Successful people have winning habits that ensure they win the daily small battles that add up to a lifetime of success.
I have begun to develop some great rituals and habits that are already beginning to transform my life. From eating well to doing daily visualizations, I have developed rituals that help me stay focused and ensure I seek success.
Encouraged by the success of these habits, I was drawn to study Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The Habits of Highly Effective People
Covey starts his book by explaining:
“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People embody many of the fundamental principles of human effectiveness. These habits are basic; they are primary. They represent the internalization of correct principles upon which enduring happiness and success are based.” (Covey Pg. 11)
And in the beginning, he effectively lays out that the key to happiness is to be effective in the important areas of your life. To be successful is to be effective at work, at home, physically, mentally and in your relationships.
So, if we are seeking success, we need to be effective and our ability to be effective is increased by applying the following basic habits.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
The first habit that we must master is to be proactive. Essentially, we need to ask ourselves, what can I control? and how can I improve?
What can I control?
This question asks us to look at our circle of concern, or all the things that we need to deal with. We need to look after our health, deal with work, take care of the family, vote, pay taxes and so on.
However, as we start to put together our circle of concern, we realize that we can’t do everything. There are things that are just beyond our ability to deal with. And by trying to do everything, we end up losing our effectiveness. We waste time learning things and worrying about things we can’t control and we don’t have expertise in.
So we need to narrow all that stuff down to our ‘circle of influence’. The things we can control. We need to focus on what we can control and be proactive.
So we need to get into the habit of looking at the things we can control and take action to make sure they are being taken care of. When we are proactive in these areas, we ensure we are being successful by doing what needs to be done and preparing to react to the things that we can’t control.
“Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.” (Covey Pg. 46)
By taking care of the things that we can control, we become stronger and more capable of dealing with more issues. Therefore, as we get stronger, our circle of influence gets bigger and we become more effective.
I am currently making this a habit. At the moment I’m looking at all the areas that I can control, my health, my emotions, my investments, my relationships, and working everyday to make them stronger.
I’m feeling more capable and more effective everyday. Even when issues arise, like hurting my back, or the stock market dropping, I know I can’t control them, but I react in a much better way.
I’m stronger and more effective and I plan to keep pushing this habit in my daily life.
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
“Although Habit 2 applies to many different circumstances and levels of life, the most fundamental application of “Begin with the End in Mind” is to begin today with the image, picture, or paradigm of the end of your life as your frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else is examined.” (Covey Pg. 55)
Essentially, we need to ask ourselves:
What do I want my life to look like in the end?
Or what do I want others to say about me when I’m gone?
And am I doing the things to achieve that image of myself?
This is the big picture analysis. We look at what we want to achieve over the whole of our life and what kind of person we want to become. We visualize it. Then every decision we make becomes much easier when we put it into the context of how it contributes to that end goal.
On a smaller level, it means getting into the habit of envisioning the end goal of a project and then working towards that.
For example, if I start the year off with a new set of students, I can look at the first week and plan what will fill the time. Or I can look at the whole year, or beyond, to what do I want to achieve with these students.
If I want to look short term, I’d look at the term assessments and throw them straight into the material that they need to cover.
However, if I start with the end in mind, I would consider some of the big values and abilities I would want my students to achieve by the end of their time at school.
With this approach, I might choose to start with a personal assignment that asks students to show me who they are. To show what they value and where they plan to go in the future. Or I might do a collaborative exercise that looks at the values of successful people. Then get them to see how they can adopt those to be successful students.
I think the second, long term, optionis obviously a much more effective approach. Instead of focusing on busy work, we are focusing on true development and real results. That is simply my opinion, but I can certainly see the value of starting with the end in mind.
Don’t get trapped in activity.
An important lesson that this habit teaches is a warning not to get trapped in activity.
This is a major problem in the world today. People so often get caught up in activity and think that because they are constantly going they are making progress.
By keeping the end in mind, we are always asking, ‘how does this activity help to achieve our goal?’ If it doesn’t, then it’s wasted activity and we shouldn’t be getting too invested in it.
This habit is huge. If we look at every decision we make and change our approach, then we do things in completely different ways.
Another great example, is what job should I do?
