7 Things I Learned From The “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

I am not a heavy book reader (I usually spend my time reading blog posts written by random people instead), but I do read once in a while. It’s very common for me to buy a book spontaneously and then leave it somewhere on my shelf for like half a year before I pick it up again.

I can proudly say, however, that I managed to read a book called ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey as I believed that it will teach me something useful (how to be effective and start doing things, for example). And also because I borrowed it so I had to. Anyway, there are 7 things that I learned we should be doing, but we aren’t:

Habit no. 1: Be proactive and responsible for your own life

The first part of the book encourages us to be proactive, take initiative and really participate in life. When we are not proactive — we allow others to act upon us, which makes it harder for us to achieve the things that we truly want to achieve in our lives.

Proactive people are great problem solvers and frequently end up being leaders. It happens naturally because they tend to be the first ones to make an action and find a way to solve existing problems.

They don’t waste their time on things that are out of their circle of influence because they know they cannot influence these things anyway. They do, however, make a strong effort to change the things that they can influence and as they do that — their circle of influence starts to grow, which enables them to change even more things.

Proactive people are full of positive energy, motivation and passion. They are always on the lookout for the next big thing to initiate. They don’t moan, complain or wait for others to solve their problems. They see, they evaluate, and they act.

Proactive people understand that they are not perfect. They are always ready to upskill themselves and gain more knowledge if so required. They look at themselves and try to identify how they led themselves to certain situations. Then, they try to change themselves and their behaviours to influence these situations. They know they can be smarter, better, stronger, more skilled and more inspiring .

These people always start by looking at themselves and the situations they find themselves to be in, then they make creative decisions on how they can change themselves in order to influence their environment. They understand that they are not perfect and they are always ready to upskill themselves and gain more knowledge if so required. They know they can be smarter, better, stronger, more skilled and more inspiring — they identify what they need to improve on and act on it. Usually without unnecessary delay.

“I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday’’

Truly proactive people will never blame the environment, circumstances, people or their living conditions — they hold themselves, not others, responsible for everything that happens in their lives. They are not led by excuses and they break the barriers if they need to. They are unstoppable because they truly believe that they hold the power to change the things they don’t like or achieve the success that they want.

“Make small commitments and keep them. Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem’’.

Many of us know these people — we are usually inspired by them! If you want to be more like them, then there is how you can practise being proactive on a daily basis:

  1. Always rely on yourself and trust your ability to achieve results. If there is a problem that affects you personally — find a way to change it. Yes, you can do it. And no, no one else will do it for you. Accept that you are in charge of your own life and success.
  2. Be intelligent and prepared. Analyse your behaviours and the results you are getting. Then, create steps of what and how things need to change in order for your situation to get better.
  3. Learn good time management and planning skills — you will need them when working on achieving your goals. Always know your goals and be proactive in achieving them.
  4. Practice participating and influencing conversations. Don’t just merely agree with everything that is being said — think of what value your opinions and experience can give to the team. Use every opportunity you can to express your opinions.

Habit no. 2: Begin with the end in mind and be your own leader

Habit 2 is based on our ability to imagine things that we cannot at present see with our eyes. If we are not making a conscious effort to imagine our perfect future self or the life we would like to be living, then we allow other people and circumstances decide the life that we are going to live and the person that we are going to become (uh!).

This type of visualisation, which is directed towards the end goal, gives us a strategic vision and guidance. It allows us to align our every move, decision or project, that we choose to be involved in, in such a way that would enable us to move straight towards our goal or our perfect self.

In order for it to work, we need to think deeply of what we want to become and what personal, moral, and ethical guidelines we will need to follow in order to be that type of person. This created compass will not only provide the direction, but will also make us question everything we do — are our activities and habits bringing us closer to our ideal self or life that we visualise, or is it taking us farther away from it? Eventually, we will start doing more of the things that do bring us closer, and less of the things that don’t.

Another important thing is to know our stance on various matters and also our values. It’s very likely that our opinions, values and goals contradict our current behaviour and how we approach certain things. But it’s a process. A process of acknowledgement that we need to work with ourselves on a daily basis in order to get where we want to be.

Stephen suggests us to look into four areas of our life in order to understand ourselves better:

Security: our sense of worth, identity, self-esteem, personal strength and emotional anchorage.

