio’s losses were so significant that his company, Bridgewater was left with no employees apart from himself. 

This mistake was difficult to handle. Dalio had to let go of staff and was publicly humiliated. However, this experience was also humbling and helped him learn to be more realistic. Plus, Dalio learned how to manage the relationship between risk and reward better. In the future, he implemented investment plans that provided him with the rewards he sought. However, these plans avoided the risks associated with his prior mistake. You have likely suffered challenging experiences yourself. If you haven’t, then you certainly will. When these moments arise, there is the best path to pursue. If you reflect well on your mistakes, you can identify and choose the best path.

StoryShot #7: Remember That Everything Is a Machine

Dalio explains that learning about the world’s origin helped him understand that everything is a machine. He describes the universe as a perpetual motion machine that the same laws and forces have always governed. Matter coalesces into machines that work for a while, fall apart, and then merge into new machines. This goes on into eternity. We, humans, are also machines, with circulatory and nervous systems that control many of our crucial functions. 

The world’s machines evolve together to produce the realities we encounter daily. This understanding helped Dalio appreciate that realities and decisions are merely one small and brief part of the universal machine. This helped Dalio to deal with his realities. He saw that the only constant in this changing universe is evolution. We can influence that evolution by changing processes inside the world’s machines, including ourselves. People view the future as a slightly changed version of the present. However, the future is often significantly different. Dalio explains you should approach future events as if you are a biologist, and each event is an animal. First, you want to identify the event’s species. Then, draw upon your principles to decide how you deal with them appropriately. 

StoryShot #8: Address Your Two Biggest Barriers, Overcome Your Ego

Dalio admits his big mistake in betting on an economic depression gave him a healthy fear of being wrong. He developed a humility that challenged his ego. Dalio describes the ego as part of your brain, which prevents you from acknowledging your weaknesses. Identifying and understanding your weaknesses is fundamental to success. You can then figure out how to deal with these weaknesses. Our need to be correct can be more important than our need to find out what’s right. Hence, we like to believe our own opinions without properly examining them. Your ego encourages you to view mistakes and weaknesses as personal attacks. Anger can take over, rather than objective, critical analysis. Subsequently, your ego can lead to poor decisions and lost learning opportunities. 

Avoid the Blind Spot Barrier

You might believe you can see a full picture of reality, but you have blind spots. Dalio explains that no one can see a complete picture of reality. We believe we have a complete picture, as it is challenging to appreciate the things we cannot see or comprehend. 

Some people are better at seeing more of the complete picture. Our distinct patterns of thinking shape our view of the world. Some people excel at seeing the details of a picture. Some individuals are linear thinkers, while others are lateral. However, you can account for weaknesses in your own perspective to reach a fuller understanding. 

Aristotle defined tragedy as a terrible outcome arising from a person’s fatal flaw. Had that flaw been addressed, there would have been a wonderful outcome. As a result, Dalio explains, he sought ways to replace the joy of being proven right with the joy of learning what’s true. Dalio sought thoughtful disagreement. It is healthy to meet people who disagree with you.

StoryShot #9: Be Radically Open-Minded

You must let go of your attachment to always have the right answer. Instead, be open to other views. This approach allows you to identify risks and opportunities that you would not otherwise have seen. After adopting this approach, Dalio noticed he was making the best decisions possible.

Suppose you want to apply an open-minded approach within your company. In that case, you need to adopt believability-weighted decision-making. This is what Dalio did when rebuilding his company, Bridgewater. This type of decision-making process involves challenging the decisions of fellow employees rather than overruling them. Subsequently, everybody at Bridgewater may offer their input. However, each individual’s believability is weighted based on evidence. This evidence involves their track record, test results, and other crucial data. Decision-makers can overrule believability-weighted voting, but only at their peril.

StoryShot #10: Struggle Well

Most people’s greatest strengths are also connected to their biggest weaknesses. Therefore, striving to achieve tough goals will lead to painful falls. These setbacks will test you, and your response will define your future. You can either struggle well by continuing to progress towards your goals with new lessons learned. Or, you can struggle badly by deciding this field or goal is not for you. 

Attaining your goals is not a reward for hard work and struggle. Instead, the reward is personal evolution. After learning to struggle well, Dalio no longer wanted success as he had defined it before. Instead, he wanted greater challenges to overcome or learn from. Eventually, the success of the mission and the well-being of the people alongside him became more important than his individual success. Dalio also started to see beyond himself and wanted others to be successful when he was no longer here. Failing to do this would be the only reason he could be called a failure.

All machines are recycled over time. When a machine breaks down, its parts return into the system to become parts of new machines that also evolve through time. Sometimes, this makes us sad because we become attached to our machines. However, if you look at it from a higher level, it’s wonderful to observe how the machine of evolution works.

Final Summary and Review 

Ray Dalio learned his lessons the hard way, through failures and setbacks. Now his nuggets of wisdom can help you in your own life. The point is not to avoid failures but to get better at dealing with them when they arise and to learn from them. You can then develop your own principles for success.

Let’s go through the key insights from Principles. Tag us on social media and let us know which ones you find helpful in your own life!

  • See life as an adventure in which you make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Embrace reality and deal with it.
  • Form realistic goals and pursue them with determination.
  • Reflect on painful experiences so you can evolve.
  • Diagnose problems at their root causes, then form a plan and work to overcome them.
  • To realize your potential, you must push your limits, and that will lead to failures. How you deal with those failures will determine your ultimate success.
  • The universe is a machine composed of many smaller machines that come and go with time. We should seek to understand how each machine works and approach it accordingly. 
  • Nobody ever has a complete picture. Be open to other perspectives.
  • Be more invested in the truth than in being proven right. 
  • Struggle well and rise to new challenges. 

Criticism

While many of Dalio’s points seem logical, you may disagree with his reliance on rational thinking that treats everything as a machine. Dalio notably neglects the emotional side of dealing with people and facing problems. Overcoming trauma from experiences can be complex. 

Dalio creates his philosophy entirely from his own experience and does not draw on any of the rich histories of philosophy and ethics that could have made this book more nuanced and rounded.  

Rating

We rate Principles 4.2/5.

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Editor’s Note

This was first published in 2021. It was revised on 28/12/2022.

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