Most people would, if they dared, acknowledge that they probably don’t want a job. They want to enjoy life. If we took this approach to the question of what to do, we would envision the life we want.
We want checks in the mail and to be free to move around as we wish. This would lead us to focus on getting a job that fits that lifestyle, or building passive income streams as soon as possible to get that lifestyle as soon as we can.
However, what people usually do is think of the start, and just go for the most convenient or highest paying job. Then they get trapped into mistaking activity for progress.
The more efficient and effective approach, as in getting what you want, is to see the end goal and then think how you get it as soon as possible. This would lead you to taking jobs that will get you the life you want straight away, or teach you the skills you need to get there as soon as possible.
Approach every decision with the end goal in mind and cut out the mindless activity. Get effective and get what you want.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
“Habit 3 … is the second creation — the physical creation. It’s the fulfillment, the actualization, the natural emergence of Habits 1 and 2 … the exercise of independent will toward becoming principle-centered. It is the day-in, day-out, moment-by-moment doing it. (Covey Pg. 92)
Put basically, habit three is the culmination of achieving habit one and two. If you think about your circle of influence and you are proactive, and you begin with the end in mind, then you will be working out what’s important and doing it on a daily basis.
This habit is key to time management
By working out what to prioritize, or to put first, we become much more effective in managing our time.
If we can get into the habit of putting the really important things first we get to what’s real and we can become really effective and successful.
So how do we effectively manage our time to put first things first?
Covey’s approach — the four square approach –
This approach shows that we all spend our time in four different types of activities.
The urgent, non-urgent, important and the non-important.
- The Urgent: The jobs that must be done right now for us or for others.
- The Important: Not jobs. Values and long term aspirations. Things like health and so on. In the long run they are important, but they don’t really feel urgent.
- Not Urgent: The jobs that can be put off until later.
- Not Important: Those things that we want to do, but they don’t really influence our values, needs or long term aspirations.
The habit is to narrow all these things down and to focus on the urgent and the important.
The key lesson is to focus on what is important — health and relationships should be maintained even when it’s not deemed as urgent. We need to take time to plan and take care of the important things to maximize and do everything to be effective.
I have taken this approach on and I have to say it’s truly empowering. Now that I start everyday thinking about the really important things, such as my long term plan for success, which includes my health and dream lifestyle, I am driven to do the important things first. I do them religiously now and I feel I’m making genuine progress towards what is truly important.
The other side of this is that the urgent things, like work or responding to the needs of family and so on, become much easier to deal with. Now I want to spend more time on the truly important, so I am much more effective and efficient at dealing with the urgent things.
After that, I tend not to care anymore if I get to the final season of Game of Thrones, or how many friends I have on Facebook, or any of the other unimportant and non-urgent things we get sidetracked with.
These are The Independent Habits
These habits that we’ve just covered are the habits that improve our effectiveness as an individual. Covey writes:
“True independence of character empowers us to act rather than be acted upon. It frees us from our dependence on circumstances and other people and is a worthy, liberating goal.” Covey pg 28
I need to work on these things to make them real habits, to give them the automatic sense that I am the person who lives these habits.
- So far I’m trying to be proactive. I prepare for problems and prepare myself to respond. I seek to be proactive and search for answers and overcome limitations.
- I’m planning with the end in mind. I took time to shut out the hypnosis of life, to pause the fear and cut down the distractions. Now, every morning and every night I go through our goals for the long term future and I’m trying to make all my plans and decisions run in line with the life I want to live and as the person I want to be.
- I’m now putting first things first. Again, as part of my meditations every day, and as part of this study, everyday I’m looking at all the areas I can improve and working out how to do it. Everyday, I run through the things I’m grateful for and I acknowledge those important things. Then I go through all my long term goals and I think of those important things. And then I make my lists and knock off all the urgent things I need to do right away.
I am working on building these habits. I can see they will help me to be more effective And that will result in more success and getting the life I want quicker.
Now for Interdependent Habits
The following habits are the ones that help us to work effectively as a team. These are the areas that I really need to work on. It’s one of my weaknesses. I consider myself a very effective individual. I am task orientated and driven to produce good results as efficiently as I can. However, I am not team oriented and I prefer not to ‘waste’ time collaborating when I can dive in and just get things done on my own.
