Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Club: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I'm so glad we have this little book club going on! It helps hold me accountable for actually reading the book. But that's part of the problem, right? The goal is to be internally motivated and to follow-through with the promises I make to myself. Hmph!

I loved Covey's point about keeping promises to ourselves and others as an essential component of living a life of integrity and proactivity. I think I do pretty well on that front, but there's definitely room for improvement. When we trust that we will follow-through on the goals we set for ourselves, then we feel more in control of our lives. We feel like anything is possible.

Some related quotes that resonated with me:
  • "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."--Aristotle
  • "Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits. 'Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,' the maxim goes."

The first habit of proactivity empowers me. I believe what Covey says: "It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions."

The idea that there is a space between a stimulus and my response helps me feel more in control of my own life. Although this idea has lots of implications for how I interact with other people, I find that I apply it to myself all the time. I admit that I can't control my immediate emotional response to things, but I can control my actions in response to those emotions.

I've been working hard to live a more proactive life ever since I read the first couple chapters of this book six or seven years ago. For example, if I'm in a team meeting at school and people start complaining about something, I usually interject with the comment, "So what are we going to do about it?" If there's nothing we can do (i.e., if it's only in our "Circle of Concern"), then there's no reason to waste time and energy complaining about it. If there is something we could do about it (i.e., if it's in our "Circle of Influence"), then we should stop complaining and start making an action plan.

I can definitely improve in this area, too. I find that it's hard for me to distinguish between cathartic venting to Matt and downright dwelling in my frustrations.

I also enjoyed reading the list of reactive versus proactive language. "There's nothing I can do" versus "Let's look at our alternatives." Or "He makes me so mad" versus "I control my own feelings."

Proactivity is definitely a value I hold near and dear, and it's something I want to continue to cultivate.

The one thing that bothered me about this chapter was the lack of discussion about the ways in which privilege affects the outcomes of proactivity. Our race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc. can affect what happens when we exert our proactivity. The whole "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" idea is very lovely except that it ignores the U.S.'s history of oppression and the barriers that still remain.

As far as my next steps go:
  • Pay attention to the commitments that I make to myself and others and work wholeheartedly to follow through on them.
  • Look at situations through the lens of my "Circle of Concern" versus my "Circle of Influence" and respond with as much proactivity as possible.
  • Continue to work in education so that all children--regardless of the ways in which they are disadvantaged in our society--are able to internalize and apply proactivity in their own lives.

For next Monday, let's pick up right where we left off with the Begin with the End in Mind chapter. By the way, it's never too late to join us!

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Megan said...

Hi Sara,
One thing I noticed as I started reading this book is how well you do in carrying out this first habit. You seem to always be guided by your values and it shows. You are also the 1st person to make me realize that 'love' is a verb, not a noun, through 2000 Wedding (my 2 year anniversary is coming up in June--I can't believe I've been reading you that long--blogging is pretty amazing in that I feel like I know you well, but you don't even know who I am). Anyway, back to the topic. I liked the idea that love is also a value actualized through actions. Every day my actions can be driven by my values instead of simply being a passive reactor to the things going on around me.

I really found Covey's idea that anytime we think the problem is 'out there,' it is really that thought that is the problem. We have the ability to control our responses to just about anything. I really want to strive to recognize any time I want to push blame for a problem off on someone or something else and correct that thinking and come up with at least one thing I can do to remedy the problem instead of wallowing in it.

"Be a light, not a judge; Be a model not a critic." This stood out as well. The best leaders and bosses I've had are all people who embrace this and lead by example. I hope for the same kind of impact on others.

I also liked that he mentioned the AA prayer. I had a high school freshman biology teacher that made us say that prayer every day before class (I went to Catholic school). I always questioned it thinking, "why is he having us say a prayer that a bunch of drunks say?" and now I finally get it. I actually think I'll write him a little note if I can get his contact info to let him know that, even though it took me a long time, I get it now!

Your insight about privilage got me thinking about religious, cultural, and other societal variations that would effect one's response to the message of this book--as an extreme example (litterally), what would a jihadist think about this message? A welfare recipient? A sexual abuse victim?

And finally, a question--is there a 7 Habits for kids? I want to at least introduce these concepts about chosing your reactions to circumstances to my extremely emotion-driven, eight year old step-daughter in an age appropriate way. Any suggestions for that?

kacey said...

