You may remember your parents persuading you to get up in the morning: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” or more simply, “The early bird gets the worm.”
These short statements are common examples of a maxim.
Maxims: Mottos For Life, Success, and Happiness.
What Is A Maxim?
A maxim is a proverb, a saying of the wise. They are short phrases and sentences that become guidelines and short cuts for daily life. Clinically, they are called heuristics by psychologists, purposed to seek out ways to navigate through life with the least bumps and bruises.
Their purpose is best defined by Proverbs 1:4 ESV, “To give prudence to the simple, to give the young man knowledge and discretion.” Maxims are simply bits of wisdom, adapted to be easily remembered and relatable.
For centuries, men have collected and refined these sayings of the wise, offering them as guidelines to our life’s journey. Benjamin Franklin, Marcus Aurelius, George Washington, Lord Chesterfield are examples of men who understood the necessity of these principles and did their best to pass them on to upcoming generations.
John Wayne said, “A man needs a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.”
Personal maxims are just that kind of code.
There are three steps and a warning to using maxims.
To start with, seek out the maxims of the great men who have gone before you. Often, they have assembled these instructions in its own book. Other times you must mine the biographies of the men themselves to discover the hidden treasures within.
Proverbs is an excellent beginning. Filled with advice from one of the wisest men, it has abundant wisdom to offer to the young and old alike.
Assemble Your Own
As you read from the wisdom of others, make your own list. Take from here and there what you find is pertinent to your life. Perhaps you feel you talk too much. Include more than one maxim on guarding your tongue. Mark Twain said,
It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid, than open it and remove all doubt.
Watch for the maxims that spring from your life as you live it. Or, maybe you have a moral to a story you’ve lived through but would rather not repeat.
Apply Them To Life
There is no power in a principle unless it is applied. If you purpose to apply them, you’ll be amazed at how many opportunities there are for their use. “If someone angers you in conversation, count to ten before replying.” Thomas Jefferson.
The Maxim Warning
A maxim is only as powerful as its use. In his book, Creativity, Inc, Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, gave this warning about maxims when realizing that Pixar was becoming less effective.
Imagine an old, heavy suitcase whose well-worn handles are hanging by a few threads. The handle is ‘Trust the Process’ or ‘Story Is King’ – a pithy statement that seems, on the face of it, to stand for so much more. The suitcase represents all that has gone into the formation of the phrase: the experience, the deep wisdom, the truths that emerge from struggle. Too often, we grab the handle and – without realizing it – walk off without the suitcase. What’s more, we don’t even think about what we’ve left behind.
To conclude this article, we offer you these few maxims to start filling your suitcase. The experience and wisdom must be learned as you test these statements and apply them to your lives.
- Be careful what you tell others – they might be listening.
- If anyone speaks evil of you, let your life be such that none would believe them.
- An ounce of prudence is worth a pound of cleverness.
- Look before, or you’ll find yourself behind.
- He that can have patience can have what he will.
- Failure is often a consequence of trying something new.