I read “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey 4 or 5 years ago. Back then, I was really disappointed by this book. From the title I expected very tangible rules I should follow to become more effective – e.g. to get up early in the morning, plan your day a night before, listen to audiobooks while exercising, etc. “7 Habits” didn’t provide me with anything like that. It was too philosophical, contained too much “preaching” and nothing concrete…
I even forgot I had read it once.
A couple of months ago, people started mentioning this book. I even got it as a present. Moreover, my employer sent me to a leadership training which was based on the philosophy of “7 Habits” by Stephen Covey. And suddenly, the philosophy of this book resonated with me. I realised I have been unconsciously trying to live 7 principles of effectiveness without even knowing them. I could not wait to come home and to read the book again. Fortunately, I had a vacation and could devote several hours a day to reading.
I am going to share a couple of ideas I found so simple, easy to understand, and at the same time – the hardest to implement. But this is exactly what effectiveness is about…
1. What is effectiveness?
Stephen Covey defines effectiveness as the ability and willingness to repeat the best result again, and again, and again. In other words, it is sustainable excellence. Think about it for a moment. Have you run a marathon? Are you willing and able to do it on 3 months again? Or do you still feel pain in your ankles, knees and your inner self keeps telling “no way!”. If so, it was not effective. Now think about your team in the office. Last quarter you launched the most ambitious, challenging and innovative project in the entire history of your company. The customers are happy, you even got the prize for the best project of the decade. Is your team able to repeat such an amazing result? Or did the majority of your colleagues quit their jobs right after the launch? If you are lucky and they are still there – ask the question openly. Your perception is not always accurate. Ask how they feel about it and make the conclusions.
Sustainable excellence is my new favourite paradigm of being ambitious.
2. Increase your “circle of influence”
Stephen Covey divides the environment we interact with into the “circle of concern” and the “circle of influence”. As the name says, the “circle of influence” is everything we can influence – change the way we want it to be. The “circle of concern” is broader – it is everything which has an influence on us, everything we take into consideration, everything we keep thinking about. Effective people focus on their “circle of influence”. And this is the first secret of effectiveness. Does it sound trivial? Yes, it does. But think about all tiny “problems” in your environment. How often do you complain about too cold, too hot, too rainy weather? How often do you complain about anything? Start turning your “circle of concern” into the “circle of influence”. This is what they call “proactivity”. Don’t you like your tasks in the office? Start redefining your role by yourself and then talk to your manager. Don’t you like the food in the canteen? Feel free to bring your own meal. The list is endless. Start with your “circle of influence” right now. It will grow.
One personal note: I absolutely enjoyed the entire training week. I didn’t complain about anything simply because I would not know what to complain about. I liked every single minute of our stay in Belgium. But… There was one thing… The pillow and the mattress were awful. I could not sleep properly for 2 nights. I wanted to change them, but there was no alternative. On the third day, I briefly mentioned it to a colleague. She screamed out: “Yes, I know! I felt the same last night, but today I decided to apply what we learnt and to broaden my “circle of influence”! She talked to the hotel personnel, checked the sofa in the dining room and borrowed some pillows from there… I decided to do the same – and voila – it was the best night ever!
We can influence much more than we imagine and even dare to imagine.
3. “Sharpen the saw”
You definitely heard this old anecdote about a man who was trying to fall a tree for several hours. A traveller saw him and suggested to sharpen the saw. The man answered that he had no time to sharpen the saw.
It sounds crazy but this is what we often do without even acknowledging it. People spend a fortune on medicine but keep eating bad food and complaining they don’t have enough money for healthier meals. They don’t exercise because the gym is either too expensive or takes too much time. They don’t read a single book. They go on vacation to cross out a bucket list and then come home to relax. Almost all of us do it in one or several aspects of our lives.
“Sharpen the saw” is the 7th habit on Covey’s list. But for me, it is the most straightforward to start with.
We have 4 sources of energy. It is crucial to renew the energy coming from all 4 sources – physical, mental, spiritual and social. In the short run, we can compensate lacking energy from one source by the energy coming from another source. But in the long run, we still need the balance between the 4.
a) Physical energy
Yes, it is inevitable to be physically active in order to be effective. I guess everybody knows it and tries to exercise a couple of times a week. But this is not the entire trick. We have to train 3 different dimensions of the physical energy – endurance, flexibility, and strength. If we neglect for example flexibility, sooner or later we’ll have issues with endurance and strength.
Here comes my first promise – I will not only exercise regularly but will try to balance flexibility, strength and endurance exercises.
b) Mental energy
Did you like studying when you were a child? Most people didn’t. This is probably an answer to why we stop studying after the graduation party. I know you’ll contradict: “I am not like this. I did additional professional qualification exams and attended several trainings. I am learning constantly.” This is great. But when did you read a book about biology, chemistry, history, mathematics or physics if it is not part of your job?.. a couple of years ago? It’s time to change it.
In order to renew our mental energy, we could:
- read books and research papers (yes, try to read a recent research paper on a subject you are not an expert in; isn’t it stimulating?)
- write (not only emails in the office or WhatsApp messages)
- plan, structure and visualise your life
And yes, you do have time for it! If you didn’t, you would not spend 50 hours a week online (see shocking statistics here).
My promise number 2 – to read, to write and to plan every week!
c) Spiritual energy
Everybody has to find her own way to renew the spiritual energy. Religious people go to the church, to the mosque and pray. Somebody else meditates. Every person can start reading philosophy classics and thinking about personal values and beliefs. Clarifying and prioritizing your own values is essential for becoming truly effective.
My third promise – write down my values and regularly check if they are still as important to me as they were a year or a month ago.
d) Social, or emotional, energy
Even if you hate communication, you still have to renew your social energy. Stephen Covey gives a great piece of advice on how to do it.
Have you ever experienced a situation when somebody else believed in you more than you did? Did this person help you grow? Sure! But the truth is – you also helped this person grow. Help other people see the best in themselves – and the miracles will happen! J.W. Goethe once said: “Treat the person as he is, and he will always stay as he is; treat the same person as the person he can become – and he’ll become this person.”
You will win twice – you’ll broaden your “circle of influence” and renew your social energy.
My forth promise – not only will I see the great potential in people I interact with (to be honest, I often do) but I will also communicate it to them directly (even if they think I am crazy…)
There are tons of other ideas, concepts and takeaways I could share from the book and the training. But currently, I still struggle to structure them meaningfully. This is my personal challenge from the training – to structure everything in my life 🙂
Link to the book on Amazon – https://amzn.to/2R46qOb