We are creatures of habit, it defines our character, and it aligns our behaviors toward a certain direction.
The seven habits that can help you become more personally and professionally effective are:
Begin with the end in mind
Put first things first
Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Sharpen the saw
Generally speaking, there are two methods to self-improvement. One is the personality ethic method. It refers to learning the skills for the behavior that you desire. For example, you might study communications or body language if you want a better relationship with others. This method neglects working on fundamental character traits, and rarely results in lasting personal growth.
The second method is the character ethic method. It focuses on working on the fundamental habits and belief systems that form your worldview. This method is far more effective and the results will endure.
For example, if you want a happy marriage, instead of learning a few techniques to make others like you more, it is far more effective to focus on becoming a positive person yourself.
We experience the world through our own paradigms, that is, our subjective feelings and understandings. When your paradigm is negative, an incident like getting lost in a foreign city might cause you annoyance from the wasted time, but if your paradigm is positive, you might find the experience exciting and you make an adventure out of it.
Shifting our paradigms is key to change. It drives our character and behaviors.
The author once experienced a paradigm shift when he was on the New York subway. A father entered the train with his children. His children immediately began to cause a disturbance while the father sat down and just closed his eyes. The author was so irritated by this that he confronted the father and asked him to control his children. The father replied that he probably should, but the children's mother died an hour ago and they're still in shock. The author's paradigm then immediately shifted from annoyance to compassion.
The paradigms to aim for should imbed universal qualities like fairness, honesty, and integrity, that most people agree are good. The seven habits will help you achieve these paradigm shifts.
Habit one: Being proactive.
One major distinction between animals and humans is that animals are slaves to external stimuli, they are reactive, whereas humans have the power to reflect on a stimuli before responding to it, we can be proactive. We have the choice to dictate how external circumstances affect our behaviors and emotions.
Reactive people tend to focus on their circle of concerns, which are things they worry about but have little control over, like bills or nuclear wars. Proactive people are focused on their circle of influence, which are things they can make an impact on. When you focus on your circle of influence, it gets bigger. When you focus on your circle of concerns, your circle of influence shrinks.
Proactivity improves your life even in the most dire situations. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who was imprisoned in multiple German concentration camps in World War II. The camp and its guards controlled virtually every aspect of his life. Even though his circumstances were horrid, Viktor decided to be proactive and chose how he responded to them. He focused on hope and the future where he's free and teaching the world about his experiences at the camp. He didn't let the camp dictate how he thought about life, a freedom he still had. His spirit inspired other prisoners and even some guards. Viktor credits this proactivity and finding a purpose in life as key to surviving the camp.
Try the 30-day proactivity challenge to improve your behavioral and emotional responses. Whenever you find yourself blaming someone or something external, remind yourself the root problem is how you choose to react to the issue.
Habit two: Begin with the end in mind.
When any action is performed, it is actually performed twice -- first in your mind and then you physically do it. The more accurate and realistic the mental image you have of the action, the better the execution will be. It's very common for professional athletes to imagine minor details of their actions before they perform them.
For any project, list the results you want and the exact steps you will take to achieve those results.
Beginning with the end in mind is also important for your larger life goals.
Being efficient means trying to complete the most amount of work in the shortest amount of time.
Being effective means you're progressing on the things that are truly important to you.
You can be efficient but be working on the wrong things and heading in the wrong direction. It is much more important to be effective and be heading in the right direction.
Imagine you're at your own funeral. What kind of things would you want your loved ones to say about you? Who do you want to be remembered as? What do you want to be remembered for? Answering these questions will help guide you finding the right direction in life.
Another helpful tool to right your path is to write a personal statement. It's a document where you define your values and the person you want to be, what you want to achieve in life, and the principles driving these goals. For example, it can include declarations like "I value my family and work equally and will strive to balance my time between them," or "I value a fair society and will use my power to positively influence public policies." A personal statement will require deep introspection and many reviews and rewrites.
Habit three: Put first things first
Time management is essential to being effective. However, many time-management techniques focus on efficiency and not effectiveness, but being effective with your time is simple, just remember "first things first". This means prioritizing your life so the important things are done first.
