Monthly Archives: December 2017

Learning and Teaching the 7 Habits: Habit 3 – Put First Things First (Part 1/2)

I’m back! Got sidetracked on projects, important family time, and too much unproductive fun. I just finished a great chest, biceps, abs, and running workout, and I feel great. I spent most of yesterday at my grandparents’ house, but had time to re-read Chapter 3 on the way there and back in the car. Let’s get into it!

Habit 3, “Put First Things First,” builds on the foundation of “Be Proactive” and “Begin With the End in Mind” to bring us from Dependence to Independence. Remember: this independence is broad, covering emotional reactions, choices, goals, and overall our ability to be who we want, do what we want, and earn what we want without needing someone else to give us good feelings, money, motivation, etc. Here’s Covey’s chart of the 7 Habits as a reminder:

 Living the first 3 Habits is a “Private Victory,” meaning that many of its fruits aren’t visible directly to other people. You’ll feel more positive, hopeful, confident of your path, and proud of your actions: all of that is wonderful to feel, and is critical to consistently producing externally tangible results, such as business profits, books, inventions, or successful charity projects. But it will take productive, mutually-beneficial relationships with other people to move up to that Public Victory. We’ll get there later.

Today, the focus is on implementing the daily planning and discipline to carry out the correct actions in alignment with our Principle-Centered Mission Statement.

I’ll paraphrase Covey’s language to elaborate on the relationship between the first 3 Habits:

Habit 3 is the practical fulfillment of Habits 1 and 2. While Habit 1 says “You are the creator,” and Habit 2 is the first/mental creation of the successful lifestyle you envision, Habit 3 is the physical creation of that lifestyle. To master Habit 3 is to master our independent will day to day, moment to moment, in execution of our vision.

Whereas Habit 2 is about leadership, Habit 3 is about management.

Above, I used the term independent will. You may recall that this is one of the four human endowments that Covey cites as critical to our difference from other animals, in allowing us to do amazing acts of creation. The four endowments are:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Imagination
  3. Conscience
  4. Independent Will

Independent Will lets us manage ourselves, by allowing us to set goals, and take action in accordance with them, even when impulse and short-term desires may press against us. We are not dogs or cats who get distracted by every toy, treat, or sexy other animal we see. Okay, we do get distracted, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging at the right time and place, but exercising an independent will means that you choose what you want most over what you want now.

How to Develop Independent Will

This human ability is a muscle like any other. It must be exercised, pushed to its limit, but not broken, and given time to rest and recover before the next challenge. Covey says we must use personal integrity in this exercise: that is, making and keeping promises to myself.

“I will work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week.”

“Tomorrow, I will apply to five jobs.”

“I will track my calories every day for the next month, and weigh myself at the end of the month to see the results.”

To the extent that you make and keep these sorts of promises, you are growing your circle of influence (remember proactivity,) acting in accordance with the human principle of integrity, and giving yourself a growing sense of confidence that you can complete your mental creations in the physical world. The way I see it, there’s nothing wrong with starting small, (“I will meditate for 5 minutes first thing tomorrow,”) and gradually making bigger and bigger commitments as your independent will “muscle” strengthens.

Discipline + An Exciting Mission = Being Awesome

Covey quotes the author E.M. Gray, from Gray’s essay “The Common Denominator of Success:”

The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do…They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strenth of their purpose.

Covey goes on to elaborate on this idea. In order to be successful, you must consistently put in the effort of doing those things that are easy to put off and skip. For example, getting up early to hit the gym, or spending an extra hour studying calculus. Now, we all this know isn’t easy. Many of us may get motivated by a cool YouTube video, the advice of a friend, or the turn from December 31st to January 1st. But, that motivation is fleeting: you need discipline. And that sucks at first, until you build habits. Even then, without a strong foundation, without a strong center, without strong reasons important to you, it is virtually impossible to succeed on our own self-directed will. That will must be strengthened by the Personal Mission Statement that Covey talked about before. And you must review that mission, and all its related big picture goals, regularly in order to keep your motivation fire burning, and combined with your iron discipline to forge the steel of your own personal effectiveness.

