Have you ever wondered why you make the decisions that you do? If you’ve experienced that uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when you do something you know you’ll regret, it’s likely because of your moral principles, or your individual sense of right and wrong.
Most people have a set of morals, with many having their morals at least partially tied to their culture, religion, or another external source (referred to as ethical principles). A sense of morality is one aspect of human behavior that sets us apart from other species, but it can vary greatly from one person to another. It may be helpful to explore your own moral principles, as they can influence various aspects of your life.
How Moral Principles Impact Your Life
One definition of morals is, “the principles of right and wrong that are accepted by an individual or a social group”. As a general rule, we use morals to guide our individual actions. They help us make decisions based on what we feel is the “right” thing to do in a given situation. Without them, we would have little rhyme or reason for why we make the choices we do—or we’d only ever make choices that take our own needs into consideration. Our decisions would likely be impulsive and with little consideration for the consequences.
Our moral values often guide how we approach decision-making, address ethical dilemmas like conflict of interest, and implement professional standards like informed consent in patient care.
Making the effort to have a clear set of moral values can affect your behavior in many ways. You might be less easily influenced to act in ways that are contrary to your values, no matter the circumstances. You might be able to voice your opinions more readily, stand up for justice, and distance yourself from things that don’t match up with your own moral reasoning.
To put it another way, moral principles allow people to judge their own behaviors so that they can make changes as needed in order to feel that they’re doing the “right” thing—though some people might not have the same “rights” that you do, they’ll choose the best course of action depending on their individual values.
Furthermore, research over the years has demonstrated how central a set of morals is to who we are. One study found that “moral character” is the most important element of “impression formation” when we’re getting to know someone new. Another study involved five experiments which led researchers to declare that moral traits “are considered the most essential part of identity, the self, and the soul,” more than any other mental faculty. In other words, our morals are a fundamental part of our nature and how we interact with others. You can take a morality test for fun to get a glimpse of your morals.
Examples Of Moral Principles
You can think of moral principles as a set of guidelines that help us decide how to handle ethical issues and other situations that may arise in life. Here are a few generally accepted examples of principles a person might hold:
- Treat others the way you want to be treated and show them respect. This principle means taking the time to empathize with others and trying to see things through their eyes. While autonomy may be important, you can’t always do exactly what you want. This principle involves thinking about the situation someone else is in and considering what you’d want someone to do for you if the roles were reversed. Doing so can help strengthen equality in our country, a vital characteristic of a healthy society.
- Speak the truth. Honesty may help us speak up for what we want and give others the information they need to make decisions for themselves. A principle of virtue like this means that you strive to avoid lying, whether to yourself or others.
- Don’t spend what you don’t have. Moral principles can even apply to how you handle your finances. These could include donating regularly to good causes, avoiding loaning money to friends so as to not complicate relationships, or not spending what you don’t have. This last one might entail living within a budget and doing your best to stay out of debt. While it may be tough, you can also benefit from having a thrifty lifestyle.
- Keep your word. Your word should have meaning, and following through with what you say you’re going to do is another example of a moral principle. This might include honesty, but also not making promises that you can’t keep. Sticking to your word can prevent harm, both to your reputation and to your relationships.
The above are some common examples, but moral principles are personal—something you decide for yourself. If you’re setting out to choose what yours might be, the examples listed here can at least give you a starting point. Think about how you want to approach or handle relationships, conflict, fairness, finances, etc., or the type of person you want to be when faced with hard situations in any of these realms. That exercise can guide you toward the moral principles that feel right for you.
How To Be Accountable: Moral Principles
Sticking to the moral code you’ve set for yourself can help you live a life that’s authentic to you. Remember, however, that no human being is perfect. We’re all bound to fall short of our morals from time to time, but having them in place reminds us of what to strive for next time. To help further your moral development, consider some of the following tactics.
Set Written Goals
Research shows that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down, so you can harness this fact to help you stick to your morals. Keeping a journal of what your goals are and how you’re progressing toward them can help you focus on accountability. For instance, you might want to perform one random act of kindness per week to practice empathy, be honest about personal boundaries when dating someone new, or save a certain amount from every paycheck. You can write each of these moral goals down and make notes regularly on how you’re coming along.
Listen To Your Instincts
Another method is to stay in touch with your gut instincts. An individual’s identity can determine when they listen to their “gut”. When you’re about to do something that, deep down, you feel is wrong in the context of your principles, think twice. Our gut instincts may be trying to tell us that something about the situation we’re in doesn’t fit our personal moral code.
Speak With A Therapist
Finally, you may find it useful to speak with a therapist. While they’re not there to decide your moral code for you, they can help you get in touch with your true self and your beliefs so that you can draw conclusions about what your morals might be. They can help you examine the moral principles that parents or caregivers passed down to you, which may be outdated or based on a problematic part of history. These conversations can help you decide whether you want to keep them as part of your own code. They can also help you deal with any perfectionism you may have in regard to morality, and learn to forgive yourself. Whatever challenges you may be facing, a trained therapist can offer a nonjudgmental, unbiased space for you to explore and work through them.
Today, there are a variety of different ways in which you can connect with a mental health professional. Some find virtual therapy to be the best option for them. A 2020 study suggests that it can be just as effective as traditional face-to-face counseling, making it a “viable alternative.” Researchers also found that online therapy had other added benefits too, including “lower cost, no travel time, no waitlists, and trackable progress”. An online therapy platform like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist with whom you can meet via phone or video call and check in via chat. Remember: The best therapy method for you is the one that’s available and that you feel the most comfortable with.
Do You Need Help Making Decisions That Align With Your Moral Principles?
Read on for reviews of BetterHelp counselors who have helped people in similar situations.
“I’ve been working with Alicia for about 7 months now, and I can’t recommend her enough. She is unbelievably smart and yet filled with warmth, she’s non-judgmental but still able to see negative patterns, she gives solid frameworks and solutions when I need them, and is a listening ear when I need that. Alicia doesn’t just deal with the subject matter at hand, she remembers things I’ve told her weeks prior, small names or details or passing comments, and points out patterns I hadn’t noticed, helping me re-frame my own thoughts and behaviors, all while showing how much she’s really listening and paying attention. It makes me feel like I’m talking to a friend. One personal example of her intuitive spirit is what she said to me in my very first session with her which has stuck with me since that day. I told how “broken” I felt after my last couple roles in rather toxic work environments. And after telling why I had left those companies, mostly dealing with bosses/ colleagues who were bullies, dishonest and manipulative people who did a lot of damage, Alicia pointed out that I am not, in fact, broken, as the reason I left those companies was always the same – my deep rooted values of kindness and honesty would not allow me to be in that environment any longer, that my sense of self from a moral perspective had remained the same when many people bend their morals to succeed in stressful work situations. This reframing of the narrative I had been telling myself from the moment I quit changed everything for me, and she had known me for 45 minutes. For anyone on the fence about therapy and its benefits, Alicia is the empathetic soul we all need in our lives.”
“Oliver has helped me in many ways despite our relatively short time working together. He’s helped me gain a better outlook on the world, and he has helped me install some new philosophies and principles that I’ve found to be very useful in my day to day life and coping with everyday stress, as well as helping me and guiding me through some tough personal decisions, and working on myself and my behaviour.”
Moral principles can look different for everyone. Deciding on what yours will be can give you direction in life and help you make decisions. The tips on this list may help you in the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
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