The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people is one of the most well known business and self help books written of all time. Published by Stephen Covey in 1989, he presents a 7 step approach to create lasting personal change for the reader by working on a system of values. My goal is to take his 7 steps and break them down into a daily practice you can begin that is simple and effective.
Monday: Be Proactive
Proactive: (of a person, policy, or action) creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.
“be proactive in identifying and preventing potential problems”
“you need to be more proactive about the causes you care about”
“Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.
Habit 1: Be Proactive is about taking responsibility for your life. You can’t keep blaming everything on your parents or grandparents. Proactive people recognize that they are “response-able.” They don’t blame genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. They know they choose their behavior. Reactive people, on the other hand, are often affected by their physical environment. They find external sources to blame for their behavior. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance, and they blame the weather. All of these external forces act as stimuli that we respond to. Between the stimulus and the response is your greatest power–you have the freedom to choose your response. One of the most important things you choose is what you say. Your language is a good indicator of how you see yourself. A proactive person uses proactive language–I can, I will, I prefer, etc. A reactive person uses reactive language–I can’t, I have to, if only. Reactive people believe they are not responsible for what they say and do–they have no choice.
Instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have little or no control, proactive people focus their time and energy on things they can control. The problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas–Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.
Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about: health, children, problems at work. Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern–things over which they have little or no control: the national debt, terrorism, the weather. Gaining an awareness of the areas in which we expend our energies in is a giant step in becoming proactive.” (http://bit.ly/1uNpWwu)
There are two types of people in this world: proactive and reactive. Let’s break down some of the differences and focus on how we can become more proactive and less reactive. Reactive people allow the environment around them control what they do or how they feel. They seem to be at the mercy of those around them and constantly pursuing menial, unimportant activities. We all know these type of reactive people who can never take responsibility for the negative outcomes in their lives. They live in a delusion that every negative aspect of their life has been forced upon them by some outside force or person and they have no control over it. The teachers at their schools suck and that’s why they’re getting bad grades. Their mother’s side of the family has always been obese so it’s not possible for them to get in shape. Their father was an alcoholic and so was his father, therefore it’s impossible for them not to be an alcoholic as well. They have non stop excuses and consistently live in the passenger seat of their own lives. If you really think about it those who live in a constant state of reactivity live a sour life. They are always at the mercy of things they can not control, therefore living an unpredictable and rather malice lifestyle. Proactive people are quite the opposite. They are the planners, the doers and more than likely they are who you WISH you were. To be proactive by definition is a person who creates or controls a situation by taking action and making things happen as opposed to responding to it after it has already happened. As human beings it is our duty to understand that being proactive means taking full and undeniable responsibility for the outcomes in our lives. Every single decision we make today will have some sort of result in the future. Thanks to Newton we know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Not only is this true in the world of physics but it reigns true in everyday life as well.
Repeat after me: “I am a human being, I am a conscious being, I am responsible for every outcome in my life, I take full responsibility for creating the life I live today. I am in the drivers seat of my own life, not the passengers seat. I am the creator of my own life and It is my decision to control my future.”
We will skip the romance and fancy stories about the countless business executives or high power people who use proactivity to get ahead in everyday life. Chances are if you’re reading this you are already a proactive person and trying to learn whatever skills necessary to get ahead already so kudos to you. The most important part of being proactive is to do. Just do it. Just do it. Just fucking do it. Stop procrastinating, start doing. This is the ONLY way to become a proactive person. It doesn’t require a teacher or some fancy formula it requires EFFORT. Cut as many time wasting tasks as you can out of your day. Plan your day around your priorities and not around urgencies.
Practice: Plan your week ahead of time. Every Sunday I take a look at my priorities, deadlines and daily routines and schedule them how I see fit. Most days are predictable but there are always unimportant things that are urgent and need to be taken care of. Schedule your days as you see fit, personally I begin with the most important things first. Proactivity is all about preparation. Take 20 minutes every Sunday to plan your upcoming week out and 5 minutes every morning to review your daily agenda. You will be amazed at how much more productive you become by simply planning for your day.