The fact that I can appreciate now that this is a weakness shows a great amount of growth. I used to be the type to argue that I don’t need anyone, or if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. However, now I’m inclined to accept that it’s a limitation. I need to learn how to work well with others if I want my dreams to become a reality.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
In the book, Covey covers all the types of negotiations, from win/win, to win/lose, all the way to no deal. I think the concept is fairly straightforward, so I will attempt to save time here by focusing on the habit we’re looking to establish.
Essentially, the best model for dealing with people is to take the win/win or the no deal approach.
Win/win states that we approach our negotiations and dealings from the stand point of mutual benefit. We look at a negotiation as a way for us both to get what we want. We offer deals or run negotiations in a way that we look to get the best deal for ourselves, while at the same time giving equal value (or even more value depending on the deal) to those we are dealing with.
For me this is straight forward. If we act in a way were we are trying to always have a win over people, then we build a poor reputation, we make people upset, and we burn through relationships that might be otherwise profitable in the future.
The other thing that’s valuable for me, is that it gives me a positive platform for doing business deals. I’m one of those people who doesn’t really like sales. It feels like a taboo activity where you’re trying to dupe people to buy what you want and to part with their hard earned money. Also, through my English teacher training, I’m always aware of how we might apply persuasive techniques, and for some reason, I’m always hyper critical. I don’t know if you can relate, but for me negotiating, dealing, selling and so on, always had a dishonest vibe about it.
However, if I can think of it as win/win — then I can think of negotiating and selling as a very positive thing. Effectively, I can think of deals and negotiations as a way to give someone amazing value and give them something that they really need. And in exchange, they give me fair value for the effort I give. This is win/win — we are both happy and we will be happy to work together in the future and we will like each other and we will do more and more to sponsor great relations and to help each other achieve more and more success.
Win/win is all positive.
However, there are times when both people can’t win. Then we can either try to negotiate different approaches, so that one will win and the other will accept, or be fooled, into a loss. In this situation, I believe Covey champions a No Deal strategy. We should acknowledge that no one can win and therefore we should walk away.
I have to admit that this seems drastic for business people who are trained to make deals. However, I can see the advantages if we look at it in the long term. In the short term, yes, there may be advantage to take a win over others. But in the long run, we end up creating a negative reputation for ourselves. This kind of negotiating leads to a lack of trust in us and our integrity. And if people don’t trust us, they don’t like us, and then they won’t deal with us.
To maximize our effectiveness when working with a team, we need to look for win/win situations, or we need to be ready to respectfully walk away.
However, in order for this to work, we need to have the following circumstances in the relationship. Firstly, we need to have two parties that have integrity; they have a code and they can be trusted because they have integrity to deal fairly. Secondly, there needs to be maturity, so that both parties maintain focus on the best result and can negotiate in good faith and respectfully listen to each other’s case without losing patience or temper. But most importantly, both parties need to operate from an attitude of abundance.
They need to understand that there is plenty of wealth to go around and the more we share, the more others will share with us.
How do we get these kinds of relationships?
Effectively, we need to go forth in good faith. We need to work on our own mentality, develop the habits of integrity, maturity and abundance and look to give everyone a win/win deal, and then we will attract these kind of dealings in return. Then we learn who has the integrity and maturity for us to want to work with again and again and again, until we help each other get exactly what we want.
This is a good mindset for me to adopt.
Habit 5: Seek first to Understand then to be Understood
The key to truly effective communication is to really listen to what people need.
The problem is these days we don’t really listen anymore. We are often distracted with all the things vying for our attention, that we often are just looking for the big headline, or skimming the conversation for the cliff notes — the quick pointers to fast track the conversation, not to truly understand.
Then, without even truly understanding what the other person is going through, we react with general advice, or provide services that we think are needed. However, this leads to shallow relationships, unsatisfied people, and failed communication. This is not the way to work with a team, to develop relationships or to service customers.
The key to communicating and creating effective relationships with people is to understand before you give advice.
We need to know our customers, workmates, partners or friends and understand their needs. To develop really strong relationships and create effective working conditions we need to avoid the kind of shallow interaction that leads us to ignore what we are being told. We need to listen to hear the true message and not skip through or select the fragments that we want to hear.
