Up and Down the 7 Habits

Years and years ago I read Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and I must admit it has stuck with me through the umpteen business, personal improvement, leadership and time management books that I have consumed over the years. My recap of his habits with my mangled interpretations, which I apologize for in advance:

  • be proactive - you act on the world rather than it acts on you
  • begin with the end in mind - filter the noise, know what you want
  • put first things first - get what you want in the most efficient manner possible
  • think win-win - forget scarcity, be generous, share the wealth
  • seek first to understand and then to be understood - stop talking and start listening, you might just learn something for once
  • synergize - make 1 + 1 = 3
  • sharpen the saw - you are the means of production, invest in the asset; rest, exercise, health, vacation...

My recollection of Covey's explanation of the list and my personal observations are that it is hierarchal, with the exception of sharpening that saw - each habit is the foundation for the next.

What I have see time and time again is that failing one habit causes a spiral affect. If you can't be proactive, you learn to be wonderfully reactive, which from what I have seen leads to chronic procrastination of what is important and relevant.

If you chronically procrastinate and spend all of your time reacting it is very likely you have no idea where you are going. You don't have an end in mind. Which means you're wandering and more than likely you never, ever, finish anything you start.

If you're so busy fighting fires (reacting) and have no idea what you want (the end that you have in mind) then how can you possibly know what should come first - so you gravitate to what gives you immediate pleasure - and the cycle of procrastination and reaction continues and is reinforced.

If you're so busy reacting, wandering, working inefficiently and not really getting anywhere, you're probably frustrated and constantly worried so how can you possibly have a generous outlook? You can't, you're concerned about the immediate here and now and it looks scarce so you had better grab everything you can for yourself.

And if all of the above is going on you're self confidence is probably shaken and the best way to reinforce your ego is to talk over everyone and avoid all feedback and criticism and if at all possible never, ever, admit you're wrong. If you let them in the foundation that you created for yourself might just crumble.

At this point you're pretty much on the ropes, just barely hanging on, so where can you find the peace of mind to actually think synergistically? You can't.

Now you might have enough proactive ability to get that holiday planned but you probably use it as a distraction so that you just don't have to think about changing the structure that you created for yourself.

I see this situation around me all of the time and it looks dismal. But I believe, anecdotally, that just as much as the list can spiral out of control if you fail at the top, the inverse is also true. By this I mean you can stop the spiral. If you work hard at becoming proactive and set your sights clearly on what you want just those two habits create momentum and the effort to move through and adopt the rest becomes easier and easier. Which begs the question. What do you have to lose by just trying?