Saying “Yes” to something important means saying “No” to some other use of your time and money. It’s a heck of a lot easier to keep saying “Yes” consistently when you have an exciting reason, a mission! Then you can say “Yes” to the gym, to the money-saving, to the job hunt, to the studying, to the music practice, with JOY rather than with moans and groans!

In summary of these ideas:

  1. Putting first things first is the practical fruit of realizing your own abilities of proactivity and big-picture planning.
  2. Without good personal leadership, personal management is meaningless and ineffective, even when it’s efficient.
  3. Success requires exercise of independent will, which means discipline and keeping the promises you make to yourself.
  4. It is virutally impossible to make the tough choices required for success unless you are motivated by a strong, well-developed, and inspiring personal mission statement: remember, doing the important tasks required of your goals always means giving up, at least for the moment, quick pleasures and fun distractions.

I’m going to finish my write-up on the second half of this chapter tomorrow. That will cover how to effectively manage your time week-to-week, day-to-day, effectively and efficiently.


Learning and Teaching the 7 Habits: Part 2 of Habit 2 – Begin With the End in Mind

Merry Christmas! I spent the day at leisure with my family, so apart from doing a few German lessons on DuoLingo, I didn’t exactly get anything done today. But, I did have fun! My dad got an Amazon Echo for the house, so we had fun playing with Alexa. I got a cool new board game: it’s “Reign of Chtulu,” a Mythos version of “Pandemic.” It’s challenging, suspenseful, and loaded with a glorious Lovecraftian theme. I also got a new Kindle to replace my broken one, so I’ll be setting that up tomorrow! We also ate desserts, and watched the hilarious movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which I greatly recommend! It’s directed by John Hughes, the same guy who did Ferris Buhler and Breakfast Club. All-in-all, not the most proactive day of Day 3/30 of my Proactivity Challenge, but, worth it for a holiday, I say.

Tomorrow, I’ll be seeing a close friend to work on an exciting new business idea. Trust me, you’ll hear about it here once we’re ready 😉

Also in tomorrow’s plan:

  1. A workout for my shoulders, abs, and cardio. (Running.)
  2. Connected to number 1, tracking my food intake with a goal of 160 grams of protein. (~1g protein per pound of body fat is the guideline I go with.)
  3. Practicing harmonica for half an hour.
  4. Rescheduling my Wednesday blood drive appointment to the next day: I forgot to mention two days ago, I was proactive in setting that. Now I’ll have to reschedule since I’ll be visiting with extended family most of that day.
  5. Spending a focused hour on cleaning my room, while listening to a useful podcast.
  6. Earning 100 XP on DuoLingo: half German, half French.
  7. Re-read Habit #3, and write a blog post on it.
  8. Get my Kindle set up.
  9. Buy a new set of calendar pages for my Covey System notebook.
  10. Do a couple hours of UpWork writing for a client.
  11. Do some fiction writing for a client.
  12. Plan an ebook idea I have.

There’s more I’ll end up doing too, but I’d say that’s a good list of worthwhile thinks to accomplish in a day. I’ll be furthering my goals in writing, business, and personal fitness, as well as learning for pleasure and career development. I’ve noticed in my experience since reading The 7 Habits that I’m more productive and happy on days that I planned the day before. It’s that concept I talked about in the last post, of every project and every day having two creations first in the mind, then in reality. Putting my to-do list and my schedule into written form helps implant its importance in my mind, and keep me focused with my longer-term vision.

That brings us to the second half of my exploration of Covey’s second Highly Effective Habit:

Begin With the End in Mind

In last night’s post, I talked about the exercise for imagining your own funeral and pondering how you want to be remembered by your loved ones and associates when you’re gone. From there, I talked about the distinction between leadership and management, and how plenty of people have good personal management in terms of making a schedule and being efficient but lack the effectiveness that comes from a big-picture, long-term vision, in the form of a life plan and personal mission statement. Covey considers personal statements precious, and I’m inclined to agree. If you don’t discover and articulate your own values, vision, and philosophy, (and if the values you select aren’t in alignment with the principles of reality,) you’ll have those things handed to you by other people, and then you’ll be serving their interests, instead of your own. Helping other people is fine, but when I only have this one life to live, I’m living it the way I truly want.

