Guiding Principles and Changing Behavior

In the October 2022 General Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a new version of the “For the Strength of Youth” guidebook. This was announced by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf in “Jesus Christ Is the Strength of Youth“. The subtitle of the pamphlet is “A Guide for Making Choices”. The intent is to give the youth guiding principles that will lead them to make correct choices, through the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and cultivate Christlike behaviors in their lives.

Correct Principles

The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”1 One of the reasons he said this is that it is impossible to come up with a list of what’s right and what’s wrong. Understanding the principles of Christ’s doctrine allows us to determine whether or not to participate in any given activity. Correct principles are God’s principles and understanding them leads us to make better choices in this life. It allows us to stay on the covenant path.

What is a principle? Elder Bednar has said, “Stated succinctly, a gospel principle is a doctrinally based guideline for the righteous exercise of moral agency.”2 This means that guidelines given based on gospel principles are the basis for making correct choices.

From the dictionary, we read that the word principle means “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning”. Again, it is a basis for making choices and driving behavior.

Making Good Choices

Sometimes, a good choice leads us away from things we love to do. I love the sport of soccer. I love playing it, watching it, and yes even refereeing. It is “the beautiful game”. I think some in my family would say I’m obsessed with it. I’ll admit it is a love I have. That said, I know when to not play/watch/referee and make a different choice. How do I know? Because I have learned the correct principles that help me to choose better things than soccer. I still find time for this game I love, but I make time for the most important things first.

In his address, Elder Uchtdorf discussed what Jesus would say if He were with us right now. He quotes four messages of the Savior that I believe can help us to make good choices.

Fear Not

The first message is “Fear not”. We should not be afraid of making good choices. This can be hard when others pressure us about our choices. However, when we make good choices and fear not, we are blessed with peace and comfort.

There are also times when we are afraid of making a good choice because we will be perceived as “too good”. I suffer from this. I don’t know why I worry about people thinking that I’m “too good” or “too righteous”. We are told in Abraham 3:25, “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them”. How can we be “too good” and still prove to God that we will do all things commanded us by Him?

Doubt Not

This leads to the second message, “Doubt not”. I believe all of us have, at one time or another, doubted a choice we have made. But when we make a good choice based on correct principles, doubt should never enter our minds. We must develop confidence in our decisions. Trust that the Lord will bless us must be ingrained in our souls.

Doubt can lead to regret and we should never regret a good choice. A few years ago, my son Sam was to go on a scout outing. The day of the outing came and Cheryl had a feeling that Sam shouldn’t go on account of a severe snowstorm forecast for that area. Cheryl gets these “motherly intuitions” and we have learned through experience to trust them. We informed the scout leaders that Sam wouldn’t be going. The rest of the group went and nothing bad happened to them. However, we don’t know what would have happened to Sam had we not followed Cheryl’s prompting. Did doubt creep into our decision? I would say yes, especially since Sam really wanted to go and it was hard for him to understand why we didn’t let him. Has there been any regret in our decision? No. It was the right decision based on prompting from the Holy Ghost given to Cheryl.

Be of Good Cheer

The third message is “Be of good cheer”. When we make good choices, we know we have done what’s right. That feeling allows us to be uplifted. Also, we should be happy when making choices and confident in them. This is difficult when you are feeling sad or lack confidence in your decisions. It also helps to remember that Christ has overcome the world and that any decision we make that leads us closer to Him is one of happiness.

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

The final message is “Let not your heart be troubled”. As we learn and follow correct principles, our hearts should be gladdened not troubled. Even when we make a bad choice, we should not let it trouble us and lead us to more bad choices. Should we feel remorse about making a bad choice? Yes. Should we let that bad choice keep us away from the Savior? No! Repentance cleanses us and we must not let our hearts be troubled over past mistakes once we have been forgiven.

As someone who had an addiction, I can tell you that it is not easy to not be troubled. There is always a fear of lapsing; there is always a doubt about being forgiven; there is always a troubling feeling in one’s mind. It can be hard to continue to make good choices, but being of good cheer helps. When temptation comes, and it always comes, these four messages of the Savior help to make the choice of not succumbing.

Changing Behavior

One of my favorite quotes is from President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Mental control must be stronger than physical appetites or desires of the flesh. As thoughts are brought into complete harmony with revealed truth, actions will then become appropriate. Each of us, with discipline and effort, has the capacity to control our thoughts and our actions. This is part of the process of developing spiritual, physical, and emotional maturity.”3 Basically, as we make good choices, our actions will become more appropriate and in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This in turn changes our behaviors.

Behavioral change starts with our mental capacity. As we learn true doctrine and apply the guidelines given to us by the Lord, our thoughts change. This leads us to make better choices. Our actions reflect our choices and our behaviors then change to reflect our actions and mindset. This is the way to true behavior change that keeps us on the covenant path.

As a parent, my goal is to teach correct principles and provide guidelines to help my children have behaviors that will allow them to be productive members of society. It’s not easy and I can’t imagine the heartbreak our Father in Heaven goes through when we make bad choices. My heart breaks when I see my children make choices that lead to disappointment and failure. Nevertheless, I persist in teaching correct principles and providing appropriate guidelines.

Tips for Teaching

As you prepare to teach this address, think about including some of the following:

  1. Define what a principle and a guideline are. Why are principles and guidelines better teachers than rules?
  2. Refer to Elder Bednar’s definition of principle and how it can apply to the gospel.
  3. Look through the For Strength of Youth pamphlet and describe the guidelines it sets forth. Then discuss one or two of the guidelines and how they can help in making good choices.


The ability to govern ourselves is one of the greatest gifts Heavenly Father has given us. By providing us with principles and guidelines, we can make good choices and align our behavior to Christ’s. We should not fear, doubt, nor let our heart be troubled about making good choices. Instead we should be of good cheer knowing that through good choices the blessings of heaven await.

Finding Out More

If you are interested in finding out more about these guidelines or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints, please visit the Church’s website. If you would like to visit and see what meetings are held, visit the Meetinghouse Locator.


1Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 284.

2The Principles of My Gospel“, Elder David A. Bednar, General Conference, April 13, 2021

3Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 255.

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