We need to listen to truly understand.
But the problem is we often don’t truly listen, I know I’ve been guilty of this. Or we often aren’t really aware of our listening habits. We may be unconsciously filtering and selecting the things we expect to hear and actually missing the little details that give us the clue to what people are really trying to say.
So, Covey promotes fine tuning your listening by practicing ‘Empathetic listening’.
Empathetic listening means to listen intellectually and emotionally, to try to empathize with those who we deal with. We need to go beyond hearing the headlines, to go to where we understand how others are feeling, what they need, their wants and the reason for their communication.
Tips to practice Empathetic Listening:
1) Mimic Content
By trying to mimic what we are told, we are mindful to listen carefully and to try and capture what we hear. Then by mimicking it back, it gives the other person the message that we hear what they say, and also gives them the opportunity to correct or to alter their communication. This tactic helps to clarify communication, by ensuring the message is sent, received and checked.
2) Rephrase Content
A step higher, is to not just mimic what is being said, but to rephrase what is said. This way we are trying to analyze what is said to us and try to get to the underlying message. We rephrase to check that the ideas and understanding we receive is congruent to what the speaker is trying to communicate. Here, we are again showing that we are listening and we are checking that our understanding is complete. Then the speaker can clarify, correct or alter. In this way communication becomes more effective.
However, to go beyond sending and receiving messages, and to become truly effective, we can listen to understand the person communicating. In that way we understand the message and the needs of the person. This will not only be effective in communicating, but also in creating relationships.
3) Reflect Feeling
The next level of listening habits is to reflect feeling. More important than the message is the feeling behind the message. Whatever the message is, it comes from a need or a desire. If you can understand the need or the desire behind the communication, then you can guide your actions to really servicing the needs of the other person.
Also, by communicating back to the person that you not only hear what they say, but you understand why they are saying it and how they feel about it, then you are beginning to develop a bond or a relationship of understanding with the other person.
4) Rephrase and reflect (2&3)
Finally, we can put it all together to be able to communicate on a truly effective level.
We hear the message, then we think about what is the meaning and try to rephrase it, and then repeat it back, but with added reflection on how the person is feeling as a result of what has happened.
When the speaker feels truly heard, we go beyond communicating to bonding. This is effective in creating relationships and will aid future communication as we speak from a position of empathy and trying to understand what the one is truly trying to communicate to the other.
Once this kind of relationship is created, or at least pattern of authentic communication is established, effective communication becomes much easier and more effective.
Then Speak to be Understood:
Once we have truly listened, and actually heard what is being communicated, then we can give advice from a place of perfect logic.
Often, we are so quick to show we have the answer that we rush to give generalizations and so-called wise responses. However, by checking that we have truly understood the message, and by reflecting on the feelings and the needs and desires behind the message, we are only then truly able to give good and effective advice or action.
This is important advice. I feel as a teacher I have refined my ability to communicate fairly well. However, there is still a lot for me to learn. And actually, I need to assess my current listening habits and try to reshape them into more effective habits. Even as I’m studying these things I see myself in the classroom and I catch myself using poor listening habits.
Even this week I caught my top students complaining and trying to avoid reading a story I had set — “this is boring”, “I’m tired”, “can we watch a movie”, was what they said. And my initial response was to take them literally and think they were being lazy.
However, as I thought about it, I realized that these students are actually some of my best students and they actually do want to do well. When I thought about it more, I knew these students aren’t normally lazy. Normally they want to show off how smart they are. However, at the time, I thought they were being lazy, so I forced them to read it aloud as a class. What I then realized was that although these were my smart students, they were finding the story hard to access. They couldn’t tell me that it was too hard, because let’s face it no one wants to look stupid in front of their peers.
Once I started reading it with them and explaining things they were into it and trying to work things out and do a good job.
So, I think I need to work on making this a habit. If I had mimicked back to them what they were saying, I might have got a clue. If I had of thought about why they were saying what they said and tried to rephrase it, I might have understood. Also, had I sought to understand their feelings, then I might have reacted differently. Well actually, I probably wouldn’t have done much different. I mean in the end of the day I handled it alright. However, being aware of what was actually going on has helped me to understand what happened. Now I can plan for things differently. I have a better understanding of my relationship with my students and I can be more effective at teaching them in the future.
