Humans are creatures of habit. Our routines define our character, and they exert an invisible force on our behavior. Whatever we do is a function of our practices. Therefore, the best way to achieve any worthwhile goal is to train ourselves to do the things that will lead to the goal effortlessly.
There are seven key areas where we all need to pay attention to become highly effective. We need to learn:
• To choose to be proactive rather than reactive
• To visualize the end of an endeavor before we begin it
• To schedule our priorities rather than prioritizing our schedule
• To seek what is beneficial for everyone involved
• To understand others first so that they can understand us
• To work with others to achieve exponential results
• To keep an effective system running.
Millions of people all over the world are full of praise for this highly effective book. You too can share in the precious resources embedded in it.
Sustainable change comes from character change and not behavioral change.
Real change comes from the inside out. A lot has been written on how to be successful. A lot has been written on the need to improve your life and how to go about it. Going as far back as 1776, Stephen Covey found that the literature can be divided into two major groups:
• Those who promote personality ethic and
• Those who teach character ethic.
The idea behind the personality ethic is that you can learn specific skills that will produce behavioral change. Learning the intricacies of verbal and non-verbal communication will bring about desirable change. Personality ethic provides a shortcut. The only problem with a shortcut is that it doesn’t endure. Sustainable change does not come from taking the personality ethic route.
The method of personality ethic is superficial. This method is attractive because it provides a quick fix. To be highly effective for a lifetime, you need a more dependable approach to change. The character ethic is a route that leads to lasting growth and consistent success.
Working on our character is not easy. It requires identity change. Our worldview, belief system, and habits must be adjusted to put us on the right course for sustainable success. For example, virtues such as fidelity, integrity, honesty can only come from within. They are not techniques to learn. They are character traits that come from a particular belief system. Change your core. But how?
The journey towards lasting change begins with a change in paradigms.
Paradigms are the filter through which we see the world around us. Two people might look at a crowd and see two entirely different things. It is a function of the paradigm they use. When your worldview is in alignment with the basic principles upon which the universe operates, you will be able to navigate life successfully. A person with a negative paradigm will continually see negativity, while a person with a positive paradigm will find comfort even in pain.
A paradigm shift is key to character change.
Our set of paradigms determine our character. It is essential to be aware of what our paradigms are, and then we can learn to shift current paradigms to those that make us highly productive. Our paradigms can spell the difference between success and failure in business and relationships.
For example, Covey experienced a paradigm shift one Sunday morning in a relatively silent subway car. A man and his children boarded, and the vehicle became noisy immediately.
Surprisingly, the man did nothing to control his “undisciplined children.” Covey became so irritated by the noise and the reckless abandon of their father that he asked him to control his children. The response of the man caused Covey to have a sudden paradigm shift. He said they were just coming from the hospital where their mother had died. He didn’t want to control the children because they were all in shock. This answer switched Covey’s mood from irritation and annoyance to compassion and a willingness to help. This is the power of the paradigm.
Paradigm shifts are not usually sudden. They require a deliberate attempt to shift from the way we perceive things to developing qualities that are universally recognized as charitable.
These qualities or principles are best seen as natural laws that should not be violated. A realistic worldview is one that is most closely aligned with these laws. When we develop personal principles that agree with universal laws, we will increase our chances of achieving sustainable change that will help us lead a successful life. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” will help us to make a principle-based paradigm. What are these habits?
The first habit requires us to exercise our capacity for proactivity rather than reaction.
Being proactive distinguishes us from other animals who simply respond to external stimuli. The ability to learn and change our natural orientation is one of the blessings of humanity. Other animals simply react based on their genetic programming. They cannot analyze stimulus. Humans, on the other hand, are not slaves to nature. We can respond rather than react to things that happen to us. Unfortunately, many of us still prefer to be reactive rather than proactive. What kind of person do you want to be?
What separates humans from animals is our capacity for proactivity.
Reactive people have their behavior and emotions dictated by external circumstances and feelings. When someone fails to keep their promise to you, it puts you in a bad mood. When you hail a taxi, and someone else jumps in, you curse them. Reactive people also fail to take responsibility. When things do not go as planned, they blame other people or external circumstances.
Proactive people believe their mood or behavior is a function of their internal engineering. Rather than blame others for failure, they seek the way forward. They view life in terms of two concentric circles, namely:
• Circle of Concern, and
• Circle of Influence.