Tuesday: Begin With the End in Mind
“So, what do you want to be when you grow up? That question may appear a little trite, but think about it for a moment. Are you–right now–who you want to be, what you dreamed you’d be, doing what you always wanted to do? Be honest. Sometimes people find themselves achieving victories that are empty–successes that have come at the expense of things that were far more valuable to them. If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.
Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.
One of the best ways to incorporate Habit 2 into your life is to develop a Personal Mission Statement. It focuses on what you want to be and do. It is your plan for success. It reaffirms who you are, puts your goals in focus, and moves your ideas into the real world. Your mission statement makes you the leader of your own life. You create your own destiny and secure the future you envision.” (http://bit.ly/Vjl1XJ)
Imagine you are in New York City. It is your first time visiting the big apple and you are far from a city slicker. You have no clue where anything is or how to get there so you see a newsstand that sells maps and you decide to pick one up. Unfortunately you didn’t realize that the map you bought was actually a map of Chicago. Your goal is to make it to Times Square but you just can’t make sense of how to get there. After hours of walking around map in hand and frustrated, you realize the map is for the wrong city. No wonder you ended up in Staten Island. Hopefully you have enough sense (or a phone) so a situation like this never happens to you, obviously with the wrong map you will end up nowhere fast. There are so many people today who are remarkably productive and getting plenty done but they never step back and realize they are not going in the right direction. Covey suggests we find our true center in life. There are many centers we base our lives around: pleasure, possessions, money, fame, church, family etc. We have a melting pot of all of the centers some are just more prioritized than others. He encourages us to be more introspective and look at what our life balance is now and what our ideal life balance is. Covey gives us practical advice and suggests writing a life mission statement to reflect on who we are. If you focus on who you are and what you stand for these values will never change. You believe in them to your very core and they guide you in every major life decision. By being more conscious and weighing the decisions you make based on your values you KNOW that what you are doing is helping you get closer to your end goal.
In the book Covey uses an allusion to your own funeral. Imagine you are at a funeral and it’s your own. What would you want to hear people saying about you? How would you want to have affected their lives? What do you want to be remembered for? At first I found this kind of corny and woo-woo. Sounds pretty typical self help. Until I started practicing it every single day. There’s only one universal truth in this world: death. Death is the ultimate end game. You may never fulfill your dreams, you may never get rich, you may never marry your sweetheart, but trust me you will die. Keep this in mind every single day because it is the only inevitability.
Practice: Every morning write in a journal the specific details of your funeral. How many people are there? Who is there? What do they have to say about you? Have you made the people there better off having known you? Did you leave the world a better place than you entered it? Take 5 minutes to practice this in the morning before you start your day and every single day elaborate in more and more detail. Plan your funeral.
Wednesday: Put First Things First
“To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. There’s no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it’s all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.
Habit 1 says, “You’re in charge. You’re the creator.” Being proactive is about choice. Habit 2 is the first, or mental, creation. Beginning with the End in Mind is about vision. Habit 3 is the second creation, the physical creation. This habit is where Habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment-by-moment. It deals with many of the questions addressed in the field of time management. But that’s not all it’s about. Habit 3 is about life management as well–your purpose, values, roles, and priorities. What are “first things?” First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth. If you put first things first, you are organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities you established in Habit 2.” (http://bit.ly/1Aj3zE0)
If you decide to practice any of the principles in this book I would suggest practicing habit 3: prioritizing your life and putting first things first. I recently read Grant Cardone’s Be Obsessed or Be Average and this was the biggest thing I got from his book. Too many of us are prioritizing our days around the needs and wants of others. We have such limited time on this planet it amazes me how many people waste away their lives doing absolutely nothing for the world. They are trapped in the rat race and push off their true dreams and goals to pursue this “truth” we call life, waking up everyday to work a shitty job, pay bills and die. Take control of your time. Time remains the only factor that can literally never be replenished in our lives. Every second you spend playing Call of Duty, binge watching Scandal and bullshitting with your friends is time wasted you will never get back. Covey suggests setting up short term, long term, and lifetime goals to work towards. Set up 3 goals. One 1 year goal, one 5 year goal and one lifetime goal. Now look at your daily agenda, evaluate every single second you spend not working towards these goals and face reality that Call of Duty is not contributing to your life or to society. Become obsessed with the end game, you should constantly be analyzing your progress and looking for areas of improvement. Cut out everything that does not contribute to your purpose. Be obsessed or be average.
