By Anita Anand
Learn about the seven habits, which lead to improvements in all four dimensions of our lives, physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional
I first heard about Stephen Covey in 1990, while visiting my friend Esther, at Philadelphia in the US. Esther, a high school teacher, was taking a course, based on Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. She asked me to join her. The teacher asked the students what inspired them the most from the previous weeks’ reading. Esther said that it was when Covey asked, whether we could practice to not say anything behind a person’s back that we could not say to their face. Imagine what a powerful concept that is.
Published in 1989, Covey’s self-help book sold over 15 million copies in 38 languages. It lists seven principles, which, if established as habits, can help people achieve true interdependent effectiveness. Covey argues that you can achieve it by aligning yourself, to what he calls “true north” principles of a character ethic, which he believes to be universal, and timeless. What are the seven habits?
The seven habits
• Be proactive: Taking responsibility for every aspect of your life is being proactive. After this, initiative and action will follow. Covey says this separates us from animals, as we have the ability to detach and observe ourselves. We can think about our thoughts, and this attribute gives us the power not to be affected by circumstances. At the opposite end, being reactive is blaming other people and circumstances, for obstacles or problems.
• Begin with the end in mind: This is about setting long-term goals. Covey recommends formulating a ‘personal vision statement’ to document one’s perception of one’s own vision in life, with visualization as an important tool to develop this. This is also true for, and applicable to organizational vision statements. They can be more effective if developed with the support of all members of an organization rather than prescribed.
• Put first things first: This is about developing a framework for prioritizing work. Tasks that are not urgent, but are in fact, very important, should not be sacrificed for short-term goals. Delegation is an important part of time management. Successful delegation, according to Covey, focuses on results and benchmarks, agreed upon in advance, rather than prescribed as detailed work plans.
• Think win-win: This is an attitude, which results in mutually beneficial solutions that satisfy the needs of oneself, or, in the case of a conflict, both parties involved. Covey also warns of the consequences of thinking win-lose, or lose-lose.
• Seek to understand others first, and then seek to be understood by others: Giving advice, before having understood a person, and his situation, generally results in rejection of the advice. A monologue of the story of your life will decrease the chance of establishing a working communication.
• Synergise: This is a way of working in teams by applying effective problem solving, collaborative decision making, valuing differences, building on divergent strengths, encouraging creative collaboration, and embracing innovation. When synergy is pursued as a habit, the result of the teamwork will exceed the sum of what each of the members could have achieved individually. In short, it is the principle of “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
• Sharpen the saw: This focuses on expressing all four motivations – physical (exercise, nutrition, stress management), mental (reading, writing, visualizing, planning), social/emotional (service, empathy, synergy and intrinsic security), and spiritual (value clarification and commitment, study and meditation).
In 1991, I bought Covey’s book, went through it, and put it on my bookshelf. I confess that I did not practice it. Now, almost 18 years later, I picked up his chapter on Renewal and read it seriously. So, what exactly is Renewal?
For Covey, it is Habit 7 or taking the time to ‘sharpen the saw’. It is preserving, and enhancing the greatest asset we have – us. It is renewing the four dimensions of our nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. This is the single most powerful investment we can make in life – investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have to deal with life and to contribute. Covey calls it ‘sharpening the saw’ or expressing all four motivations, exercising all four dimensions of our nature regularly and consistently, in wise and balanced ways.
The four dimensions
I like what writer Rumer Godden says, “Everyone is a house with four rooms: Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.” I can relate to this.
Since I became an adult, it has been difficult for me to go to each room every day, even just to air it. I did not know, there were rooms, the precise nature, and the importance of visiting each one, even if to air it. I was in one room or another. While I enjoyed being in the room I was in at that time, I knew I was missing something. It took me a while to get to this point. While there were signs – poor physical and mental health, unhappy relationships – I could not make the connection. I attempted renewal (as I reflect back now) in small ways. About ten years ago, I realized that I needed serious and balanced intervention. How do we renew ourselves in the four dimensions?
