7 Habits of Highly Effective People

This post first appeared on my http://sampathd.blogspot.com blog on December 21, 2005. 



I just started reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This is my second time that I am reading this book. The first reading was about three years ago, at the time I was really not that bothered about developing effective strategies in my life; at a time when my life was centered around seeking fun & pleasure and was having plenty of it.

But this time around the situation has changed. Now I am actively interested in developing effective and efficient habits / strategies. And I just remembered that 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey was lying in my book shelf. So I dug it out. And this time around, without just reading it through, I will be putting into practice the “Application Suggestions”. Also, this time around, I am determined to delve deeper into the content and ponder and reflect upon myself as I go along. This will help me in internalizing the habits into my life; well not as exactly as they are, but as they appeal and agree with my values. Hopefully, it will help me clarify my values further.

Covey suggests two paradigm shifts that will increase the benefit that the reader can reap from the book. The first one is to not to treat the book as a ‘book’, but to rather treat as a companion on the long run. That is as our understanding deepens, to come back to the book time and again to expand our knowledge, skill and desire. Putting it into perspective, in this second reading I am able to understand the concepts more deeply and broadly. I remember on the first reading there were things that I just skimmed through, without thinking about it ever again. But this time around, every sentence speaks directly to my mind, makes a more deeper sense. And I am glad that I came back to reading it.

The second paradigm shift that we are to focus on is to transform ourselves from the role of the reader to the role of the teacher. Covey suggests that we read the book with the purpose in mind of sharing what we learn within 48 hours of us reading it. This will give our mind a signal to comprehend the subject matter since the mind is looking forward to sharing the knowledge. And without it first understanding the material it knows it cannot attempt the second task.

So this is the approach that I am going to adopt in this second attempt. I will share through this blog, my understanding of each habit as I finish reading each chapter. Hopefully someone out there will benefit from that. AND I hope that I wont get sued for copyright infringement!

But before I start sharing my understanding of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I think it is appropriate to set the ground. I mean, Covey does not start talking about the habits straight away. Before we attempt to understand, adopt and internalize the 7 habits, we have to understand a few things about ethics, values, principles, paradigms etc.

Paradigms and Principles

Covey starts out by describing the Inside-Out approach. In his analysis he talks about how our perceptions affect the way we see the world. He compares our perceptions to the lens through which we see the world. He talks about two paradigms of personal development, the personality ethic and the character ethic. The character ethic concentrates on developing values such as integrity, humility, fidelity, courage, justice, patience, etc. This school of thought says that the foundation of personal success is through the development of these basic character ethics. But, such development takes time and effort.

But as the world progressed, we became obsessed with doing things faster and in instantaneous ways. So the time consuming character ethics took a back seat and more instant success formulas came popular. These quick fix methods concentrated on our personality, on what the others saw in us, on ways to project ourselves as required in the eyes of the society. Though not all these methods were bad, most of them lacked substance and only offered temporary solutions. Although, personality ethic tried to encompass the character ethic as part of its offering, it treated character as a small part of the total approach, not as the cornerstone. I mean, for how long can you pretend to be someone that you are not. It’s only a matter of time till you get exposed and show the world the real you! Personality ethic is very beneficial, if you develop your character first! Your primary greatness flows out of developing values that are in agreement with the natural laws of the universe. In other words, by developing goodness in our character to the level that the world is naturally easy with you. Once you achieve this level of primary greatness, you can achieve the secondary greatness of fame, recognition and fortune via the techniques of personality ethic. When your character is based on values, your personality will shine easily.

According to Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encompass many strategies of effectiveness. They are the basic habits that allow us to be effective – to do the right thing. Once we discover the right thing to do, we can look for ways of doing it right; ie. Efficiency.