Practice: First start with being conscious of your daily activities. Keep track of everything you do and how long you do it for 3 days straight. Don’t be romantic and be more productive for 3 days because you know you are tracking it. Be honest with yourself and your assessment treat each day as you would normally and you will be amazed how many hours of each week you spend on Netflix, Instagram, watching television or scrolling through Facebook. The next step is to set your priorities straight and determine what habits you need to build to reach your goals. Download a habit forming app on your phone and set up 5 habits you will practice daily in order to reach your goal. If your goal is to start a business give yourself 5 daily habits that will work on building your business. If your goal is to lose weight give yourself 5 daily habits that will help you lose weight and develop a healthier relationship with your body. Track them every single day in the app and order them in order to priority. Track each habit for 60 days straight until it becomes autonomous.
Thursday: Think Win-Win
“Think Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration.
Most of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone else failing–that is, if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life becomes a zero-sum game. There is only so much pie to go around, and if you get a big piece, there is less for me; it’s not fair, and I’m going to make sure you don’t get anymore. We all play the game, but how much fun is it really?
Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!” (http://bit.ly/Q0bmmc)
This is probably my least favorite chapter in this book and for good reason. I think win-win is the best decision you can make. There is nothing better than both parties feeling like they got an even exchange in a transaction and both feeling satisfied. Unfortunately we don’t live in a utopia so thinking win-win is not much of a reality. In every transaction there is a winner and there is a loser. Sometimes it’s a beat down, sometimes it’s unanimous decision but there is ALWAYS one side who got the better deal. Don’t go stick it to people or take advantage of them for personal gain but face the reality that sometimes you win big, sometimes you lose big and everywhere in between. The goal is to win more than you lose, then leverage your wins to get the most out of them. Win-win is the right mind frame, its the right idea, and occasionally you will have a true win-win situation. I think in modern times we need to be a bit more pessimistic and not expect an even outcome with every aspect in life. It gives you unrealistic expectations and forces you to be flexible with your goals and desires to work better for someone else’s win.
Practice: Win more than you lose. Period. This does not mean take advantage of people, this does not mean scam the system. Be more conscious when making commitments to people, negotiating, or trying to influence another’s behavior. Instead of making a decision or commitment to get it over with or because you feel guilt tripped into it; analyze the situation and agree on a way that gives you a win but does not take more from you than it gives to you.
Friday: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
“Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?
If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar?
“Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way.” “I had that same thing happen to me.” “Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation.” (http://bit.ly/1EgQnlA)
Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:
You judge and then either agree or disagree.
You ask questions from your own frame of reference.
You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
You analyze others’ motives and behaviors based on your own experiences.”
Seek first to understand, then to be understood is another one of my favorite habits to practice in this chapter. In modern times we are constantly surrounded with noise and hundreds of things that are itching for our attention that we seem to be tuned out to the most human aspects of our lives. Listening to understand is a skill and must be practiced for it to be truly effective. Refer to the difference between listening and hearing here: http://bit.ly/2luKXAX/. By putting yourself in the mind frame of truly listening to understand another person and not just listening to respond you are opening up whole new depths of your relationship with this person and strengthening your emotional intelligence.
Practice: Do yourself and those around you a favor and talk half as much as you listen. You will build powerful connections and learn so much more by being a great listener.
