Use your right brain, says the 7 Habits book. It sounds a bit like there is also a wrong brain, but no, of course it’s about the right and left halfs of your brain and what amazing stuff they can do. This is all in context of finding your mission statement by the way. I am very pleased that the Habit 2 chapter does not stop with just telling you: “Put a mission statement together! How, that is your problem.” Far from it. Covey gives you quite useful tips how you can dig out the hidden values that make you. One tip is to use the right brain, the part that works with images, emotions and creativity. But how to start? Remember the example with the board game, where I always lose against lovely people, but I just can’t be happy for them, but only get miserable, because it’s so unfair? Using the right side of the brain might be able to help here. I first have to write down, how I want the situation to look like and include 5 ingredients in it: stuff that’s personal, positive, in present tense, visual and emotional. It could look like this: I (personal) enjoy (emotional) seeing my sister, brother-in-law and nephew being so exited about having incredible luck playing the board game (visual) and share (present tense) true feelings of excitement and happiness with them (positive). Once written down, I continue with my right brain to visualise the situation in much detail. The joy on their faces, the smiles, the laughter, the drinks and snacks on the table, the family unity and time together… Ok, I am prepped up now. I can’t wait to play the stupid game again and see if it works.
The 7 Habit books talks about writing a mission statement. It’s probably kind of to ensure, that the ladder we are climbing up is not leaning against the wrong wall (or no wall at all). I find this tasks extremely difficult. Life seems to be like a big maze. We make choices, or choices are made for us, and we go down one direction. Do we know where this path will lead in the end? Will it be a dead end and don’t lead anywhere? Is death not the end of all of our lives? What will last, when I am dead? What legacy will I leave in this world? Or lets turn the question around: On my death bed, what are the things I won’t bother being known for? Watching TV shows, playing the latest video games or having a good dress sense? Being always right, clever, smart, cool, witty and handsome? All these things seem to have quite a priority in the world around us, but thinking about it, they have no value when you face the end. What is it then? Am I on a mission to find a mission?
If you want to start things with the end in mind (as Habit 2 of the 7 Habits book tells us) you first need to create the end. Or better, what the end, the result, the outcome should look like. Some people might call it having a vision or a mission statement or even a constitution in context of a whole nation. The catch is, normally these things don’t just pop into our minds. Visions, results, desired outcomes and constitutions need to be formed, gathered, defined. It is a creative thinking process. It is the first creation, which is always done with our minds. Once formed we can ensure our resources and actions are directed towards the right thing. If I am climbing up a ladder, I better make sure it is leaned against the right wall. If I fight through a jungle, I better make sure it’s the right jungle. The first creation of everything is done in our minds, which then brings the second creation into the physical reality. If I don’t follow that principle I don’t create at all, but just live my life by somebody else’s script. And nobody really wants to do that, right?
It came a little bit as a shock, the Habit 2 introduction. Habit 2 made immediately sense to me: “Begin With The End in Mind”. Been there, done that, got the Tshirt – what’s next. – A funeral came next. Covey said we should picture ourselves at the funeral of a loved person. What would we think, what memories would we cherish, what would we say to the others about the loved one who died? And now – it’s getting a bit morbid – walk to the coffin and look inside and see… You. It is you, who is in the coffin. It is your funeral. What do you want people to think about you, talk about you, remember you for when you die? I have to say, for a business self-help book, this is tough stuff. It goes to the essence of who we are and what we are made of. When you strip everything away, what is left? Begin with the end in mind, quite literally.
Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it and learn from it. Don’t get into a blaming mode. Work on things you have control over. Work on you. On be.
This is quoted from the last page of the Habit 1 chapter in the 7 Habits book. And this is what “being proactive” is all about. It is about ourselves. Sometimes it seems there is close to nothing we can do. The truth is, there is almost always something we can do and unless we do it, positive change is unlikely. We can’t change all of our circumstances, but we can choose how to respond to them.
I tried this yesterday, when playing Settlers of Catan at my sister’s. I hate this board game, because I always lose against the odds. It makes me feel like the unluckiest person at the table, while everyone else has a blast. Yesterday was no exception. With the 7 Habits in mind, I tried to change my response and to be happy for the lovely people at the table, who were blessed with unbelievable luck. But I couldn’t. I just COULDN’T. When the die produced unlikely 3s and 4s like there was no tomorrow, and I was the one who was left out round after round, my mood spiralled down. I just couldn’t BE positive and happy for others. IT WAS SOOO UNFAIR. But I think I might be on to something: Whenever life seems to be (IS!!) unfair, I withdraw and sulk. Let’s see how much “working on me” it takes to figure that one out.
