Your early twenties are among the most influential years of your life. Free of the burdens of adult life you can take chances and choose your own destiny. At least, that’s how it is supposed to be. Reality, is often very different. Caught up in day to day student life, lots of students drift aimlessly through their years at university. And while you get taught excellent academic skills, university lacks the teaching of more practical knowledge. How do I live the life I want to live? Or even, what kind of life do I want to live? The most fundamental parts of life, you are expected to figure out yourself. Luckily, you are not alone. Many have struggled before you and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is an excellent place to start your struggle.
Distilled from 200 years of success literature
The Seven Habits are guidelines and principles common among effective, i.e. successful, people. Distilled from 200 years of success literature, they are rooted in Character Ethics. Character Ethics is concerned with building your character, which forms the foundation for all effective behaviour. Using an inside out approach, the first three habits are about self-mastery. These so-called “Private Victories” precede the last four habits called the “Public Victories”. The public victories rely heavily on the private victories. Therefore, the focus of this article is on the first three habits. Don’t worry, the last four habits are up for discussion in a future article. Furthermore, maintaining the right P/PC
balance is essential to effective living. P/PC stands for stands for Production/Production Capability. Many people spend a great deal of their time fixating on production, meanwhile they neglect the production capability. Compare this to driving a car, pushing it to its limits and never doing any maintenance. Inevitably it will break down. In addition, I would like to stress the following: Don’t just read the book, use it! Implemented, the habits reap very real results. However, there is no way around it, internalizing these habits is tough.
Maintaining the right P/PC balance is essential to effective living.
Three Private Victories
Habit number one says: be proactive. You are responsible for your own behaviour and therefore you should act accordingly. You have been submitted to conditioning and scripting by family, friends, enemies, Hollywood and many others. To be proactive, means that you recognize this conditioning, but you do not let it define you. Proactive people write their own script. They keep scripts they find useful and discard or replace others. Furthermore, being a
proactive person is opposite being a reactive person. Reactive people don’t take responsibility. They blame their circumstances for the way they are and the way they act. You have probably done this yourself. Think of blaming the weather, the economy or your parents for things that happen to you. This behaviour is a terrible waste of energy and not effective. Concluding, to be proactive means you recognize your ability to respond, your response-ability.
You have been submitted to conditioning and scripting
Begin with the end in mind. The second habit revolves around the principle that all things are created twice. The first creation is in your mind. Before anything happens, you first got to think of it. After this, the second, more physical, creation takes place. This principle holds for almost anything, small or large scale, including your life. That’s why, first, you envisage your life as you want it to be. You create it first in your mind. Then you strive to achieve the second physical creation. Setting goals, values and guidelines for yourself you aim to solidify your vision. Covey suggests the following powerful mental exercise. Picture yourself at your own funeral. People from different areas of your life are there to speak about you. What do you want them to say? What do you want to have achieved? Figure out the answers to these questions and then ask yourself: Are my actions in line with these desires? If not, you might want to change a few things.
Creating your desired life is a time-consuming challenge. Therefore, you are in need of habit number three. This habit concerns time-management. Covey refers to it as the fourth generation of time-management. The first three generations are about planners, to-do lists and agendas. While these tools are still useful today, they miss the ability to schedule around your priorities. To do this, Covey developed a chart divided into quadrants. Take a look at the picture below. The quadrant are labelled either urgent or not urgent and important or not important. To be effective, focus as much as you can on quadrant number two. Not urgent, but very important. A focus on quadrant two helps you avoid going from crisis to crisis and makes sure you practise as much high leverage activities as you can. These quadrant two activities have everything to do with taking care of Production Capability. Whereas habit number two helps you establish your priorities, habit number three makes sure you actually schedule them.
As mentioned, it is the doing that yields results. It is the day by day struggle to live these habits, that eventually leads to where you want to go. Therefore, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People ends each chapter with useful tips for application. To entice in you a hunger for more, I would like to do the same.
You might want to change a few things.
For a whole day watch your language. Take note of all the reactive things you say and try to replace them by proactive language. Instead of saying :“I have to do this”, “I don’t have time to” and “If only I had“, say: “I choose to”, “I will” and “I can do this”. Secondly, I would like you to try the mental exercise of habit number two. Make sure you are undisturbed and really try to picture yourself at your own funeral. Write down what you want to have achieved. Finally, look at your daily activities. Order them in the chart of habit number three. Are your activities in line with the priorities you set during the mental exercise? What could you do, that would help you achieve your priorities? Use these suggestions and experience the difference yourself.