For years I had been ambiguous about Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. It was mentioned all over the place, but it seemed like a cheesy self-help book, the kind which I abhored, but then it was mentioned by friends who I look up to. Recently, Randy Pausch mentioned it in his talk on Time Management and I finally decided to give it a shot.
While the packaging and the 7 in the title seem to give the picture of yet-another-quick-self-help book, after reading it I didn’t get that perception. You could replace the effective in Highly Effective People with happy, content or peaceful and the book would still make sense. Covey tries to share his learnings of how to gain independence in personal life and interdependence in societal life using 7 habits. The stress all through the book is that there are no shortcuts, a person has to base his life on principles and constantly practise the right learnings/actions until they become habits. (This is something that I’m finding out is very true personally.)
The 3 habits to gain personal independence:
1. Be proactive. — Humans have the capability to think about their own actions and thoughts. Hence, they can change their actions. Try to change if you’re not happy with yourself.
2. Begin with the end in mind. — Very reminiscent of Steve Jobs in his Stanford commencement speech. It’s important to base daily life and actions on some personal principles, goals and missions.
3. Put first things first. — This section introduces Covey’s quadrant. (Even if you don’t read the book, this quadrant is very useful for folks interested in time and life management.) Quadrant I tasks are important and due immediately. Quadrant II tasks are important but long-term. Most people ignore QII tasks for QI tasks. In the long term, it is beneficial to slowly turn around our living style to take on more QII tasks and reduce the QI tasks.
The 3 habits to gain interdependence:
4. Think Win/Win. — A philosophy very similar to the Middle Way in Buddhism. (I surely need to read more about this.) Instead of seeking to Win/Lose or Lose/Win with others, try to always aim for a scenario where both you and others gain.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Habit 7 is Sharpen The Saw, that is to regularly apply these principles, until they become habits.
The book is a breezy read, lots of quotes, stories and analogies. This is a good read, I could agree with the author on a lot of his views and I definitely took away a lot from the book.
Some titbits from the book:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
Until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”
Malcom Muggeridge writes in “A Twentieth-Century Testimony”:
When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all of its various guises; being known and being praised; ostensible pleasures, like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, explaining and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer.
In retrospect, all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called, “licking the earth.”
[…] enemy centering is very common, particularly when there is frequent interaction between people who are in real conflict. When someone feels he has been unjustly dealt with by an emotionally or socially significant person, it is very easy for him to become preoccupied with the injustice and make the other person the center of his life. Rather than proactively leading his own life, the enemy-centered person is counterdependently reacting to the behavior and attitudes of a perceived enemy.
In Frankl’s words, “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”
Dr. Charles Garfield has done extensive research on peak performers, both in athletics and in business. […] One of the main things his research showed was that almost all of the world-class athletes and other peak performers are visualizers. They see it; they feel it; they experience it before they actually do it. They Begin with the End in Mind.
(On why writing down goals and thoughts in journals is important …)
Writing distills, crystallizes, and clarifies thought and helps break the whole into parts.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” — Goethe
One of my favorite essays is “The Common Denominator of Success,” written by E. M. Gray. He spent his life searching for the one denominator that all successful people share. He found it wasn’t hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, though those were all important. […] “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do,” he observed. “They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”
[…] people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.
Arthur Gordon shares a wonderful, intimate story of his own spiritual renewal in a little story called “The Turn of the Tide.”
“The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.”
In the words of Phillips Brooks: “Some day, in the years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now. Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by a steady, long continued process.”
Goethe taught, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”
Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier — not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.”
T. S. Eliot expresses so beautifully my own personal discovery and conviction: “We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”