I heard about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey some years ago, but had not the opportunity (or should I say the chance) to read it until when I enrolled in the Adult and Vocational Program at CSUSB. However, when I started to read this great book (a recommended book for EVOC 518), I said to myself "you should have read this book before now." So, I couldn’t put it away until the last page! The contents of the book are anything new, but Covey has the skill to beautifully package and market old information as if they are new. In fact, I should have read this book (one that involves a serious work) before writing my books. This book would inspire some positive changes in those who have read it.
Nevertheless, before anyone could adopt or benefit from "the seven habits," one needs to undergo what Stephen R. Covey calls a "paradigm shift" -a term coined by Thomas Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (pp.23-44). This means having a change in perception and interpretation of how the world works. He believes that ‘true success’ encompasses a balance of personal and professional effectiveness; so this book is a manual for performing better in both arenas.
Thus, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People presents a holistic, integrated, principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems. And it meticulously takes you through the changes, which affects how you perceive and act regarding productivity, time management, and how to develop positive thinking. Although this book is a good guide to success (to make a relationship with other people), these concepts - ‘the 7 habits’ - are not easy to grasp. In other words, they are intricate! Therefore, one needs to really study this book to appreciate the contents. As Covey points out (just as some of us may already know), there are ‘no quick fixes’ to problems. We have to develop ‘a new level of thinking’ to solve some of our problems. Albert Einstein put it right "The significant problems we face [today] cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them" (p.42). But as human beings, most of us do not seem to put this practice in our daily interactions.
This book reveals a step-by-step approach to living with fairness, integrity, honesty, human dignity, and taking responsibility for our actions or inaction. These are principles that would enable us to adapt to ‘change and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.’ Life is a continuum – and interrelated and progressive. And this is beautifully illustrated with the "Maturity Continuum," which takes us from dependence to independence to interdependence" (p.49). So, we need one another to be successful in life. However, our ‘social maps’ – our genetic make up, psychic, and our environment – is our ‘social mirror’ (pp.67-68).
Thus, we live our life according to the "scripts" we acquired in life; and our "scripts" direct our reactions and respond to stimuli. However, through proper socialization we can change the person we are - we have the ability, as human beings, to change our "scripts" so as to have better reaction to stimuli. I used to get very serious with life and easily getting upset when things are going my way, but this book has really shown me ‘a new level of thinking.’ For instance, "if you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person who generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it" (p.43).
One of the reasons I like this book is because Stephen R. Covey used some of his real experiences in this book; and it provides readers the pathway to making some positive changes in their lives. In fact, they are currently impacting to way I perceive and handle challenges in my family, marriage, and my job. For instance, I thought all along that I was "proactive" but after reading this book it seems that I am a "reactive" person. It seems that I have been very deep in myself and don‘t ‘listen with the intent to under-stand" but to "listen with the intent to reply" (p.239). Often it seems that I hear only ‘what I wanted to hear’ when communicating with my spouse, etc. After reading this book I started to practice more of what Covey calls "empathic listening" (p.240).
Therefore, The ‘7 habits’ -Be Proactive, Begin with the end in mind, Put first things first, Think win/win, Seek first to understand…then to be understood, Synergies, and Sharpen the Saw - are principles we should emulate. As Covey notes ‘as individuals, groups, and business’ we do not succeed in our ventures because we do not realize that we are operating in ‘the wrong jungle.’ We have to realize that our "effectiveness – often even survival -does not depend solely on how much effort we expend, but on whether or not the effort we is in the right jungle" (p.101).
Sometimes we perceive ourselves in a distorted and fruitless perspective. Some of us perceive life from the point of view of material possession – money and big house - and often we hinge our emotional well being on all that. And some us would never purse to ask - what if I lose all that? We tend to forget that these material things are not permanent –they could evaporate! So, Steven R. Covey argues that we need to be driven by the principle we value and hold close to our heart - the principles that are permanent! I strongly believe that peace of mind comes from within (and not from outside) when your life is in harmony with true or correct principles and values. We should not waste much of our energy on those areas of life we have no real control over- our ‘Circle of Concern.’ Therefore, we should direct our attention to the areas we have control over – our ‘Circle of Influence" (pp.81-85). As it were, we have no control over others, but ourselves!
And if you want to be in good relationship with others we should invest in them. In other words, our relationship with others should be based on deposits and withdrawals to the "emotional bank accounts," which ‘describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.’ In other words, it is ‘the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.’ Just as you must save some money in your Bank Account to make some withdrawal, one has to make more ‘deposit’ than ‘withdrawal’ to build a good ‘reserve’ –trust. And you have to show this through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping your commitment with your spouse or somebody you have a regard for (p.188). However, in some cases the attitude of the other person (your spouse, etc) you are in relationship with, or the system you find yourself in, could impact the way one behaves. Quite often, a bad system corrupts or negatively affects good people. And this book touches on those.
The ‘7 basic habits" as postulated in this book, have made a major impact in my life. In fact, I probably could not have read this book without taking this class. I enjoyed reading Covey’s explanation of the interrelationship of Independence and Interdependence. In real or actual life Independence is an illusion; life is full of total co-dependence for existence and survival. Interdependence, as Covey rightly notes, is the highest level of true human maturity - the heart of socialism, the soul of strong families,’ marriages, and moral businesses. As the saying goes, Nobody can survive as an ‘Island.’ And as Covey notes, one of the practical results of being "principle-centered is that it makes us whole – truly integrated" (275).
As a student of leadership I also enjoyed reading the section on the ‘Principles of Interpersonal Leadership" (pp.205-234). I agree with Covey that "the basic task of leadership is to increase the standard of living and the quality of life for all stakeholders" (p.218). And I also subscribe to the "process of continuous improvement," which is the hallmark of the Total Quality Movement – a key to Japan’s economic success (p.303).
However, Covey’s discussion of "win/win" ideal, as it relates to true human condition, is very difficult to practice in our materialistic and competitive society. In real world we want to outdo our competitors – in business, etc. We, therefore, want them to ‘lose’ while we ‘win’. So, in real world we practice mostly the "win/lose" mentality. Thus, we tend to forget Covey's ideal of "abundance mentality" and always struggle to ‘win’ (p219).
Finally, whether we agree with all the ‘7 Habits’ or not, let’s try to work towards achieving unity-oneness-with ourselves, with our loved ones, with our friends, our students, and our working associates. Covey urged everyone to "Sharpen the Saw," which ‘means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have’ and ‘having a balanced, systematic program for the four areas of our lives; physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.’ Thus, we must try to avoid passing on your "negative scripts to the next generation" and work harder "to rise above [the] negative scripting that had been passed down to" you (316). This would make the world a better place for everyone.
I admire Mr. Covey’s immense skills in marketing his work. As a writer, I fully subscribe to the views of many renowned authors that the most difficult part of writing a book is marketing your ideas to the public. This book, which I perceive as a manual for self-improvement, is a must read! Please read it and pass it on to others!
Covey, Stephen R, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, [New York: Free Press (paperback edition) 2003].