Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I just finished reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Those who haven't read it probably have very similar expectations as I had. I had heard about about the book, of course (who hasn't?), but didn't understand anything about the actual contents of the book. My husband recommended that I read it, and I have to admit I was reticent. I'm not very much of a non-fiction reader, and I especially have never been impressed by self-improvement type books.

I've actually attempted many sorts of self-improvement methods, mostly those that pertain to daily motivation and productivity. I think one of the misunderstandings about this book, is that people equate the word "effective" with "productivity" or "motivation." When I picked up this book, I was sure I was going to be reading a book about a checklist of 7 habits to include in my daily routine. Even though it would be 7 things added to my to-do list, these things were somehow going to help me get done the rest of the things on my list. I expected the 7 habits to be a lot of psyching up type things that would give me this kind of motivation:

Like I said, I've been through many attempts to improve my motivation and productivity. I've been on mailing lists and done checklists and to-do lists. I tend to quickly lose patience with the rigidity of checklists and eventually end up less productive because of them. After about a week of to-do lists I usually do end up like this:

(Thank you Hyperbole and a Half for so excellently summing up my life for me)

Fortunately, The 7 Habits is not simply about productivity and motivation. There is no psyching up, no metaphorical self-improving sugar rushes. Effectiveness, in this book, is not about how much we get done each day, it is about what we do each day and the choices we make.

What is an effective person then? An effective person does not let the past determine who they will be. Whether the past is that of the family or the self, an effective person keeps their end goal in mind, not past failures. An effective person changes the script of their life to meet that end goal. Covey encourages us to make a personal mission statement, to outline the person we really want to become. If we are striving daily toward that goal, and coming closer to it a little at a time, then we are effective people. The 7 Habits  (perhaps better titled 7 Qualities of Highly Effective People) aren't designed to give us daily motivation for our to-do list, they are designed to help us change ourselves little by little everyday so that we can reach our true potential as effective people

Covey's book is powerful because he has based his claims entirely on his belief that "as human beings, we cannot perfect ourselves. To the degree to which we align ourselves with correct principles, divine endowments will be released within our nature in enabling us to fulfill the measure of our creation." This is what true change is. Motivation and psyching up are temporary. They are quick fixes for getting things done in a rush. They are not long lasting principles of change. Instead of a quick fix or a checklist, Covey gives us the means to look within ourselves and find the things that need to be adjusted. He gives us correct principles, and the insight needed to interpret and apply those principles to our own situations. He gives us the tools to enable real change and progress.

Habit 1: Be Proactive -  take control of situations rather than let situations control you. Don't be a reactionary person. Be willing to say no to demands that do not align with your priorities.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind - Create a personal mission statement. Imagine the ideal you,  and make your decision based on that ideal.

Habit 3: Put First Things First - Plan out your week, make goals and prioritize them. Place priority on things that are actually important to your personal mission statement rather than things that seem "urgent"

Habit 4: Think Win-win - try to seek mutually beneficial outcomes in your relationships. Other people don't have to lose in order for you to win

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood - we often think we understand people when we are really only applying our experience to theirs. Instead of looking at someone from our point of view, we should try to look at their experience (and ourselves) from their point of view.

Habit 6: Synergize - We all have different attributes and strengths. Rather than criticizing others for the attributes they do not have, we should be seeking out the strengths they do have and learning how we can combine those strengths with our own to seek an outcome better than any of us could have achieved individually. Habit 5 plays into this one a lot. I thought they were very similar. We can understand principles and ideas better if we include the ways in which other people perceive those principles.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw / Self-renewal - this concept focuses a lot on the 4 pillars of health - mind, body, spirit, social. We have to find balance between these different areas to be truly healthy people. And if we are not healthy we cannot be effective. Covey encourages us not to skip on building these areas of our lives and reminds us not to say we don't have time. Renewing ourselves is the #1 thing that will allow us to have time for other things.

Covey's process of change is an inside-out process. Change has to occur within ourselves before it can occur elsewhere. I have to first become a better person before I can become a better parent. I have to become a better parent before I can have a happier, more peaceful home. I have to learn to balance and act on my priorities as a  wife and mother before I can improve my relationships with my husband and children. This book has changed the way I judge myself (for the better) and the way I analyze my own life and relationships. It's given me new insights into myself and why some things just aren't working. Slowly I can make the changes I need to make in order to become the person I want to become.