There’s a great exercise that most of you have probably done or heard of before. Imagine yourself on a deserted island. Imagine that you will be there for a very long time. The island is a paradise; a delicious variety of food, cool clean water, easily available shelter, and beautiful weather in abundance. Now imagine that you were able to go there with only three material items – one book, one CD and one person. Which book would you take? What music gives you the greatest satisfaction? Which person would you choose to be with in paradise?
While the exercise is a great one under any circumstance, its relevance to this week’s article is this – if I was only allowed one book, I would take the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
The Seven Habits is a brilliant book; with a value far exceeding that which you might expect from the title. Much more than a simple list of seven skills or common characteristics of effective people, Covey teaches the importance of Character Ethics; the timeless principles that make up our value systems. Just like the potential height of a building is dependent on the strength and integrity of its foundation, the character ethics are essential building blocks in creating a truly remarkable life. Using “seven habits” as the framework for his lesson, Covey shows us how to work from the inside-out to build the lives of our dreams. He breaks his seven lessons into two parts – Personal Victory and Public Victory. In this week’s summary (and subsequent workshop), we’ll be focusing on the first part – personal victory.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Habits 1 – 3: The personal victory habits
1. Be Proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put First Things First
A Compass Has More Value than a Road Map
Due to the increased busyness of our lives, many people have turned to time management software and “to-do lists” to accomplish their day-to-day objectives. While there is certainly value in organization and time management skills, we can easily slip into the old cliché of “missing the forest for the trees” when we focus on tasks alone. Covey suggests that we need to take a step back and identify what we want our lives to mean, in a broad sense, before we can most effectively address the daily demands of life. One powerful exercise he shares in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is to imagine our own funeral at the end of our lives. Who’s there? What are they saying about us? What kind of life did we lead? What did we stand for? Who were we as individuals?
I encourage you to look at your schedule and plan out 30 minutes to complete the funeral exercise (above). Can you see the value in an activity like this? Can you see how understanding what you want your life to mean can help you prioritize which activities are important and which are not? The value in identifying what’s most important to you in the “big picture” sense, is that it provides you with an infallible and ever-available compass for determining your actions. In effect, identifying what you want your life to mean, and what you want to be remembered for, gives you a foundation from which to build the life of your dreams.
What’s at your centre?
Be principle focused. There are a lot of influences on our lives. Friends, family, work, money, organizations we belong to, the list goes on. Any one of them has the potential to consume our decision making abilities. Look at many high school students – how much power, through peer pressure, do they have over one another? How many people have ruined their family lives because they have made work the centre of their decision making abilities? As Covey illustrates in Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind, the only way to ensure balance and long term success is to make decisions from a “principle centric” mindset. By having a clear understanding of the life we want to lead, we will be able to tackle each decision with a clear, unemotional mind. But first we need to identify the underlying principles that will guide us. It’s important to realize that we’re not deciding what principles will guide our lives, they already exist. Instead, we’re really just pulling them out from under the pile of other influences and bringing them back into the daylight.
Use the funeral exercise from above as the initial identifying exercise – what kind of a spouse do you want to be? What kind of co-worker? What kind of parent, brother or daughter? Take some time to identify the various roles you carry, and the principles for each that you’d like to be remembered for. Do those principles match how you’re currently filling that role? If not, make the decision to start making the change today.
“Measure Twice, Cut Once”
Before the first brick of a building is laid, an accurate and detailed blueprint is created. The blueprint is revised, tweaked and perfected long before physical construction ever begins. Can you imagine putting up a building without one? What would be your chances of success?
It seems obvious with a building, and yet there is no reason we should do anything in our lives without the same sort of systematic planning. Whether it’s a new business venture or a family vacation, you need to create a clear mental image of the finished product before getting started. Because here’s the thing – everything is created twice. If you’re not the architect on the first creation (the mental one), you’ve effectively relinquished control of the final product.
What’s the fundamental difference between a proactive person and a reactive one? Vision. How can you possibly be proactive if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish? The more clearly you define the blueprint of a venture, the more proactive you can be. Understand where you’re going, then use your compass to get there. Here’s another thought to leave you with – you may be able to put up a tool shed without a blueprint. But could you build a 5 story apartment building? What about the Eiffel tower? The more spectacular you want the final product to be, the more detailed a blueprint you need to create.
Pick an upcoming project. Visualize the end result. Feel it, taste it, touch it. How is your customer reacting to the finished piece? What about it will delight them? Start from an inspired place. Pursue that goal from a strong “principle centeredness”. Make your life a masterpiece.