Guidance: our source of direction in life, our standards and principles or criteria that we base on our everyday decisions and doings.

Wisdom: our perspective on life, our sense of balance, understanding of how various parts and principles apply to each other. It’s our judgement, discernment, and comprehension.

Power: our capacity to act, our strength and potency to accomplish something, our vital energy to make choices and decisions, and our ability to overcome deeply embedded habits in order to cultivate new, more effective, ones.

We should check the areas where we are lacking and aspire to improve. Once all these interdependent factors are harmonised and enlivened by each other, we create in ourselves a noble and balanced character.

He also recommends writing a personal mission statement. Basically, we should visualise what is it that we want for our future and map out the steps we need to go through in order to get there. It should focus on three main areas:

1. What we want us to be like (our character),

2. What we want to be doing or have done in the future (our contributions and achievements) and

3. What values and principles should lead us throughout our life (values, principles, beliefs)

Our mission statement should always be based on correct principles -
 deep and fundamental truths, too. Only these principles can enable us to become proactive individuals and successful in making correct daily decisions. Such mission statement will ensure (if checked on a regular basis and updated as needed) that we will have a direction in life, which will enable us to set correct short- and long-term goals for ourselves and make decisions that align with them.

Another important thing to note is that our personal mission statement should flow from our circle of influence. We should think about the areas of our life that we want to improve and have the power to do so.

With a good mission statement, we will no longer be affected by the environment, our circumstances, or attitudes, behaviours and actions of other people. And the best thing that comes out of it? We will find out what success and happiness mean to us personally. We will no longer need to follow someone else’s designed success formula as we will have our own — which might be very different than we thought before!

Ready to write a mission statement? There are some tips that might help you:

  1. Prepare by analysing where you are now and in what areas you are lacking. Once you know what it is that limits you from living the dream, you will have an easier time visualising what it is that you really want to do and to be like. Take notes for several days before you actually start writing it.
  2. Once you start writing, make sure to include different areas of your life: how you want to be like as a friend/family member/employee/co-worker/boss/leader/etc. as these will usually suggest different characteristics that you find important.
  3. Think whether you need to practise new skills or adopt new habits in order to live your dream life. Thinking about your achievements, goals and contributions will also allow you to think what type of person you should be more like in order to achieve these things.
  4. Your personal statement should be personal, positive, in the present tense, visual and emotional. Make it short and visualise it for a few days before writing it.
  5. Once you write it — look at it regularly. You may need to change it or remind yourself of what it is that you are trying to achieve. Even better, visualise this personal statement frequently, you will remember it better and find it more useful as a result.

Habit no. 3: Put first things first and prioritise what is the most important

“What is one thing that, if done on a regular basis, would bring a massive positive difference in your personal and professional life?”

Stephen urges us to think about this question and answer it to ourselves honestly. Knowing this ‘what’ can make our daily routines so much more effective!

The trick is that we need to prioritise not only urgent and the most pressing tasks, but also the activities, which when done daily, can bring real results in our lives.

This is what Stephen suggests: create a time management matrix with four quadrants: quadrant 1 — urgent and important tasks, quadrant 2 — important but not urgent tasks, quadrant 3 — urgent but not important tasks, and quadrant 4 — neither important nor urgent tasks.

You can find an explanation of what to put in each matrix here.

Identifying the tasks that need to be done in a day is an important part of effective time management. However, while the majority of people either focus on quadrant 1 or quadrant 3 and 4 (heavy procrastinators), we should, in fact, focus on quadrant 2 — tasks that may not be as urgent, but important for our future success.

Quadrant 2 deals with such things as studying, building relationships, exercising, developing our expertise, reading books, etc. This quadrant is extremely important, but very few people prioritise such tasks because they are not pressing. We should, however, place a strong importance on our personal advancement and prioritise the tasks that contribute to our mission, values and goals above all others.

Effective people make an effort to stay out of quadrant 3 and 4. They also shrink their tasks in quadrant 1 and focus all of their attention on quadrant 2. We should do it, too!