The circle of concern is filled with the things we worry about. The bills we need to pay, the loans we need to refund, the weather condition, changing economic status, etc. This circle is quite big. However, inside this circle is a smaller circle called the Circle of Influence. This smaller circle contains things we can change or control. Working on the Circle of Influence makes it expand. When you focus on things you can change, the things you can change increase, but when you focus on something you have little or no control over, the things you can control will decrease.
Proactive people work to expand their circle of influence and shrink their circle of concern.
Proactivity will make you a highly competent person in the most extenuating circumstances. Victor Frank was repeatedly imprisoned in German concentration camps during World War II. Despite the torture and deplorable conditions of his prison, he chose to respond rather than react to his circumstances. His whole focus was on his mind since that was the only thing he could control. He thought of a future in a better world. He thought of a happier life and how he would narrate his experiences in the concentration camps to others. Frank used the small gap between external stimuli and action to find his freedom. He exercised proactivity. The freedom of thought he expressed inspired other prisoners and even some guards.
You can take on a proactivity challenge for 30 days. Choose to take responsibility when you are tempted to blame others for your problem. Focus your energy on seeking out effective solutions rather than playing the blame game. Remember that the real problem is not the problem but your reaction to the problem.
Learn how to create clear mental pictures because it enhances flawless execution.
We do things twice. First, we conceive an idea in our minds. Then we execute the same plan in the real world. It can be very costly to act without first thinking about the cost of the action and the outcome we seek to achieve.
Before a house is built, a plan is laid out specifying the number of rooms, layout, size and other intricate details before setting out to execute the task. You are more prone to mistakes if you set out to erect a building without careful planning. To win, you must visualize what winning means and then execute.
A clear definition of your mission statement will make you strive to live an effective life rather than an efficient life.
you were to die today, what would you want people to say at your funeral? How are you living your life? What would the people closest to you have to say about you? Many of us are working efficiently but not effectively. We are achieving goals that won’t matter in the end. There is an old saying that when you do not know where you are going, anywhere else becomes a destination.
To be efficient is to do so much in so little time. Without a clear goal in mind, efficiency can become dangerous. You could be making progress but not in the right direction. It is like climbing a ladder that is placed against the wrong wall.
To be effective is to pursue things that matter and understand that everything else is a waste of time and effort. Productive people do not just achieve random goals. They are intentional in the way they live their lives. They can see the big picture. They invest their resources in the real deal.
You can become a highly effective person by formulating a personal mission statement.
A personal mission statement is a document where you define your own goals and your creed. A personal mission statement clarifies your principles, fundamental values, and goals. It is the yardstick with which you measure everything you do. It determines the value you place on activities in your life.
Having a standard keeps you focused and secure.
Your actions will be guided in the direction of your mission statement. Building a healthy family, spending more time with loved ones, pursuing fairness and justice in the society, and exerting a more significant influence in the political sphere are examples of things that can be included in your mission statement. Writing a mission statement requires careful consideration. It should not be something done in a hurry because it will form the foundation of your life.
To become more proactive about your life, you need to make a habit of scheduling your priorities.
There are so many things that jostle for our attention. If care is not taken, the things that matter will be sacrificed for items that are not so important but appear to need our urgent attention. Time-management strategies that many of us apply often make us prioritize our existing schedule. This breeds efficiency rather than effectiveness.
Make a habit of scheduling your priorities rather than prioritizing your schedule.
There are urgent things that are also important. Let’s call this Category 1. Category 2 are important things that are not urgent. Similarly, Category 3 contains urgent things that are not important, and in Category 4, we have things that are neither important nor urgent. Of these 4 categories, the most important is Category 2. They are the things that determine how our lives turn out in the end. Also, as we work on this category 2 activity, we find that the things that are urgent in our lives will reduce.
Learn the difference between things that are urgent and things that are important.
To implement this strategy, we need to identify things that fall into this category in our lives. What are those things that are important to you but are not urgent? We need to become intentional about allocating time to these activities.
In your interaction with people, seek outcomes that will be beneficial to everyone involved.
Think win-win. In most situations, we try to have the edge over others when we have dealings with them. We think that someone else has to lose for us to win. This is a wrong paradigm because two persons with a win-lose paradigm might end up with a lose-lose outcome. In most situations, there is usually enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. When we think win-win, we create positive relationships that will be highly rewarding in the long run. Make sure everyone leaves the negotiating table satisfied.
Seek out what’s beneficial to everyone in all your dealings.
For example, if you negotiate a deal with a customer and demand a higher rate from them, they may be forced to pay this time. Subsequently, they may take their business elsewhere. However, if you charge a fee that is satisfactory to both parties, you will have a customer for the long term. There is no limit to what that partnership or patronage can produce.
