SEVEN

By James Jimenez

From time to time during my live broadcasts on TikTok – yes, that TikTok – I get asked for book recommendations. When that happens, my mind just defaults to books like Startide Rising by David Brin, the Left-Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson. I would say Lord of the Rings and Dune, but too many people get caught up in the simplified movie versions that they tend not to appreciate the complexity of the source material. Having said that, almost by reflex, I recommend works of fiction. But when I get asked for a non-fiction recommendation, my go-to book is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

A different kind of self-help book

Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits is a stand-out because it isn’t preachy or promises that “if you just do this thing I tell you to do, prosperity will be yours!” Instead of that sort of florid language, it is squarely based on principles that resonate with our own daily struggles. It focuses on character and personal growth, and doesn’t promise silver-bullet quick fixes. Instead, it teaches you the practical principles that underpin success in various situations, both personal and professional. It advocates making these principles – what Covey calls the 7 Habits – integral to your daily life, in the same way that our habits are part and parcel of how and why we do the things we do.

Be Proactive

We should take control of our own lives, instead of just reacting to what’s happening around us. Proactivity shifts our focus from external circumstances, which are beyond our control, and teaches us to take charge of the circumstances that are in our control – our choices and our actions. By being proactive, you’re not just reacting to situations as they arise; you’re anticipating, planning, and taking control of your actions and environment, in effect tailoring them to increase your chances of success.

Imagine you have a big project due in a month. Being proactive means you start planning and working on it right away, even before you actually have to. Long before the deadline, you break down the project into smaller tasks, set deadlines for each task, and create a schedule to stay on track. This tactic of grappling with the task early on, means you have more time to do the work, thus reducing the stress, ensuring the quality of your output, and giving you ample time to address any unexpected challenges that may arise.

Begin with the end in mind

It is impossible to overstate the importance of having a clear vision of what we want to achieve, right from the outset. If you want to improve your over-all health and well-being, for instance, beginning with the end in mind means defining, ahead of time, what it means to “improve over-all health and well-being.” Does it mean being a certain weight? Does it mean lowering your blood pressure? Does it mean dealing with stress better?

When you’ve defined the parameters of your end goal, it becomes possible to adjust your current circumstances to increase the likelihood of meeting those parameters. So, if you’ve set a target weight, you can now come up with a plan cut out dysfunctional eating habits for instance, or embarking upon a diet. By knowing what we want before we start anything, we’re giving ourselves a map towards the end goal, allowing us to stay on track, avoid distractions, and take focused and purposeful actions.

Put first things first

You know how, when you’re writing a paper, you can’t seem to start unless you have the light just right, with your venti coffee close to hand, and the perfect writing music playing softly in the background? You tend to fuss about getting all those things set-up, before you can even write a single word of your paper. Some people literally can’t even get started unless everything is perfect. The next thing you know, you’ve wasted all of your time with inconsequential things, forcing you to cram. Putting first things first means, most simply, recognizing what you need to do to get the job done, versus all the other things that are nice to have but may not be all that important to achieving your goals, and then having the discipline to prioritize the really important stuff.

Think win-win

Life isn’t a competition where someone has to lose. Rather, it is about seeking a solution where everyone benefits.

Imagine working on a project with a colleague, and there’s a disagreement on how to proceed. Instead of insisting on your way or letting them have their way – which might lead to resentment on both sides – you both sit down and discuss your perspectives. You listen to each other’s ideas and find a middle ground that incorporates the best parts of both suggestions. This way, the project benefits from your combined strengths, and both of you feel valued and respected.

I admit, thinking “win-win” can be a bit difficult. It requires deliberate effort to keep open communication, exercise empathy, and apply creativity in a situation you may not be particularly fond of. But by focusing on mutual benefits instead of just trying to ram through what you want, you build stronger relationships and create more positive outcomes in both personal and professional settings.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood

In world that prizes assertiveness, we are used to driving our point home without listening to other perspectives. Seeking first to understand, then to be understood represents a different approach. Simply put, it means we ought to make the effort to truly understand where someone else is coming from before we insist on our own perspective.

Suppose your teenage child is acting out and refusing to do their homework. Instead of jumping straight to punishment or lectures, this approach means you listen to your child’s feelings and determine why they are acting the way they are. If you do, you’re probably going to discover the reasons why they’re resisting doing homework – they might be struggling with that particular subject, or they might be facing social pressures at school that distracts them from their academic work. By understanding their situation, you can address the root causes, instead of just punishing them or enforcing your expectations. Needless to say, this approach works well in professional settings as well.

Synergize

“Synergy” refers to the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or individuals to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Thus, to synergize means to recognize the value of what others bring to the table – their strengths, perspectives, connections – and folding that into the work of achieving your goals. In a word, to synergize means teamwork, and teamwork fosters creativity, innovation, and a sense of unity, leading to more effective and satisfying results.

Sharpen the saw

In essence, “sharpen the saw” is about taking proactive steps to renew and strengthen yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Just like a saw needs regular maintenance and care if it is to keep its edge sharp, you need to take care of yourself too, so you always stay in top-form. By prioritizing self-care and personal growth in these areas, you enhance your effectiveness, well-being, and overall quality of life. It’s a habit that promotes long-term success and fulfillment by avoiding short-term burn-out – a phenomenon we see too much of in young professionals nowadays.

10/10 would recommend

Reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a game-changer for me. It opened my eyes to all the different ways I was sabotaging my own success. Reading it – and trying to internalize it – has helped me to take control, set clear goals, prioritize, collaborate, listen better, and take care of myself. It’s a continuing struggle, I must admit, and from time to time, I do crack open my dog-eared copy of the book to remind me of its principles. Bottom line, the Seven Habits do make a real difference, and 10/10, I would recommend.

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