In order to stay in this quadrant, we will need to learn how to say ‘no’. We will need to refuse to deal with the majority of tasks in quadrants 3 and 4 and select only the most important tasks to do from quadrant 1. In order to shrink quadrant 1 — we should work on preventing things from becoming ‘urgent’, which can be done by placing various preventative activities in our quadrant 2. That is, if we know that something will need to be done at some point in the future — we should start by preparing in advance (quadrant 2) rather than leave it till it becomes urgent (quadrant 1).

Our independent will to follow through with what we have planned can be measured by our personal integrity — the value we place on ourselves. This will is the essence of our proactive growth, which enables us to do things when we don’t even feel like doing them. This is more of a promise to ourselves. A promise that we will do our best in achieving our goals, because we respect ourselves and because we know we can.

Yes, it’s hard (my personal experience). That’s why so many people are average and so few are highly successful. What side do you want to be in?

Habit no. 4: Think win-win and learn principles of interpersonal leadership

Effective people always think win-win. But it’s not because they are nice. It’s because they believe that collaboration and ability to make both parties win is what leads the way to a good life. In other words, effective people have an abundance mentality — the belief that there is enough for everyone.

Regular people tend to have a scarcity mentality. We feel as if we must always compete with each other in order to win or at least not to lose. For this reason, our decisions are based on a belief that there is not enough for everyone and if we are not quick enough to grab something — someone else will.

Effective (successful) people view life as a cooperative arena rather than competitive. They understand that they should always thrive to find out how to achieve mutual benefit and satisfaction. They believe that all parties can win by achieving their personal expectations if they find the way to make their collaboration mutually beneficial. At its core, win-win is the belief that it’s neither my way nor your way, but a better way — our way.

In the win-win agreements, the following things should be crystal clear:

1. What is the desired result from both parties,

2. How will the results be accomplished,

3. What resources will need to be used,

4. What will be the standards of performance, and

5. What will be the consequences (good or bad) as a result of the evaluation

He suggests that our personal mission statement should also add our desire to follow abundance mentality as it will encourage us to seek win-win situations at all times. The thing is, when we are being run by a scarcity mentality — we believe that there is not enough for everyone and that we must compete with others, which affects us in various negative ways. But if we make a decision to follow an abundance mentality, it will open new possibilities, options and alternatives. It will be easier to win (together) and share profits, prestige and recognition.

Win-win can only survive in organisations and amongst people who support it fully. If you say that you want win-win, but then do everything so you would get more value than the next person — then you will never experience the success that win-win gives.

“The essence of principled negotiation is to separate the person from the problem, to focus on interests and not on positions, to invent options for mutual gain, and to insist on objective criteria — some external standard or principle that both parties can buy into”.

Now, it’s possible that even though you will try to negotiate and reach a win-win situation, it will not work out. It may happen because you or the next person expect too much form certain collaborations. In this case, it’s fine to have a ‘no deal’ — an agreement that the best solution cannot be found. This is when you both decide not to move further. It’s much better to agree not to do something upfront than create false expectations and have both parties disillusioned. It liberates you because you don’t need to manipulate and lie.

Habit no. 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood and learn principles of emphatic communication

As it turns out, effective communication is the most important skill to perfect both in our personal lives and in our professional careers. However, we not only need to know how to talk to people effectively or get our point across in writing but also be able to listen. Listen well enough so we would understand exactly what the person we are listening to is really trying to tell us.

Stephen argues that the majority of people give priority to being understood rather than understanding those they are talking to. According to him, we, as regular listeners, are only able to respond in four ways:

  1. Evaluate — neither agree nor disagree with what is being said.
  2. Probe — ask questions from our own frame of reference.
  3. Advise — give counsel based on our own experiences.
  4. Interpret — try to figure out and explain the motives based on our own motives.

Even worse, many of us don’t even listen but pretend to be doing so. We try to catch some keywords to get enough data to craft a response without really understanding the real meaning behind the words.

And the worst thing of all? We always filter the words and expressions we hear through our own personal life experiences and frames of reference while the person might be coming from an entirely different space! I can’t even count how many times I felt misunderstood my people I was talking to just because they assumed that my motives for doing something were the motives they would have had if they were in my place.

It’s estimated by communication experts that only 10% of our communication is represented by our words, while 30% represented by our sounds and even 60% by our body language. So how can we go to the next level and become really good listeners? Stephen suggests learning emphatic listening — the skill to listen with our ears, eyes and heart.