So, it’s all about getting into Habit 1, huh? Things can sometimes sound so easy. “I told you, be more proactive! Just do it!” A friend once said to me: “Self-help books are like strong espresso. It gives you this extra boost when you have it, but it does not last for long.” I know what he means. But is this not exactly what the 7 Habits book does not stand for, the quick fix that does not last? Is not about this inside-out approach? Nice ideas, but how to get to an inside-out proactivity? The book suggests to work on self-awareness. One way to do that is to watch your language. For Habit 1: Be Proactive it could be words like: I don’t have the time; I can’t do it; this person makes me mad; if I had more money … all stand for a reactive attitude and show I make others and circumstances responsible for situations in my life. Proactive language looks more like this: I have other priorities; I choose not to do that; it is up to me how I respond to the weird and wonderful around me; let’s see what options there are to improve my financial situation … Watching your language does not mean to force yourself to use “better” words in order to reprogram yourself (even thought that might also work to some extent). It is more about making reactive thinking habits visible, so that you can explore the underlying reasons, question them and work on a paradigm shift, a change of how to view the situation. Phew, a simple “Just do it” sounds so much easier, right? But to be fair, no one said it’s gonna be easy.
I have reached the Habit 1 now, after reading through 60 pages of preparation. The 7 Habits book is different to what I thought it was, in a good way somehow. It seems to come with a twist to many thoughts that you thought you have heard before. No surprise that Covey takes his time before he even starts talking about the seven habits that apparently will change your life. He tries to initiate a paradigm shift in his readers, a shift from quick fix to sustainable growth, from outwards to inwards, from being a rat in a rat race to becoming human. One of the key thoughts about being human is that we are able to respond to the things that happen around us, to us, and within us. Humans can take a step back and think about what they think about. With that comes the ability to respond rather than to simply react as an impulse. This makes us responsible: able to respond, able to choose, able to be proactive rather than reactive. Which leads to the wording of Habit 1: Be Proactive. As the introduction to the first habit suggests, it means more than just to pull the finger out. It’s obvious, right?
Ever heard about the story of the goose who laid golden eggs? Anyone? No? Me neither. Until today. This is how the story goes. It’s very simple. Poor farmer’s boy owns a goose, who suddenly lays a golden egg. In disbelief the boy checks if it is real gold. It proves to be true. The goose continues to lay one golden egg per day. The boy sells the eggs and starts doing very well for himself. But with the unexpected prosperity greed comes along. Soon one egg per day is not enough anymore. The boy thinks the secrets to the gold are inside the goose and slaughters it to get to all the gold at once. He finds nothing and loses his steady income. The End. The 7 Habits book attributes the story to Aesop, whoever that is. (I think this book is too clever for me, it quotes all these people I’ve never heard of.) Well, the story shows that if we are not prepared to put the time and effort into the things that enable the desired return, there will at some point be no return. The productivity will end. This can be applied to all kind of scenarios. I am thinking about my running: If I am not nice to my body and only ask it to do more distance and faster times without taking care of it, I am likely to end up injured and won’t be able run at all. Or work scenarios: expecting some output from my colleagues without investing in respect, communication, and trust. Same with friendships, or career moves, or creativity. There is a natural law of growth that ensures sustainability. And there are these other laws, too familiar to us, that will kill sustainable growth: greed, impatience, quick wins, cutting corners – you name it. One golden egg per day or a dead goose, that’s the question.
Interdependence is not a word used much in our daily speak; we are more familiar with the terms dependence and independence. Yet in The 7 Habits book interdependence is introduced as the next step in personal and social development – from being a dependent child, growing up, becoming more and more independent, and eventually maturing to an interdependent individual in a flourishing social context. That is, from “you”, to “I”, to “we”. That is the theory at least. I am surprised at how new this very sense-making observation feels to me. I’m not sure if there is much real interdependence (which can include physical, emotional, mental, and intellectual aspects) going on in my life. A little bit of an unsettling thought. I turned 44 last month. Surely by this point you could hope for some sign of interdependent life patterns. However, if you believe the book, I don’t seem to be alone with my lack of maturing towards more interdependency, which is one of the reasons why the book was written, I guess. Let’s see what difference the book will make for my personal growth.
It is the shortest sentence in the Bible: Jesus wept. He wept when he saw friends and family mourning Lazarus’ death (Gospel of John 11). He wept despite knowing that shortly after he would resurrect him from the dead. He wept, and people were asking could he not have kept him from dying? Jesus could have, and Jesus did a much greater thing as it turned out later. Still Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”, and he wept. It seems that knowing all the answers, knowing that it was gonna be all right in the end, did not stop him from engaging with what was happening right then, and responding to death with the most adequate human reaction: tears. And if Jesus weeps it suggests God is doing the same. Which does not really answer the big “why” question, but maybe some “hows”.