“Don’t lose who you are”
This was the advice a family member gave me recently, as I’m currently in wedding preparation mode for my big day. I began to do some self reflection on this, on who I am, the things that have changed me, and who I’ve become.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m no saint. I don’t go to church very often (much to my mother’s disappointment), and I’m usually working on some ridiculous idea or another (I like to consider myself as a Tony Stark of sorts). But call this post the first in my “Guide to Living a Happy Life”, where I refer to Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, and also some of the knowledge I gained from my upbringing as a Catholic, as well as a small collection of other books.
Now this isn’t about Jesus, the bible, or anything around converting whoever stumbled across this post into a Christian. If you’ve seen the movie “Seven” starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey (I mean with that kind of cast, why wouldn’t you), you’ll have enough context to continue reading. And if you haven’t, make sure you do – it’s a great movie.
In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey covers the 7 Habits he feels the most successful people have. You should definitely read the book, but here’s my summary of the book (in case you don’t feel like reading it yourself):
Habit 1: Be Proactive
If you’ve ever had the thought “There’s nothing I can do” or “That’s just the way I am”, then this is the first habit you should consider to master. Because thoughts like these frame the problem to be things that are “out there”.
These “thoughts” are thoughts of Reactive people; a passive stance that people take when they believe the world is happening to them.
The reality is that we are in charge of our lives. We write our own scripts. We can be proactive and take ownership of our own choices. In order to be proactive, we need to focus on the things that we can actually do something about (our Circle of Influence), not just the things that we care about (our Circle of Concern).
Stealing an image that illustrates this well…
Proactive people focus on the things in their Circle of Influence. And since, of all the things they care about, they’re focusing on the things they can actually do something about, they bring more positive energy into this circle. I mean think about it, they’re accomplishing things, solving the problems they can solve. By doing this, they’re able to expand this Circle of Influence. And soon find themselves being able to solve more problems, more things they weren’t able to before.
Reactive people, however, focus on the things that they can’t do anything about. And since they’re focusing on the things they have no control over and care about these things, they find that they grow more and more frustrated, and their Circle of Influence, i.e. the things they are able to change, grows smaller and smaller until they feel like they have no control over the situation.
TLDR; When you’re dealing with a situation, make a list of the things you care about. Then highlight the things that are in your control, and focus on those. You’ll find that if you focus on these things, revisiting your list after you cross one thing off, will find that you’re able to highlight another that you weren’t able to before.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
This one is one of my favourites. Taking control over your life is one of the biggest things you can do to lead a happier life. Focus on the situation you’re trying to get through, and make sure you understand the vision for what you want to achieve. Whether it be at work, or in your personal lives, before you start doing anything, understand what vision for your future you want. There are no “scripts” when it comes to life. We constantly write these, change these, and rewrite this as we go along.
Stealing again from the source I found to be ever so useful, make sure you start by identifying your center.
You’ll most likely see the centers that relate to you. Mine are most likely Family, Spouse, Work, and Self Centered. Do you see yours? Jot them down somewhere quickly.
Good. The reality is that none of these centers are good. To be truly happy (and really, to focus on that Circle of Influence in the 1st habit), we should be Principle-centered.
But what does being “Principle Centered” mean?
Being Principle Centered refers to living your life by timeless principles. Though Covey says that these principles should be unchanging, I disagree. Principles that we believe are right for us today may not be right for us tomorrow.
Coming up with these principles on how we should live our lives can be done in a couple of ways. Covey has a good method to come up with these principles.
Imagine your Funeral (Dark, right?).
Who’s there? What are they saying about you? What’s the “story of your life” that’s being said? How are they talking about the way you lived your life? The relationships you had? Are you happy about what they’re saying?
Imagine that you only had 30 more days to live. What would you do differently if this funeral of yours was in 30 days? Come up with a list of the priorities you would have in those 30 days. And now start living by this list of priorities. Consider these to be your principles of life.
What Roles do you have in your life?
We all have roles in our lives. What are yours? List the 3 biggest ones from your professional, personal, and community lives. And list 5 goals from each of these you want to accomplish. Consider these to be your principles of self-duty.
What are your fears?
Batman was always one of my favourite superheroes. A mortal man, embracing his fear of bats, then becoming the thing he feared the most. He planned on how to take down Superman, were the situation ever to arise and this God-like hero turned against humanity (in fact he planned out how to take out every member of the Justice League). Though I don’t think Covey had Batman in mind, embracing the worst-case scenario of your biggest fear, and visualizing and coming up with a game plan on how to handle it is something you should always do, regardless of how terrifying the thought may be. You’ll find that when you have a plan to be successful even in the worst of scenarios, you’ll draw upon elements of this plan to be courageous when other terrifying situations come up, in essence, your principles of courage
TLDR; Keep your eye on the prize, on your goals. Don’t live for tomorrow; live your life so you have no regrets were it to end tomorrow. And to develop these, identify your center, and try to live life more against your life principles more than anything else.