To have a win-win mentality, we need to become sensitive and patient.
These qualities will create an atmosphere of mutual trust that will be beneficial to everyone. Beyond business transactions, our relationships could use a ‘win-win’ mentality. What can you do, for example, to achieve a win-win situation in your relationship with your wife, child, parents, or colleagues at work? Talk to them about trying out the new agreement. Take action.
We can develop good relationships with others by making deposits in their emotional bank accounts.
Goodwill, time, effort are some of the currencies we spend in our interactions with people. The more of these we put in, the larger the deposits we make in the emotional bank accounts. Each time we do things that hurt our relationships with people, we make withdrawals from this account. Now, the status of our relationships is determined by the balance we have in our emotional accounts. A positive balance indicates a healthy relationship. Consequently, it will be easier to solve potential problems. When there are no deposits in the account, the relationship becomes a disaster waiting to happen. We will have to watch ourselves around these people and be mindful of the things we say to them. A wrong word might cause an eruption.
Maintain a positive balance in your emotional bank account by keeping your promises.
Empathy and excellent listening skills will help us to come up with win-win solutions to situations that need attention. When we engage in acts such as being selfish, not listening with empathy, or breaking our promises, we make withdrawals.
Personal integrity is another way to make massive deposits. Avoid gossip as much as you can. Be ready to defend others in their absence. Be loyal in addition to being courteous and sensitive to their needs.
The second most important need people have is a need to be understood. The psychological air is second only to physical survival. Let us do our best to understand other people. They will, in turn, understand us. When you understand others, you will know what to do to keep your balance positive in the emotional bank account. Doing something you love and assuming it constitutes an emotional bank account is not going to cut it. You have to do something they love, even if you are not a fan of that thing. The investment is in them and not in the activity. You do not have to be perfect. You simply need to be honest and be genuine with your apology when you make mistakes.
When you make mistakes, admit it and genuinely apologize.
Do not assume to know what others are going through if you have not taken the time to understand them.
How would you feel if you found out the doctor did not listen to you but handed you some pills after you’ve said only a few words? What if an optician gives you his glasses without running some tests to know what works for you? Indeed, you will take their recommendations with suspicion. But we do it all the time with others. We hardly listen to understand. We listen to reply. We project our circumstances and thinking onto them.
Empathic listening is a necessary skill if we want to make a real impact on other people’s lives.
Empathic listening requires you to immerse yourself in the person’s reference frame and worldview. You need to be able to feel what they feel and think about how they think. Communication experts reveal that the bulk of what we say is hidden in our body language. This means that we need to look at people and listen to the non-verbal cues and sounds they make in addition to the actual words. Sometimes, we need to ignore the words.
Seek to understand others, then to be understood.
When we practice empathic listening, people will open up to us more and take our advice because they will realize that we are in sync with them. Good listeners usually have healthy relationships. While empathic listening is a difficult skill to cultivate, it pays enormous dividends.
Did you know? Communication experts say body language and sounds take up 90% of the things we say.
Being respectful and open are essential ingredients for synergy.
When the sum is more than the parts combined, we have synergy. In other words, 1 plus 1 must be more than 2. Differences in our worldview and orientations make synergy difficult, if not impossible. But if we are willing to admit our differences and recognize individual peculiarity, it may be possible to tap into the power of synergy. We do not have to think in the same way or have the same strengths and weaknesses.
Synergy demands that we bring different things to the table. What we need to do is value what each person brings to the table.
The habits that have been explained so far all build-up to the 6th habit mentioned here. Taking responsibility, listening to others to understand them, valuing the contribution of others, and applying it to solve a common problem produces synergy.
David Lilienthal was appointed as the head of the Atomic Energy Commission after the 2nd World War. He assembled a team of the best minds in the country. Then, he told them to take the first few weeks to get to know each other. He came under heavy criticism for doing this.
His goal was to create an atmosphere of trust. This exercise resulted in a healthy work environment that produced excellent results.
We must go into our interactions with others with pure motives. The outcome may be beyond our control, but we must remain optimistic and open.
Synergy requires a healthy dose of self-confidence to make it happen.
Open-mindedness is essential to achieving synergy. We can find synergy in our relationships with the people we have difficulty relating with if we combine self-confidence with an open-mind and analyze their views objectively.
By listening to others and analyzing their views objectively, we may be able to achieve worthwhile goals with them.