Writing a Personal Mission Statement

Covey contends that a mission statement isn’t something you can just whip up in half an hour and then run your life on. It’s something that takes isolation, meditation, and time to refine and polish. He does offer advice more specifically on how to write your own mission statement.

  1. You can expand your perspective, such as using the “my own funeral” exercise. You can also imagine your future anniversaries with your spouse or your retirement from your occupation. What do you want to have felt you’ve accomplished at those times? How would you live if you only had, say, a year, six months, or a month to live? Values can come into focus quickly when we don’t have much time left.
  2. You can use visualization and affirmation. An affirmation should be a phrase that is personal, positive, present tense, visual, and emotional. Take for example, “It is exciting and fun when I go to the gym to lift weights and strengthen my body.” I can also visualize my next workout: the strain, the sweat, the grip of my hands on the barbell, the movements of my arms and legs in each exercise, the refreshing and nourishing post-workout smoothie, and the glorious feeling of soreness and accomplishment.
  3. You can also go more logical, and think about your roles and goals. That is to say, what hats do you wear in your life right now? Think of family relationships like father or brother, a couple different aspects of your career such as lecturer and researcher, a volunteer role you may work in, or a leadership position in a service organization. For me, I am a son, a friend, a brother, a student, a Cadet, a writer, and a businessman, right now. Some of my goals include a six-figure income by the time I’m 30, having a bodyweight of 180 pounds with 10% body fat, and publishing a novel every year from 2018 onward.

By using these emotional and logical lenses, we can begin to piece together a personal mission statement that weaves together everything most important to us in an emotional, positive, inspiring way. It takes work to get a personal mission statement concise of course, and there are many ways to format one. Like I said…I’m still working on mine. I will get back to you guys on it. I promise.

Covey also suggests making mission statements for your work organization and family. I like that idea. I’ll work on it with my friend tomorrow for our project, actually. Anyway, that’s basically it for Habit 2. I’m going to spend time this week meditating and reading research materials to help me on writing a great mission statement. I’ll also keep integrating this habit by coming back to my long-term goals, and practicing the first, mental creation of each of my days, projects, and activities.

I love this book. 🙂

Learning and Teaching The 7 Habits: Habit 2 – Begin With the End in Mind

My summary and exploration of Stephen R. Covey’s 2nd Habit of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the End in Mind”

Hello and Merry Christmas! Yesterday, I explored the introduction to 7 Habits, plus the 1st Habit itself: Be Proactive. Today, I’m going to jump into the second habit. This one will take some more time and work to formulate a proper response to some of its actionable steps. That said, I’m going to share with you as I develop my vision of my “End in mind,” including my personal mission statement. Now, let’s get into the chapter!

As I explained in the previous post, Covey has his 7 Habits organized in a sequence that builds on itself. Here’s handy visualization he includes in the book:

As we can see, the first three habits of Be Proactive, Begin With The End in Mind, and Put First Things First bring a person from a state of Dependence to a state of Independence. This second habit, as we can see, combined with the first to form the base of a triangle.

What does “Begin With the End in Mind” mean, anyway?

At the start of the chapter, Covey asks us to make a serious visualization of an event most of us prefer not to think about: our own funeral, three years in the future. He encourages us to imagine how we’d want our closest family members, our friends, our work colleagues, and our church/community members to remember and speak of us that day. What will the impact of our lives have been? What kind of character did we live our lives with? Are we worth being spoken and written about for good reason, ten or twenty years or more down the line?

Covey elaborates that beginning with the end in mind means that we choose and evaluate our actions with that end in mind: the end of our lives. We can be efficient and busy without having a clear vision of what we ultimately want to achieve and how we want to be remembered…but what would be the point? If we’re not working towards something that is consistent with principles, and then on top of those, our own highest values, why expend the effort?