We should practise to not only register, reflect and understand the words being used, but listen for feeling and meaning. Emphatic listening can give us more accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting our own beliefs, feelings, motives and interpretations — we should listen to understand why the person is saying what is being said and how it makes him/her feel.

If we become emphatic listeners, we will understand what’s happening deep down the person we are listening to, which will allow us to show genuine acceptance and understanding. When people feel that they are truly being listened to and accepted for what they say, it makes them more willing to share more information and open up more layers. For this reason, we can discover tremendous differences in perception.

When we truly try to understand others — we open the doors for creative solutions and alternatives that otherwise might never cross our minds. Our differences are no longer separating us, but become the stepping stones to synergy.

Now, emphatic listening is not only an important skill in our day to day lives but also in sales. Professional salespeople will first seek to understand the need, the concern and the situation of the customer, which allows them to diagnose and relate their products and services to sell solutions to these needs and problems. Marketers can benefit from emphatic listening, too. Learning to really listen and understand the audience that they want to serve can enable them to communicate the benefits of their products and services in such a way that speaks directly to their audience’s hearts.

Habit no. 6: Synergise and learn principles of creative cooperation

Synergy is the habit of creative cooperation. It’s about opening our mind and heart to different ideas and points of view to innovate and solve problems. It’s an effective teamwork, where everyone is open-minded and accepts each other’s differences. People, who are open to synergy, believe, that the sum of the whole is far better than parts on their own when it comes to gathering meaningful insights important for learning and growth.

Synergy is driven by valuing the mental, emotional and psychological differences of the people we interact, collaborate and work with. It’s about celebrating the differences! When we really start caring about the people that we interact with and accept their differences — we start looking at the problem from the same side, we understand the needs of those involved and we all work together to create solutions to meet them. This leads to a very transforming experience, where all parties get what they want and build relationships along the way.

It starts with habits 4 and 5 — we first need to accept abundance mentality and practise win-win situations, then we need to focus our energy on trying to truly understand the people we talk to. Only after implementing these two habits successfully we can start practising such creative cooperation effectively.

Ready to synergise? There are two things that might help you to get started:

  1. Think first about the people that irritate you. Are their views and opinions different from yours? Try putting yourself in their shoes and understand where they are coming from — this might allow you to accept these differences.
  2. Think about the people that you get along with very well. Try to remember the times when your views and opinions didn’t match but you still managed to work and communicate with each other well. What conditions were met? Think how you could recreate such conditions in situations with people that you don’t like as much.

Habit no. 7: Sharpen the saw and devote time to renew oneself

The last habit is about taking the time to improve our mind, body, heart and spirit to become strong enough to take on the challenges we pose to ourselves.

In order to prepare and strengthen ourselves in all these four areas, we first need to take a step back and give ourselves time to relax and reflect while spending time alone or with those we care about deeply. For example, in order to become physically stronger, we might focus on healthier eating, exercising and resting. To become stronger emotionally — focus on building more social and meaningful connections with others. Mental strength can be practised by learning, reading, writing and teaching. Spiritual — spending time in nature, meditating, listening to music, doing or looking at art, etc.

We should start by thinking what is important to us personally, where we are now and where we need to strengthen ourselves. Then we should incorporate required activities into our daily schedules and practise them regularly. This will allow us to grow and create a real change in our lives by increasing our capacity to handle the challenges around us.

Stephen further explains that organisation’s success depends on strong individual performance at all levels — not only the leadership team. Meaning that all parts of the team should have a common set of values, behaviours and skills that align with the organisation’s overall strategy. Leaders are encouraged to share this knowledge of 7 habits of highly effective people with everyone in their organisation and give all members of their team needed time to reflect on their lives and personality so they could come back stronger.

Only when we become strong and confident in our mind, body, heart and spirit can we help others by inspiring and motivating them to seek such success and effectiveness in their lives too.

So here you have it. Long story short — let’s work on ourselves to achieve the success that we want to achieve. It might not be easy and we might need to change a lot of things, but it will be worth it! And if you want to read the whole book (400+ pages), you will find it here.

Thanks for reading:)



Originally published at www.linamileskaite.com on February 18, 2018.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 298,432+ people.

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