Habit 3: Put First things First
Since we’ve talked about goals, let’s talk about how to attain these better. Establishing the priorities of things is really important. And sometimes to reach our goals in the future, we have to do things we don’t necessarily want to do today in order to pave the way for this. Every single activity in our lives can be grouped into one of four quadrants below. (Continuing my trend of stealing stuff…)
Take a look at that chart. Where do you spend most of your time?
Spending most of our time in Quadrant I, just managing crises and problems will do nothing but make our problems bigger and bigger until they consume us, leading to stress and we start spending our live just putting out fires.
Spending most of our life in Quadrant III means that we’re spending most of our time reacting to matters that seem urgent, but they’re based on the priorities and expectations of others; the things that are important to them. This results in us feeling out of control, shallow, and usually with broken relationships in our lives.
Spending most of our life in Quadrant IV means that we’re living irresponsible lives. Usually this will see us getting fired from our jobs, and being dependent on others.
If we’re not spending most of our time in Quadrant II, building relationships, planning for the long term, preparing for things even if they don’t feel urgent, we’ll find that we’re less effective to survive the things in the other quadrants. This means saying “no” to other activities, even those that seem to be urgent but in actuality may not be. focusing on Quadrant II means we’re planning ahead, working on the roots, and preventing crises and emergencies from arising.
If you’ve ever heard of the 80 20 rule (which is everywhere, Steve Jobs referred to it a lot), it applies here as well. 80% of the results you seek in the things you do come from 20% of the time you spend in just planning things.
To get better at this, try the following.
- Identify a Quadrant II activity you’re neglecting and commit to doing it this week
- Manage your time better so that you do get to practice this activity. Track your progress and log your time over the next 3 days.
TLDR; Don’t prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities. And focus on your energy in developing your effectiveness with people and being efficient. The rest will follow.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Like everything in his book, each habit is related to the last. It’s human nature to want to win. But it’s important to ensure that in this pursuit to “win” we don’t ruin our relationships in the process. Win-Win means that all the parties involved get to win. The agreement or solution is mutually beneficial and satisfying to all the parties involved. If either party is going to lose, the solution will harm the relationship between the parties. This doesn’t just mean that being “nice” is enough. It requires courage. When one of the parties is “determined”, “stubborn”, or “ego invested” the process becomes ever more so hard.
There’s two types of mentality to understand here:
- The Scarcity Mentality – Everything is zero sum i.e. If you get your way, I don’t get mine. People with this mentality have a hard time sharing recognition or credit, and find it hard to be genuinely happy with other people’s successes.
- The Abundance Mentality – There’s enough out there for everyone. These people find plenty of ways to still “win” (without feeling like they’re losing) and they’re able to offer more mutually acceptable and happy solutions.
Want to get better at this? Is this a problem right now for you? Then it’s something you can start today.
- Think of scenario in the present or your future where you’re trying to reach an agreement or solution. Do you know what the other person is looking for? Write down their list. Next to the list of what they’re looking for, come up with your own list of how you can meet those needs
- What is the relationship between you and the person you’re trying to find an agreement with. Forget the past and the future for a moment; are you giving more than you take? Are you taking more than you give? Make sure you’re always writing 10 ways to give more than you take here
- Think about your past. How have you lived your life so far? Have you been in more “Lose-Win” interactions (you lose so others can win)? Maybe “Win-Lose” (you win but others lose). Maybe even just “Win”, where you want to get your way, but not necessarily mean for the other person to lose; you just wanted what you wanted. Where did it all start? Is this working out for your relationships? Is it time for a change? You’re the one that has all the answers. Be brutally honest with yourself.
TLDR; Make sure that in every scenario, both parties are winning. Most of the time this means you need to be more courageous to change your mentality to be more optimistic, and define multiple ways to win, instead of tunnel visioning your definition of winning
Habit 5: Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood
This is a common pitfall for most people. Everyone wants to be understood, but rarely stop for a moment and try to prioritize the fact that first, they should understand what the other person is saying. This means before we spend our energy solutioning, responding, writing, or speaking, we need to listen.
The worst thing you can do is if you seem like your listening, but you start using a person’s words against them. Because at that point you aren’t trying to understand, you’re moving into the territory of manipulating, and the other person may no longer feel safe opening up to you. Don’t just reply – understand first. Don’t just Evaluate, Probe, Advise or Interpret, practice empathic listening.
Did you know that only 10% of communication is done through words? 30% is by sounds and tone of voice, and 60% by body language. So just because you or another person may not be “saying anything,” you’ll find yourself communicating a lot more than words alone. The next time you think you’re going to go into a conversation and just “listen” to what the other person is saying, check yourself. Are you really listening? What is your face like? What about your body language?
So next time, before you respond to anything, especially during a situation of conflict, start your reply by describing in detail the other person’s point of view and the problems they’re facing.
Habit 6: Synergize
This habit relies on the previous two. Synergy finds new alternatives and possibilities to ditch the old scripts and find new ones. Like I mentioned before, there are no scripts in life. There’s nothing set in stone. Synergy allows us to find new alternatives and possibilities to problems that may have not been available before.
