Stephen R. Covey
‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is then not an act but a habit’. — Aristotle
In 1989, Stephen R. Covey, a noted American educator, author, businessman and keynote speaker, introduced a new genre in literature: personal development. This book sold like hot cakes and became an international bestseller in no time.
All the successful and the richest people of the world have read it, for sure. And it is a key to success for all the students as well. These are not the seven habits but the seven pearls of wisdom. This book is a hallmark in personal and professional success. Covey is of the opinion that in order to be outwardly successful, you have to first carry the day from within. So, he titles the first three habits as those of ‘Private Victory’.
“Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits … Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny…”
This is the first habit of the most effective people, which says that we need to be proactive, instead of being reactive. By taking the charge of our own life, we should take the responsibility, instead of playing the blame game. We should take the initiative because we are the programmers and the co-creators of our own life; we write a program and then execute that. But most people live their life according to their emotions, moods, feelings and how others treat them. They are always reacting to what other people think and say about them. These are the reactive people. In order to be proactive, you should not wait around other things to happen; you should, instead, be in control of your own self. When you think that the problem is outside of you—whether it’s your boss, your spouse or some situation—you observe yourself in that problem and that thought is the problem, in fact. Your life is a product of your principles and values, and not your emotions. Your life is a product of your decisions, and not your circumstances.
“Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them.” (Page 79)
“Reactive people build their emotional lives around the behavior of others, empowering the weaknesses of other people to control them … Proactive people are driven by values—carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.” (P-79)
- Begin with the end in mind
“To Begin with the End in Mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.”(P-105)
It’s an act of visualization, basically.
We need to have a clear vision of the task before starting it. We need to have a plan about it or else we will lose interest in the task. We need to have a right road map to see whether we are on the right path, and where we want to end. Make sure that you are working towards your particular goal. For example, if you start a jigsaw puzzle and you have the end in mind, it will be a lot easier for you to solve the puzzle. Everything is created twice, first in the mind of the person, then in reality, e.g. painting. You first make a building on paper, and then you build it or else it would cost you a lot of money.
- Putting first thing first
‘Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.’ — Goethe
It is important to categorize your priorities in order of their importance. Covey categorizes the tasks on the basis of ‘importance’ and ‘urgency’. Most people spend most of their time in putting out fire by focusing on the things which are in highest urgency quadrant. As for the long-time effectivity, you should spend as much time in quadrant number 2—these are the tasks that are low in urgency but high on importance. It means you are working on the things which you really and truly value. These are the things that give you a sense of fulfilment. It is a paradigm shift; the way we look at the time management. In his book, the symbol of time management is not a clock, but a compass which symbolizes purpose. Your inner compass is your vision for your life.
“You’re the creator. You are in charge.” (P- 155)
“We all have some Quadrant I activities in our lives. But Quadrant I consumes many people. They are crisis managers, problem-minded people, the deadline-driven producers. As long as you focus on Quadrant I, it keeps getting bigger and bigger until it dominates you.” (P-160)
“There are other people who spend a great deal of time in urgent but not important.” (P-161)
Quadrant 4 activities are trivia, busy work, some mail, some phone calls, and time-waster, pleasant activities.
“People who spend time almost exclusively in Quadrants III and IV basically lead irresponsible lives.” (P-162)
Quadrant 2 is the heart of effective management. These are the things that are not urgent but are important.
- Think win/win
Now starts the public victory that is mutually beneficial and mutually satisfying solution.
This is a situation we can imply in personal as well as professional relationships. We should always look for the mutual interest. There are people who think win/lose. Then, there are people who think lose/lose and they are the complete losers. And, then there are complete winners who think win/win.
One person’s success should not be at the expense or exclusion of other person.
“Win-win is a belief in the Third Alternative. It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.” (P-218)
Take the example of marriage.
“Who’s winning in your marriage?” is a ridiculous question. If both people aren’t winning, both are losing.”
Seek first to understand then to be understood
It’s like stepping into someone else’s shoes.
There are four dimensions of communication: reading, writing, talking and listening. How much time do we really spend listening? Covey wants us to practice empathetic listening. We need to be more empathetic in listening instead of only being sympathetic.
Listening carefully before speaking is the best way of understanding and learning.
“When we really, deeply understand each other, we open the door to creative solutions …” (P-271)
Empathetic listening can create the bridge of communication by chasing away the gulf of misunderstanding. It also chases away the stumbling blocks in communication and turns them into stepping stones to synergy.
Synergy means combination of different energies. It makes a bridge of association, communication and collaboration with different kinds of people. It’s not only to tolerate difference of opinion, but also to celebrate that and to make use of the differences for a larger interest. Interdependency is a decision which only independent people can make. It means that your success is tied with other people’s success, and that you work together. Working together can achieve a lot more than you do independently. Covey calls it ‘Creative Corporation’/
“…[E]ffective interdependence can only be built on a foundation of true independence.” (P-195)
- Sharpening the saw
You need to sharpen your saw in all the four dimensions of your life; physical, mental, social and emotional and spiritual, regularly and consistently in a wise and balanced way. Sharpening the saw can save half your time. For instance, you see a guy cutting a tree with the rough saw and you say, “Hey, why don’t you sharpen the thing? It’s going to take you 6 hours at this rate.” He says, “I don’t have time to sharpen the thing.” You say, “If you spend one hour in sharpening the saw, it will take you only 3 hours to cut this tree. So sharpening the saw can save half of your time.”
This can aptly be applied to our life when we say we don’t have time to exercise, we don’t have time to invest in our family, do you know why do we say that? We say that because these are the things that are not urgent but, in fact, are the most important in our life. For instance, if you don’t exercise today, you will have to pay its price 30 years later in the form of different ailments. So, sharpening your mental saw by continuing to learn, reading books, educating yourself and teaching others, making some emotional investment in your family by spending quality time with your love ones, and by taking care of your body through exercise and taking of your soul with meditation, prayers, music, introspection and study is an investment that will make your body, mind, and people and soul an asset for you, for tomorrow.
Covey laid down the foundation of what it takes to be a great leader and the book offers groundbreaking insight into how to begin developing as a person and as a leader. Covey passed away in 2012 but his work continues to live on, proving true the maxim “No person lasts forever but books and ideas can endure.”