According to Covey:
• Renewing the physical dimension involves caring effectively for our physical body, by eating the right foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis. A good exercise program is one that you can do in your home, which will build your body in three areas: endurance, flexibility, and strength. Endurance comes with aerobic exercise – the ability of your heart to pump blood through your body – with rapid walking, running, biking, swimming, and jogging. Flexibility comes through stretching – yoga and simple exercises to stretch various muscles. Strength comes from muscle-resistant exercises – push-ups, sit-ups, and simple calisthenics.
• Renewing the spiritual dimension is providing leadership to our lives. It is our core, our center, and commitment to our value systems. People find various things useful to them – prayer, meditation, reading a good book, listening to music that elevates them, communing with nature.
• Renewing the mental dimension is learning to be a lifelong learner. Reading and writing, contribute to organizing and planning – beginning with the end in mind. We need to spend one hour a day every day on this.
• Renewing the social/emotional dimension is centered on the principles of interpersonal leadership, empathetic communication, and creative cooperation. The social and emotional dimensions are tied together. Our emotional life is primarily, but not exclusively, developed out of and manifested, in our relationships with others. Success does not come easy, as it is not a product of intellect. It is primarily a matter of emotion highly related to our sense of personal security.
Intrinsic or personal security comes from within, from our principles. It comes from living a life of integrity in which our daily habits reflect our deepest values. It comes from effective interdependent living in which we authentically, creatively, cooperatively interact with people, and experience these interdependent habits. It comes from service or helping people in a meaningful way. This could be work or anonymous service, where influence, not recognition becomes the motive.
The self-renewal process must include balanced renewal in all four dimensions of our nature: physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional. Neglect of any area affects the others negatively. What was I doing wrong before I moved towards getting it right? I was eating healthy since the mid-’70s, exercising, swimming, doing yoga, had a good circle of friends, and hard work that made me happy. I used to read, write, listen to music, take photographs, and commune with nature. What then, was missing from my life?
I had not made peace with unresolved issues and conflicts – parents, siblings, guilt at being away from my parents when they needed me, and people. I did everything, but not deliberately or mindfully. I tended to be more reactive than proactive. I was there, but not there. When I hurt, I pretended I did not. I smiled when I felt like crying. When I cried, it was alone. I had a hard shell around a rather soft interior, which I did not want people to see. Indeed, even I did not want myself to see it. Over a period, I learned that what I needed was balanced renewal. What is this?
Balanced renewal is optimally synergetic. Covey points out that improvement in one habit synergetically (combined effort being greater than the parts) increases our ability to live the rest. For example, the more proactive we are (Habit 1), the more effectively we can exercise personal leadership (Habit 2), and management (Habit 3) in our life. The more effectively we manage our life (Habit 3), the more renewing activities you can do (Habit 7). The more we seek first to understand (Habit 5), the more effectively we are in the synergetic Win/Win solutions (Habits 4 and 6). The more we improve in any of the habits that led to independence (Habits 1, 2, 3), the more effective we are in interdependent situations (Habits 4, 5, 6). Renewal (Habit 7) is the process of renewing all the habits.
Very often, I have felt that I cannot take time out for renewal as I have responsibilities in the economic sphere. Nevertheless, I soon learned that my economic security does not lie in my job or career; it lies in my power to produce – to think, learn, create, and adapt. Over the last decade, I have made a commitment that my renewal lies in daily activities that keep me in good physical shape (the treadmill, walking, and swimming). I select activities in my personal life such as writing, reading, learning a new skill (for me learning to upload photos into the computer, organize, share, and use them). I write – almost daily – a blog on a site. I keep track of my family and friends, and reach out to people I do not know once or twice a week. I try to do water coloring several times a month and take a trip to renew myself (to the hills) once in two months.
In the final analysis, renewal is the principle and process, which empowers us to move on an upward spiral of growth, change, and continuous improvement. Covey speaks of one more aspect of renewal, which is essential to this movement upwards, the conscience. I call this ‘listening to my voice’, and I have attended to all such voices, in my adult life. Training and education of the conscience require great concentration, balanced discipline, and consistently honest living. It is about living in harmony with ‘our little voice’.
So, are you ready to sharpen the saw, and renew yourself in the house with four rooms?
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