Habit 6: Synergise
Synergy is a difficult concept to pin down, but for me it effectively means teamwork. It is what happens when you put all this together and you can work with others to be truly effective.
And a team that is truly effective is more than just the sum of its parts. For example, the classic sport analogy of the team of second rate players who beat the team of superstars because the ‘second raters’ have become a better team.
I think this is obvious for many of us. When a team is divided and just a collection of people who have to work together, then you can get results, but it lacks dynamism. However, when you get a team together that has blended and knows each other and wants to work together, then you can not only get results, but you can get truly effective results delivered with style.
I know from my own experience, I’ve worked in a team that was in name only. It was a group of teachers working in the same building. Each one knew what they were doing and at the end of the day we did a reasonable job for the kids, but it lacked that dynamism.
On the other hand, the next team I was a part of was actually a team. We planned together, and as such we shared ideas and refined each others’ ideas so that the students got a higher level of education. We planned fun activities where students could work in new environments, with new people and share from the insights of all the staff. And we evaluated together and supported each other to continue to improve.
Now, it wasn’t all roses and skipping through the forest chasing butterflies. It did cause some issues and at times extra work. There was also some mixed results and not all students reacted the same way. But at the end of the day, the effectiveness of the team was much better. We were able to achieve things that just weren’t possible by working in isolation, or working in a dysfunctional grouping.
Therefore, it’s easy to see that synergy is the goal and the key to being effective. When we work well and work effectively in collaboration with others we are able to achieve things that are much better than we could do on our own.
So how do we achieve Synergy?
We should start by making synergy the goal. Then we need to establish right from the outset that our goal is to be effective and to be efficient. Also, we have to accept each other and plan to make the operation positive. The way to do this is to have clearly established outcomes and to have rules for how we may achieve synergy.
This may include rules for conduct, conflict resolution, decision making and so on. There should be an explicit and consistent system in place so that people know how to operate and they know what appropriate and effective behavior looks like.
What is Effective behavior?
The behavior already outlined above.
For this to work effectively people need to be able to:
- Understand and seek Win/win as a method of negotiation
- Communicate with the habit of seeking to understand first, then understood second
- And they need to value synergy. Which doesn’t come from being the same, but comes from benefiting from different approaches, ideas, strategies and opinions.
The Interdependent Habits
These are the interdependent habits. They are how we learn to work together to be truly effective.
To be effective we need to seek win/win, we need to communicate by listening and then responding, and we need to actively seek to build good relationships by acknowledging each others’ strengths and weaknesses and consciously create an environment were we can be our best and achieve goals that surpass our limitations.
This is all very valuable insights for me. What I learned most of all is that I can use win/win as a great strategy for my own future improvement. I’m not one who always values myself highly and I don’t like dealing and I hate confrontation. However, if I think about relationships and so on as looking to create a win for someone and then I can expect a win for myself, I feel more positive about the whole thing.
Also, I need to continue to work on this idea of empathetic listening. I don’t tend to value social relationships as much as I might. But by trying to improve my listening as part of developing a good habit in the name of effectiveness, I believe I’m starting to become more sociable. At least at work, I’m starting to understand the people around me and they actually seem more inclined to seek me out and share things with me. And only just yesterday, one colleague went out of his way to come and find me and give me a whole lot of good advice that I was intending to go and ask for — I never did ask, it was as if he read my mind.
That may be coincidence, but I do feel like I’m beginning to make some more effective bonds at work. Going forward I need to keep working on synergy so I can one day build my own dream team and achieve some of my own wonderful goals.
The Final Habit
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
If you want to cut down a tree you need a saw. If the saw is blunt it will obviously take longer than if it is sharp. Also, if that saw is a chainsaw, it will obviously, be much quicker than an old-fashioned hand saw.
The same principle applies to people. If I’m an average Joe, then I am capable of average things. If I’m a highly educated, trained and well-experienced Joe, then I’m capable of much more things. And if I’m one of the most effective Joes in my field, in the whole world, then I am an expert and I’m capable of achieving outstanding results.