Our values and ethics represent the way we see the world. They represent our paradigms. The models that we apply to the things around us, how we understand things, how we perceive and interpret the world. Covey compares paradigms to maps. This helps us to understand a basic difference between paradigms and reality. Map is not the territory. It is some sort of representation of the territory. So it is essential that we find the correct maps before we attempt to find our way using a map. If you have the wrong map, all other techniques will be of no use. Hence it is essential that we get the map right. All of us have many different maps in out heads. But there are two basic ones: maps on the way things are or realities and map on how things should be or values. All our interpretations of the world are decipher through these maps. And we go on to assume that the way we see the world is the way the world really is or should be! There is an excellent example that we can try out in the book that helps us realize this. Basically the lesson is, we see the world based on the conditioning that we have received over the years, as childhood experiences, as traditions, and training and education, etc. What we actually see, is what our mind is trained to see. And how we see the world affects our relationships with the world, how we treat and feel about the world. And our behavior is governed by it. I think this explains how different people tend to be more proactive, more entrepreneurial, more lazy, etc given the same opportunities.

We have to experience a paradigm shift inorder to break away from the traditions, from the way we were doing things, if we want to achieve a significant breakthrough. All significant breakthroughs have taken place after experiencing a paradigm shift. And making paradigm shifts to happen is not an easy task. Sometimes paradigm shifts are instantaneous. We come across a “Aha” experience. But sometimes, these shifts are slow and happen over time. If we really think hard about our past, on what we were, I am sure all of us will be able to understand at least one or two paradigm shifts that we have experienced over time or instantaneously. But when we want to make a quantum leap, we have to shift our basic paradigms. The paradigm shift that Covey attempts to make in us in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is that there are natural principles that govern effectiveness, which are unchangeable and real. As the saying goes “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law”.

There is one more thing that we have to understand. Paradigms are not the reality. Just as maps are not the territory. They are just an attempt to describe the reality, just as maps attempt to describe the territory. Sometimes the territory would have changed since the last update of the map. This means that the map is not insync with the territory and needs updating. There are times when our values may be different from the principles. In such cases we need to deeply look at the world to understand the principles. If we take a deep look at social cycles, we see the same principles surface from time to time and giving birth to new interpretations. But the basic principle remains unaltered. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People contains examples of these.

Basically principles are fundamental guidelines for humans. They are the territory. They are not values. Values are maps. Values sometimes violate the basic principles. Principles are not practices; practices are specific actions, they are not universal. But principles are! The closer our paradigms and values are with the universal principles, the better off we are.

Covey says that the way we see the problem is the problem. When people see the success of a well principled person, they try to to emulate the success by adopting the same techniques. But because of the difference in the value systems, they do not necessarily work on the other person. We attempt to concentrate on quick fix without attempting to treat the underlying issues. We attempt to adopt “outside-in’ remedies to our problems, when we actually need “inside-out” solutions. When the change required is from within us, we attempt to change the other. When the problem is within us, we see the problem as out there. When we need to find a solutions for ourselves, we try to give solution to others. We have to start with ourselves. The problem is not out there, it’s within us. By changing ourselves we can find the solutions.

When we think that the problem is out there, we are telling ourselves, “there’s nothing I can do about it. I have nothing to do about it. something out there needs to change.” So we feel helpless, victimized. We allow others to give solutions to us. We feel that we don’t have any control over the situations. We are controlled by the environment. But, even for a second we do not think “maybe the problem is not out there. maybe I can do something about it.” If we can change this paradigm shift, we will attempt to address issues, by looking at what we can do about them. We will start to think, maybe I need to look at this in a different way. Maybe, I need to change. I personally have many experiences of this nature. Everytime I disagree with my wife, I start off thinking that I am right and that she is wrong. If I keep at it, I come to the absolute conclusion that I am right; there’s no fault on my side. So I put my defense walls up and wait for her to come to my feet. When it doesn’t happen I get irritated and I start to feel victimized. When we finally talk about it my wife comes up with her side of the things and then I start to see my mistakes, how I could have handled it differently, etc. This time around, I hope that I will be able to realize the mistakes on my own. That I will identify my contribution to the problem and correct it, rather than waiting for her to correct herself.

I plan to shift my paradigms to a more deeper, meaningful “inside-out” approach. I shall correct myself before I try to correct others.


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