Dr. Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” sold over twenty-five million copies to those wishing to become more effective in their personal lives and at work. He explains seven habits shared by highly effective people. And, the habits work because practicing them encourage us to discover “the authentic you.”
The first three habits are “personal” victories needed to align you with what Covey calls your “true north.” True north is self-mastery, empowering yourself to write your own script, rather than the ones others write for you. These personal victories then position you to take on the four remaining “public” habits that deal with interpersonal relationships.
The 7 Habits combined create an endurable approach to life designed by you and for you.
Some of life’s problems are obvious like a personal loss or a major setback. But, what if you have every reason to be happy and there is still an emptiness that won’t go away? How do you approach a problem you can’t even explain?
A life that honors the authentic you, your true north, is a happy life. Happy lives are endurable. Covey’s Seven Habits help us find true north, to become effective, so we can write our own story.
In Covey’s Seven Habits we learn why the self-help quick fixes don’t work. And, it offers an alternative that has worked for centuries. It worked for me, and millions of others, and it can work for you.
We find ourselves in a culture of quick fixes. One that mistakes symptoms for the disease, and substitutes distractions for life. All this noise keeps us from listening to the inner voice quietly trying to tell us how to write our own great story.
“If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves.”
– Pablo Neruda
You’ve heard it said that happiness comes from within. It does if you will only let it surface.
The Authentic You
Dr. Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” offers us a way to become effective, practice a sustainable approach to life, and identify the authentic you.
His approach can last your lifetime because its’ foundation is built on the authentic you not someone else’s script. It empowers you to do the one thing you are best at, being yourself. So, it frees you to become all that you can be.
The first challenge you face writing your own story is the imbalances between your daily habits, and other people, who are perhaps well-intended but pull you in different directions.
“One of the huge imbalances in life is the disparity between your daily existence, with its routines and habits…and the dream you have deep within yourself of some extraordinarily satisfying way of living.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
The way to live a successful and happy life is a choice. The choice for the authentic you to go after your dream.
In We Are Our Choices, we shared Jeff Bezos’ thoughts about the difference between the gifts we are given and the choices we make, and how our choices will be most meaningful as we write our own story.
Your dream may be about who you strive to be, what you hope to achieve, or the life you want to live. The choices made through life in pursuit of that dream is your life’s journey and in the end, it is your story.
Whether measured by good deeds, wisdom, wealth, or health, they’re your dreams and very personal.
How can we manage the imbalances over the long haul?
Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People lays out a step by step process that teaches us how to create the appropriate balance for the authentic you. Like most anything of enduring value, an upfront commitment is required on your part.
My original intent was to summarize The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in a one or two-piece book summary. However, it did not capture the essence of his message.
So, I’ll write articles from time to time discussing important aspects of Dr. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” with the hopes it strikes a chord with you and encourages you to read his book.
If Dr. Covey helps you in any small way to become all you are meant to be you will write your own great story.
Let’s get started.
Personality and Character Ethics
Covey studied success back through 200 years and noticed success and coaching literature changed in the last 50 years. The new focus was on the social image, interpersonal techniques, and manipulative strategies to help us get what we want from others.
He called this new focus the “personality ethic.” It provided quick fixes but left the underlying imbalances in place to resurface time and time again.
Personality growth, communication skills, positive thinking, and influence strategies can be helpful, but are not sustaining if they focus on superficial behavior.
Covey noticed the literature before this 50 year period viewed qualities like “integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule” as the foundations of success.
He called this prior focus the “character ethic.” A representative example is Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, where Franklin tells of his effort to integrate similar principles and habits deep within his nature.
It Struck a Chord with Many
Covey’s distinction between the personality and character ethics struck a chord with many. It described a disparity between practiced behavior, and a desire for more authentic, open and honest behavior.
The personality ethic requires spin, political correctness, and positive thinking that may help at times, but is it really us? Will it work over the long haul, when the going gets tough when we really need a sustainable approach?
We take the personality ethic to a whole new level with social media. Our excessive sharing, posts, pictures, and likes spin us into what we think people expect of us.
The character ethic, however, teaches the basic principles of effective living and how to be true to ourselves.
We experience real success and enduring happiness as we learn to integrate these principles into our character, and our own story.
The Storms of Life
The personality ethic is not built on a strong foundation that last through the storms of life.
“Eventually, if there isn’t deep integrity and fundamental character strength, the challenges of life will cause true motives to surface and human relationship failure will replace short-term success.”
– Stephen Covey
However, every now and then, we meet someone who, in just the way they are, communicate far more than anything others may say or do.
We want to become more like them because somehow we sense their character and habits represent good fundamental principles. The principles upon which their enduring happiness and success are based.
These are the people we choose as role models because they live by the principles of human effectiveness.
They remind us of the things we learned as children. Basic truths we know are consistent with our own values. Their principles built on generations of wisdom passed down by those living the character ethic. And, those that experienced many storms.
Principled Centered Living
Covey distills the seven habits from the fundamental principles he observed followed by highly effective people over 200 years. He believes enduring happiness and success occur when we internalize these principles.
We view the world through our own lens or paradigm. Think of it as a map to make quick, easy, and comfortable decisions that navigate us through our daily lives.
But if the map is wrong, we may never get to our real destination. We stay anchored in the personality ethic. We need to look at the world through different lenses to change from the personality ethic to the character ethic. That’s how we surface the authentic you.
We need a new map to get to our desired destination. Almost every breakthrough in science started with a break from tradition, with old ways of thinking, with old paradigms.
The way we see the problem is the problem. The Principle-Centered Paradigm is the map to guide us from the personality ethic to the character ethic.
It leads us to personal effectiveness based on the natural human laws that were so effective over the years. Laws that are just as real and unchanging as the laws of science.
Law of the Harvest
Dr. Covey uses the Law of the Harvest as an analogy. You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut; only basic goodness gives life to technique.
He asks: “Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm — to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest? The farm is a natural system. The price must be paid and the process followed.”
In “We Are What We Choose,” Jeff’s Bezos’ message is simple: the choices we make is our story. Apply the Law of the Harvest to your own life:
- You always reap what you sow
- There is no shortcut
- Only basic goodness gives life to technique
Returning to Authenticity
The accumulation of wisdom, created over generations, gives us the way to change within ourselves. And: “take control of one’s life and become the complete, fulfilling person one envisions.” We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to find the authentic you and become all that you were meant to be.
Effective and successful people live by principles (character ethics) not the way others expect or influence them to behave (personality ethic). In short, Dr. Covey’s research shows effective people live principle-centered lives.
The next article on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” discusses The 7 Habits; powerful and timeless lessons.