I’m aiming to be that Joe. A top 5% Joe, who deserves all the rewards of being one of the best.
So how do we achieve that?
Get effective in the areas that count.
1) Be Physically Effective
If you’ve read any of my stuff, you know I used to be very unfit and now I’m very keen on maintaining my physical fitness. I try to eat right and exercise and do all the things I know to stay young and to minimize the toxins in my body.
As much as you might hate to accept this, physicality makes a huge difference. You need to be strong and ready to be effective. You are more effective by being physically able to power through and by being ready to take opportunities.
Now I’ve become even more obsessed with my levels of energy and feeling physically well tuned, I’ve started to notice what a difference it makes. I’m now able to work full time all week and then do part time all day Saturday as well as three nights a week. I couldn’t do that last year.
Also, I feel more confident in front of an audience and in public. And I know people do judge you based on physical appearance and it does affect your opportunities and outcomes.
I totally agree, this should be number 1 — if you’re not physically fit, then start to work on getting physically fit and watch your effectiveness improve.
2) Become Spiritually Effective
Spirituality is often something that gets overlooked in our highly busy and hectic lives. However, it is something that I totally believe can make a huge impact on your effectiveness.
Being in harmony with the world through things like prayer, thought, meditation, music and so is important for how we feel and how we see our role in the world. By being out of tune with the world around us, it robs our ability to be effective and make the right choices. We react to everyday things, often the negative things, and live in a state of response and trying to survive.
However, since I started to meditate, do yoga, and take time to think about my future and my role in the universe, I’ve started to change the stories I tell myself. I start my day with a positive message and a positive mission and I try to make my understanding of things and my reactions to things work towards fulfilling what I see as my destiny in the universe.
This has been very positive and has made me so much more effective.
I no longer sweat the small things. I try to see setbacks as the universe telling me it’s not time to move. And I look for ways to be positive and catch myself when I find myself being negative. This is really helping me to make good decisions and to be more effective in all areas of my life.
3) Be Mentally Effective
To be mentally effective we need to constantly expand our mind. That is exactly what I’m doing here. Every week I study an area I need to work on. To take it seriously and to really embed the knowledge, I write about it and I share it with others.
If you have followed any of my posts, then you should be able to see all the lessons I’ve learned and how all this knowledge has been applied to make me more effective.
I’m so much more effective now than I was before I started this study of success.
I’m a more effective teacher, husband, student, human, colleague, you name it, and now I include father, which is another big reason why I am so dedicated to continue these studies.
I totally believe everyone should become a life long student and do their own systematic study, as I am doing, to step-by-step build the person that they want to be.
4) And be Socially and Emotionally Effective
To be effective in this area, we need to have and feel value within the community and we need to feel like we are making valuable contributions.
This is the big area I need to work on and is a big reason I’m studying many of the areas of my study.
Here I am ready to apply the lessons from the interdependent habits and try to become a lot more effective at these.
I will also study other topics very soon about building relationships, how to work with people, how to develop confidence and so on.
A continuous Process
The thing to remember also is that this is a continuous process. We learn, then commit, then practice and repeat. As we learn more and more and become more effective at each area, we make connections and go to higher levels and then repeat and continue to become more and more effective.
We as humans are designed for growth and progress. This makes us happy. So as a result we become more and more effective, while at the same time becoming happier and more at one with others and ourselves.
So, many of these things I’m already doing.
I need to work on the interdependent ones, that’s my real weakness. These lessons have been very helpful as an overall guide and I’ve even noticed I’ve started looking at my relationships with colleagues in a different light and looking to be more productive and effective as a work team.
This book has given me some extremely valuable insights. It has offered a guide for being mindful of the habits one must master to be a success.
Successful people have successful habits.
These habits let us tune in to winning small victories, easy victories that are achievable everyday. But these kinds of small victories, one after another, are the things that will lead us on to the kind of big victories that will inevitable be those moments when we become the truly successful people we dream of becoming.
Good luck on your own journey — I feel I’m going from strength to strength and I hope you are too. Keep the dream alive, live inspired by a great vision for your life and never stop striving for success.
Thanks for allowing me to share and keep striving for success.