Pete Huang

Sankalpa and Ray Dalio's Principles

B. Distinguish proximate causes from root causes. Proximate causes are typically the actions (or lack of actions) that lead to problems, so they are described with verbs (I missed the train because I didn’t check the train schedule). Root causes run much deeper and they are typically described with adjectives (I didn’t check the train schedule because I am forgetful). You can only truly solve your problems by removing their root causes, and to do that, you must distinguish the symptoms from the disease. – Principles by Ray Dalio

A sankalpa practice starts from the radical premise that you already are who you need to be to fulfill your life’s dharma. All you need to do is focus your mind, connect to your most heartfelt desires, and channel the divine energy within.

Last month, I had the opportunity to catch up over dinner with my friends Joey and Vicki, both in the Boston area right now, but in town for different reasons.

Given the January timing, Joey shared his frustrations with goals and goal-setting. He sounded off on the feeling of failing to find the necessary motivation to break his inertia and make progress towards his goals.

And then he said something interesting - that he now is associating his goals with his identity to force action on these goals. So rather than saying “In 2019, I will work out 4 days a week”, he’d rather say “I’m the type of person who works out regularly.”

In the weeks following, I read Ray Dalio’s Principles, where I pulled the first quote at the top of the page, and went to a yoga class where I learned about the sankalpa through the second quote. I love the relationships among these two concepts and my friend Joey’s approach.


My understanding of a sankalpa is formed from sources where it’s yanked out of cultural and religious context. By the time it has reached me, it’s probably been so morphed that it now represents something entirely new. Proceed carefully.

Given my understanding, a sankalpa can take the form of a statement that aligns all energy in your mind, body, and spirit. It takes the present tense and, as the quote presents, assumes “that you already who you need to be.” Whatever you choose to focus on, it takes root at the deepest possible level in your character.

When you want something that you don’t have, you would typically say, “I want to…” or even “I will…” A sankalpa is instead phrased as something you do today because you are the person you are. The things you will do are merely an extension of this identity.

In other words…Joey would say, “I’m the type of person who works out regularly.” instead of “I will work out 4 days a week.”

Principle 2.3b

Reading Principles was both refreshing and revelatory. I deeply appreciate Ray Dalio’s humble nature and his willingness to state who he is and what he observes in their purest and bare versions.

He seems like the type of person who recognizes that “we are all space dust” in the most non-satirical way.

Reading Principles guided me to finally accept as true certain things that I have known to be true but that I have been unwilling to accept for one reason or another. It was something about the plainness of how he wrote.

Principle 2.3b is one of my favorite examples. Here, the lesson, as stated, doesn’t seem to be too novel: dig deeper into the cause of a problem until you can’t dig any further. Ray Dalio’s application of this lesson is much more striking, though. He digs until character-level issues emerge, and those are the root causes that he’s interested in.

He presents them simply, as if to say: “You are who you are. Don’t feel good or bad or anything else about it. Just accept it.” And to evolve, you focus on changing these underlying character-level issues.

Knowing, then changing

Both the sankalpa and Principles operate with an assumption that change and growth are not about actions but about character. Your existence on this world is, in fact, not about what you do but about who you are.

I think the even harder challenge is to fully embrace this identity, with no hesitation or restraint. This means saying no to things that seem like great opportunities. This means saying no to old patterns that you cling onto out of habit. But it also means saying yes to unknowns that scare you, saying yes when you’ve been unwilling to say yes.

This is something I’ve struggled with in the past, but I’m quite eager to see what comes of a full-minded, intentional attempt to embody these guiding ideas. I’ll get back to you in a month.