“To put it simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one.” Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. But it doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experience and expertise to the table. Together, they can produce far better results that they could individually. Synergy lets us discover jointly things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves. It is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one equals three, or six, or sixty–you name it.
When people begin to interact together genuinely, and they’re open to each other’s influence, they begin to gain new insight. The capability of inventing new approaches is increased exponentially because of differences.
Valuing differences is what really drives synergy. Do you truly value the mental, emotional, and psychological differences among people? Or do you wish everyone would just agree with you so you could all get along? Many people mistake uniformity for unity; sameness for oneness. One word–boring! Differences should be seen as strengths, not weaknesses. They add zest to life.” (http://bit.ly/1uWxN9s)
Synergy has become an overused buzzword by too many business people and networkers to really hold weight anymore unfortunately. Basically synergy means that by putting yourself in an interdependent environment where the team functions as one unit you can multiply your worth ten fold. As Covey says “2 heads are better than one”, while this is true it largely depends on the heads and how they get along. At the beginning of the book Covey explains the human progression from dependence, independence and interdependence. We start off completely dependent on others for survival. We need our mother or father to feed us, shelter us, care for us if we are sick and change our shitty diapers. Eventually we grow older and enter a stage of independence. We get our own place, we have our own income, we can feed ourselves and we don’t rely on anyone for survival. The third and final phase is interdependence. Interdependence basically a common ground between aspirations. Synergy is interdependence. A mentor of mine once told me “I would rather have 1% of 100 men’s effort than 100% of one mans”. I thought this was an interesting theory but after reading this chapter in Covey’s book it clicked with me. When we work as a group aiming for a common goal our efforts remain the same or less but the outcome is compounded and much greater because of the group dynamic. When Covey originally wrote the book the times were very different and there was a lot of pride in being a completely independent person. Today I believe most people realize that by playing good with others and leveraging relationships and other people’s strengths we can get 10x the progress with one half the effort.
Practice: Analyze something you are struggling with and co-operate with someone who can get it done and take the burden off of your shoulders. It could be a project, it could be cleaning your home, anything. Leverage the skills of other people to multiply your worth and your output ten fold.
Sunday: Sharpen The Saw
“Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Here are some examples of activities:
Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting
Making social and meaningful connections with others
Learning, reading, writing, and teaching
Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service
As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life. Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. Not a pretty picture, is it?
Feeling good doesn’t just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It’s all up to you. You can renew yourself through relaxation. Or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything. You can pamper yourself mentally and spiritually. Or you can go through life oblivious to your well-being. You can experience vibrant energy. Or you can procrastinate and miss out on the benefits of good health and exercise. You can revitalize yourself and face a new day in peace and harmony. Or you can wake up in the morning full of apathy because your get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone. Just remember that every day provides a new opportunity for renewal–a new opportunity to recharge yourself instead of hitting the wall. All it takes is the desire, knowledge, and skill.” (http://bit.ly/1kyxKMK)
It only seems right that the 7th habit falls on a Sunday. Sunday is the day to sharpen your saw. As Covey states in the book there are 4 areas in life that need constant renewal: the physcial, social, mental and spiritual. He tells a story of a lumberjack who is trying to saw down a tree but his equipment has a dull blade. By sharpening the saw the lumberjack was able to take the tree down with half the effort and in a quarter of the time than if he continued with the dull blade. We can become burnt out in any of these 4 areas in life and it is beneficial to know when to metaphorically “sharpen our saw”. If your social life has been lacking make Sunday your day to plan an event with some friends or spend time with your family. If it’s been a while since you’ve sat down and read a good book block out a couple of hours to unwind and read a good book. You get the point. Determine which area of your life needs a little sharpening and use Sunday to renew yourself.
Practice: Evaluate the 4 areas Covey mentions in the book: physical, social, mental and spiritual. You will know which aspect of your life is clearly lagging and start focusing on it every Sunday in order to sharpen your saw.
Conclusion: Practice these habits every single day. They do not require money to start and very little time to implement for what you will receive in return.