Start with Habit 4 and 5. Think Win-Win and Seek to Understand before being understood.
Synergy isn’t about compromising. When we put forth a spirit of trust and safety, we prompt others to become open and we’re able to feed on each other’s insights and ideas. Synergy values the mental, emotional and psychological differences between people. People see the world not as it is, but as they are. Every person’s experience in this world is different. If it were the same, we wouldn’t need them.
Synergy allows us to sidestep negative energy and find more good in others. It allows us to exercise courage in situations to be open and encourage others to be open as well. And be brave and be creative, find a solution that will be better for everyone by not just limiting you to the option you’re looking for or the option they’re looking for; look for the third option that may not be scripted, but will be better for everyone.
TLDR; No. This wasn’t that long; scroll up a bit and read the paragraphs.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw.
Devote the time you need to renew yourself physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. When we do this, we’re able to increase our ability to practice each habit.
You are your greatest asset. Preserving and enhancing yourself, taking care of yourself in all of the ways mentioned above requires us to exercise all of the 6 other habits. To take care of yourself physically, to eat healthy, to exercise regularly, that requires you being proactive. Taking care of yourself spiritually, practicing meditation, etc. requires us to live with the end in mind. To take care of ourselves mentally we need to expand our mind, and only expose ourselves to television programs and media that enrich our lives and minds. What does that mean? That means we practice our habit of putting first things first; focusing our time on our relationships and planning, instead of time wasters and trivial things. And finally, sharpening ourselves socially/emotionally requires us to deeply try to understand other people, focus our contributions to meaningful projects that improve the lives of others, and try to help others find success. This is where habits 4, 5 and 6 come in.
The 7 Pitfalls to your Happiness – The 7 Deadly Sins
So what stops us from being able to live these 7 habits? This is where my catholic teachings come in. Now unlike the movie where people who committed these sins were murdered in brutal ways, I’ve found that the things that block people from practicing these habits usually fall in one of the below “sins”.
Something that blocks us from being able to practice many of the habits that would let us live more effective lives is Pride. Pride is the excessive belief in one’s own abilities, how they should be valued by others. If you’ve read the habits by now, you can tell that Proud people will always lack the ability to be proactive, put first things first, think win-win, understand others first, synergize, and in general, fail to “sharpen their saws.”
Envy needs no introduction. When we want what others have, what we don’t have, we aren’t focusing on the things that are in our control; it’s not a proactive emotion, it’s reactive – us reacting to things out of our control. Envious people aren’t able to be proactive; and see the world with a Scarcity Mentality.
Gluttony is the desire to do things for “instant gratification” – things that may be unhealthy, that harm us. When we do these things, we aren’t living with the end in mind, nor are we putting “first things first”
Lust usually refers to uncontrollable passion or longing of sexual desires. I think this is more like gluttony, where you should never do things for instant gratification; do things with your long term goals in mind, and focus your energy in the activities that help you build relationships.
Wrath is when you have uncontrollable anger and hate towards another person. Basically every habit that talks about building relationships with people, understanding others, resolving conflicts with a “win-win” solution cannot be accomplished by those in a wrathful state.
When we center ourselves in things that aren’t based in principles, we exhibit greed. Greed doesn’t just refer to centering ourselves in money – when we center ourselves in any of the other areas to the point that these things control us, whether it be your spouse, family, money, work, possession, pleasure, friends, enemies, church, or yourselves, we aren’t living our lives to its fullest, and we may find ourselves unfulfilled in our last days.
Laziness, obviously, will never let us take care of our problems. Basically violating every single habit that could let us lead happier lives. It’s always easier to react than be proactive.
So I’ll end this post here
I know it’s been a long post, but these are just some of the thoughts that I try to keep in mind when life gets tough. If we all tried to live our life against these 7 habits, consciously avoiding the “7 sins”, we would find ourselves better equipped to deal with the problems life has for us. And trust me, I fail at these constantly. But this is just a framework, and I use this to evaluate on how I can be better.
Most of the time we get in our own way from being able to be happy, and (in my opinion), from dealing with our problems effectively. Pride, “what we know to be right”, “winning” isn’t always the only way to resolve things. Everyone on this planet is just trying to figure things out. There are no scripts to happiness; there are no set rules or paths that you can follow to find happiness. Though the experience of other people is useful, the lives of your parents, siblings, friends, role models, will never be the same journey you’ll be taking.
But the world has so much to offer, and closing yourself off so you don’t have to deal with trouble means you’ll also be closing yourself off to living a really full and meaningful life. So maybe take a step back and spend the rest of your time on this planet focussing on what’s really important, and resolving your issues off-script, building relationships and understanding yourself and the world around you. We can’t change other people to see the world in our way, but we can change ourselves to see the world in theirs.
Take control of your life today. You are the only one in control of your own happiness. And maybe share this post if you found it eye opening in any way.
P.S. If you want to buy Steven Covey’s book, I highly recommend it. Get it below! Makes a great gift (but don’t give it to someone as a passive aggressive gesture).
Amazon (Hardcopy, Kindle, and Audible): 7 Habits of Highly Effective People