When my dad, Dr. Stephen Covey, first wrote the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he spent a year working almost exclusively on it, distilling his thoughts, crafting the narrative and developing his recommendations.
Soon after he was done, he sat down with his staff and announced that he immediately needed to rewrite the whole thing.
The problem wasn’t with the writing or the insights, but he decided he had underestimated the importance of the sequence of his 7 habits. They weren’t just seven random ideas; they all worked together in order, and he knew that he had to redo the whole book with that frame of reference in mind.
Think about it. Maybe you’re having a relationship problem with your spouse or with a colleague. The answer isn’t to work on that relationship directly; you have to go fix yourself first. You’ve got to go back and, with your own self-awareness, reinvent your thinking and your approach to the relationship. Maybe check your motives and your end goals. You have to win your private victory before you can effectively work with other people.
That’s the sequence problem my dad addressed when he reworked his book. The first three habits work well together, and so do the second three, but then the seventh sharpens them all. Can you work on any one of the habits individually? Yes, of course, and that will likely help you tremendously. But they do all work together, with each habit strengthening the previous one.
I’ve taken time to reflect on why we still need dad’s book 30 years later. Quite frankly, it’s because many of us still have room for improvement. So in the interest of helping you embrace the right habits, here’s my take on “The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People”:
Habit 1: React.
Blame all your problems on your lousy boss, your parents, your genes, your spouse, your partner, your ex, the economy, the government or something else. Be a victim. Take no responsibility for your life. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re angry, yell. If someone says something rude to you, be rude back.
Habit 2: Begin with Squat in Mind.
Don’t plan ahead. Don’t set goals. And don’t worry about the consequences of your actions. Go with the flow. Live for the moment and party on, for tomorrow you may die.
Habit 3: Put First Things Last.
Procrastinate. Do the urgent things first, like answering every ring, bling, and beep that comes your way. You’ll get to the important stuff later. Don’t worry about strengthening your relationships; they’ll always be there. And why exercise? You still have your health. Just make sure you spend sufficient time each day watching YouTube.
Habit 4: Think Win-Lose.
See life as a vicious competition. Everyone’s out to get you, so you’d better get them first. Don’t let others succeed because, remember, if they win, you lose. If it looks like you’re going to lose, however, make sure you drag the winner down with you.
Habit 5: Seek First to Talk, Then Pretend to Listen.
You were born with a mouth, so use it. Talk a lot. Make sure everyone understands your views first. Then, if you must, pretend to listen by saying “uh-huh” while daydreaming about what you want for lunch. Or, if you really want their opinion, give it to them.
Habit 6: Be an Island.
Let’s face it, other people are weird because they’re different than you. So why try to get along with people? Teamwork is overrated. Cooperation slows everything down. So, bag it. Since you always have the best ideas, you’re better off just doing things by yourself. Be your own special island.
Habit 7: Burn Yourself Out.
Be too busy driving to take time to get gas. Be too busy living to take time to recharge and renew. Don’t learn new things. Avoid exercise like the plague. And for heaven’s sake, stay away from good books, nature, art, music, or anything else that may inspire you. And don’t even think about serving your friends, family or community. You’ve got too much on your plate to give back. Burn, baby, burn.
Clearly, these are not the habits we are after. But too often we practice them because they represent the course of least resistance (myself included).
You may think you can’t change your approach to life or problems, that you don’t have time to exercise, go to lunch with a friend, read a book, write in your journal, take a break or go on a family vacation.
In reality, we have the power to do all of these things. And in the process become our most highly effective selves.