Thanks Sara for leading this! I'm a long-time reader and a 7-habits skeptic :) BUT I am also mulling over a big scary goal (also in Austin, also related to child development!) and figured I could use all the help I could get. So thanks for encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone.

I love the circle of concern/circle of influence principal. As compassionate people (which I would guess most of your readers are) it's easy to get paralyzed by all that should be done to make the world a better place. It's important to focus in on what you can influence and make it happen.

I totally picked up on the bootstrap implications and was surprised that there was no mention of social barriers. I was also a bit miffed about his examples of workers acting with "values, not feelings." Maybe a little sexist? I've definitely worked in gossip mills but have also worked in totally empowering, productive all-female environments that embraced emotion rather than shunning it.

Ok, enough complaining. Determined to get through the rest of the book. Thanks again for hosting this!

Katie Z said...

I absolutely loved this chapter and have been using it regularly since reading it a few weeks ago. Kacey, like you I was a 7-habits skeptic for a long time, but now that I have started reading it, I have found it really useful.

I do national level education policy work and often times we are working with issues that are so big with so much to do that it is hard to stay directed. Thinking in terms of the circle of concern and circle of influence has really helped me in my role because I’m asking questions that get me into forward motion rather than dwelling on things I can’t necessarily change. In general, I’m pretty proactive, but I do get caught up on things I can’t change sometimes (sometimes because I think I should be able to change them), so this is a really great tool and I think that I can also apply it to things in my personal life and relationships.

I agree with the concern that this chapter doesn’t address societal barriers to being proactive. I do think that it is something that should be acknowledged particularly because many people (perhaps Covey included) don’t realize the actual impactful these barriers have on people and their future. That said, I also think that focusing on these social barriers (something that the people who face them cannot change) often stops people from being as proactive as they could be. The concentration camp example in the chapter illustrates this point well. As long as Frakl was focused on what was in his case a structural barrier to being proactive, he couldn’t get to the freedom that comes from choice. It’s amazing what happens to kids who don’t think they have a future when you tell them that their future is dependent on how they choose to deal with their circumstance. I’ve seen that simple distinction change lives.

Kacey, I’m interested in your comment about focusing on values and not feelings being a bit sexist. I believe Covey’s quote on this topic was:
“The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values-Carefully thought about, selected and internalized.”
I know that there is a perception that women act more on their feelings then men, unfortunately for me that isn’t always true, I tend to be a bit overanalytical, on Meyers briggs I score almost perfectly on the “thinking” as opposed to” feeling” scale. However, I’m not sure all my carefully thought out actions necessarily make me as proactive as they could be. So I would be interested in hearing more about other people’s thoughts on this concept.

Thanks so much ladies for the discussion and Sarah for leading, I'm really looking forward to your thoughts on the next chapter.

Megan said...

I am a little behind and just finished reading the Proactivity chapter yesterday - wow!

I am really loving the book so far, and I understand why the proactivity habit is #1 on the list!

I've been reading each chapter through once, and then going back to the beginning of each chapter to take notes and really internalize Covey's message. Today, I did this for the Proactivity chapter. I even took a piece of paper and drew my Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence, and spent some time jotting things into each. Making a visual representation of this concept in relation to MY life was really helpful and interesting!

This book is coming at the perfect time for me, as I've stagnated in a terrible job & workplace for 1.5 years. It has gotten to a point where I'm letting my career frustration affect my relationship with my long-term boyfriend. I am excited to really cultivate my circle of influence and cut back on nagging and complaining about others!!!

As to the "social barriers preventing productivity issue", that didn't occur to me while I was reading, but I definitely need to ponder that! Maybe a good answer to that concern is to go back to Covey's Holocaust victim example - the man named Frankl. I think that example showed that oppressed people can still apply these principles and find "freedom," at least in some sense... hmmmm...

ErikaM said...

This chapter made me realize that sometimes I really do use some of those "less empowering phrases." Also the power of those words is stronger than I thought.
I do like how all the principles build off each other - I'm not a teacher, but this seems like how many lessons are built. Also growth should happen this way naturally, small seeds grow into greatness.
I would like to work on the "assignment" given in the last few paragraphs of this chapter. I need to identify when I start speaking with more proactive language and be aware when I speak in reactive terms.

I too didn't give the "social barrier" issue that several people brought up a second thought. Makes me think I should though.

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