The End

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!

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 yourselves. 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 did not receive resources, my mood spiralled down. I just couldn’t BE positive and happy for others. IT WAS SOOO UNFAIR. But I think I am 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.

Watch Your Language

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.

Habit 1: More than pulling the finger out

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?

The Golden Egg

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

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.

Jesus wept.

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”.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

This is how Psalm 22 starts, and also what Jesus says on the cross before he dies. Did he just pray Psalm 22, as a sign that these words written by King David one thousand years before the crucifixion were now fulfilled? Or does Jesus really mean it? Or both? “Meaning it” like a genuine expression of what was on his mind at this point in time. If Jesus really meant it, what does that mean to us? Did he not know what would be coming? Was he surprised that dying on the cross also meant feeling forsaken by God? Did God actually forsake him? Did Jesus really ask “why” and not know? The thought that these questions might have the answer “Yes” is gut wrenching. And it would mean vulnerability is somehow godly.

Paradigm Shift

I am not even sure what paradigm means, but the story Covey tells in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to illustrate a paradigm shift got me thinking. It is about a situation in the morning on the New York underground. Everyone is in their little, quiet commuter bubble, the same way I know it from London. Until a guy with his two kids enters the coach, the kids behaving in a way that can only be described as disruptive, disrespectful and rude. After a while Covey, sitting next to the father, tries to give him a subtle hint about the situation and whether there is a way to get the kids under control. The father answers in a calm voice: “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.” – Boom. That puts the whole situation in a totally different light. That’s a paradigm shift, I reckon. How often do we look a things in our life with a certain presumption not even thinking of the possibility to question it?

Fresh

A line in Exodus makes me think:

No-one is to keep any of it until morning. – Exodus 16,19

It is Moses who said this to the Israelites about the manna, the bread from heaven that had been feeding over a million people for 40 years while they were roaming through the desert. When Moses said that, it was the first day the manna had appeared and so he explained the rules: it is only for today, it can’t be kept and stored for tomorrow. In the New Testament it becomes clear the manna is a symbol for Jesus and how he himself came down from heaven as daily bread for all of us. And I think that the same rules apply: I cannot store up Jesus, I cannot replace a daily relationship with him with things that happened yesterday. Jesus’ lifegiving grace has to stay fresh, every day new.