To help with prioritization, categorize your tasks according to two dimensions: urgency and importance. This results in a 2-by-2 matrix with four quadrants.
Urgent and important, quadrant 1: crises that require immediate attention.
Important and not urgent, quadrant 2: tasks like building important relationships and planning for the future.
Not important and urgent, quadrant 3: tasks like answering a ringing phone while working.
Not urgent and not important, quadrant 4: these tasks are time wasters.
The key quadrant to focus on, and one that many people neglect, is the second "important and not urgent" quadrant. The tasks in this quadrant will have an outsized positive impact in your life. Furthermore, the more you work in this quadrant, the fewer items you'll have in the "urgent and important" quadrant, meaning less crises in your life.
The author worked with a group of shopping-center managers. The managers knew that building relationships with the store owners will have the most positive impact. However, they only spent less than 5% of their time on it. They were more occupied with dealing with issues like creating reports and answering calls -- tasks that belong in quadrant one or three. Once the author convinced the managers to spend a third of their time developing relationships with the store owners, the result was unambiguously positive -- client satisfaction and lease revenue all went up.
Make a habit of identifying second quadrant tasks you're neglecting and commit to devote time to them will accelerate your effectiveness.
Habit four: Think "win-win".
Many people hold the "win-lose" worldview, in which they believe interactions with others always result in one person coming out on top, thus seeing the interactions as competitions. This is a harmful paradigm and will often result in "lose-lose" situations.
A more effective paradigm is the "win-win" mentality. This paradigm encourages collaboration, understanding, and finding solutions that benefit all parties.
To better achieve "win-win" outcomes, it is important to invest in "emotional bank accounts" with people you interact with. The more "deposits" you have in these bank accounts, the stronger the trust and more flexibility you'll have with your relationships.
Ways to make "deposits" include keeping promises, listening empathetically, being explicit about what you expect, maintaining personal integrity, and being courteous and sensitive in all matters.
The author has a friend who took his son on an expensive six-week road trip to see every major-league baseball team play. When the author asked if his friend liked baseball that much, the friend responded, "No, but I like my son that much." The friend knew the importance of the emotional bank account, and the trip was a large deposit.
Habit five: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
We often don't really listen to what others have to say. Instead we project our own perspective onto others and prescribe solutions without understanding them first. This is an ineffective manner of communication, people won't welcome your ideas if they don't feel understood.
We need to practice empathetic listening to be effective, which means putting yourself in the other person's perspective and trying to intellectually and emotionally understand them. This requires you to shift from the paradigm of "I'm listening so I can respond" to "I'm listening so I can really understand."
Experts in communication claim the words we say only account for 10% of information conveyed when communicating. The sounds account for 30% and the remaining 60% is from body language. Therefore, empathetic listening requires you to pay attention to the feeling and behavior of the speaker as well.
Habit six: Synergize
Synergy refers to the collaboration that occurs when the sum of individual contributions exceeds its parts. In other words, one plus one can equal three or more.
Everyone has their distinctive strengths, when we value each other's strengths and use them toward a common goal, synergy and success follows. To accomplish this, we need to listen to each other to truly understand each other's perspectives.
David Lilienthal was the head of the Atomic Energy Commission after World War II. When he initially created the group, he scheduled weeks of events for the sole purpose of the group getting to know each other. Many people criticized David's agenda, claiming that it's inefficient, but he knew the importance of synergy. During the first weeks, the group built solid connections, understood each other's perspectives, and developed trust among each other, resulting in a respectful and productive culture moving forward.
Having self-confidence, being open-minded, and believing that the combined efforts will lead to success are keys to synergizing.
Habit seven: Sharpen the saw
It is vital to take care of yourself. If not, your effectiveness will not endure. You should be regularly attending to your physical, spiritual, mental, social, and emotional needs.
Eat well, exercise regularly, and avoid unnecessary stress to remain physically healthy.
Pray, mediate, and contemplate on your life values to maintain your spiritual health.
Read high-quality literature and do some form of writing to keep yourself mentally sharp.
Develop relationships and practice empathy to be socially and emotionally healthy.