Following logically from the idea of a desired end-state for one’s entire life, is the concept of consciously planning and designing specific activities and creations within that life. You should finish the blueprint before you begin work on the house. You should design your clothes before you thread the needle, as Covey says, and have a plan for your business before you start raising money and hiring workers. As Covey sees it, everything that people create has a first creation, in the mind, and a second creation, in reality. I can see this on the micro level, of planning a speech or a story or an essay before I write it, and on the macro level of an overall life plan.

Backing up to the funeral topic, I’m going to share with you my own thoughts on how I’d like to be remembered. Here’s my response to Covey’s funeral exercise:


This exercise asks me to imagine my own funeral three years from now. I would be 28 years, 1 month, 7 days old, at the end of my life. That’s heavy. I’d be in the early stages of my careers in marketing business management, and Army leadership. I wouldn’t have kids yet, or be married, but maybe I’d have a long-term girlfriend. I could have a decent apartment, hopefully in Rochester or Buffalo, and a pretty good car. I’d finally be feeling like a real middle-class, independent American adult, with enough income from my profession to support my necessities, hobbies, and a few luxuries. Maybe I’d be on my first deployment with the Army: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Korea? Who knows.

And then, from a horrible car accident, a North Korean missile, a brain aneurysm, or even a mass-shooting…that life would end. Geoffrey Wilson would be dead. Gone. Inanimate. Cold. Kaput. Done. Hopefully, my brain would be in good enough shape and the response time would be good enough that I could get my body cryonically preserved, as I plan. Whether it’s that, or I’m incinerated in a nuclear explosion with no chance of recovery, I’m dead as far as everyone else is concerned. Is there an afterlife? I don’t think so. Reincarnation interests me more, but I don’t see the evidence for that, either. And again, in any case, I’m dead to everyone who knew me.

So, at my funeral, what do I want people to think of me? How do I want Geoff Wilson to be remembered? Well, first of all, I want the funeral to be fun! Live jazz band, great B.B.Q. food, open bar, people dancing. Pictures of me, my accomplishments, and my goofy and joyous moments. I’d want my friends and family to be recollecting their favorite moments with me, with the occasional chuckle or even uproarious laughter. Yeah, I’m dead, but isn’t it better to focus on the happening of something great,, rather than on its end?

Covey recommends specifically that we think deeply about what we’d want a favorite family member, a friend, a work colleague, and a church/community organization member to each say about us if they spoke at our funeral. I think those are all useful to consider, for giving a “3-Dimensional” view of how I’m remembered when I’m gone:

  1. I’d want my little brother, Alex, to remember me as one of his best friends. As someone who he could have a free-flowing, natural, deep, goofy, passionate conversation with about absolutely anything and everything either of us happened to experience or hear about. He tends to be a socially anxious person, and I’d want him to remember me as one of the people in his life who he could always feel completely comfortable talking, exercising, playing video games, or just hanging out with. I’d want him to remember me as someone inquisitive about the world, and passionate about my goals and efforts in writing, in business, and in the military. I’d want him to have many fond memories of our times together with our fellow Boy Scouts at Camp Massawepie, and of family holidays, like on Christmas mornings. I’d want him to remember me as someone kind, and strong, and worth looking up to. I hope I inspired him in some way when we were growing up, and as young adults. I’d hope he’d share with everyone how good of a big brother I was during our relatively brief time together.
  2. I’d want my best friend, Zach, to remember me for a lot of the same things I’d want Alex to remember me for. As someone he could always turn to, to share both good and bad times with. As a fun, honorable, and mutually inspiring person to grow through childhood and into adulthood with. As a great fellow Eagle Scout. (My brother is an Eagle Scout too, by the way.) As someone reasonable, and kind, and funny. Someone with good tastes in movies and a good ability to talk and argue about them. As someone who took his own creative and professional interests seriously, and who inspired that same enthusiasm in his friends for their own interests.
  3. I’d want one of my future marketing work colleagues to talk about how amazing I was at my crafts of writing, speaking, planning, and leading. To talk about how I always got all my work done effectively and efficiently and then kept working to help my colleagues do even better on their own projects. How I could think on my feet, and do what was best for the client and for our company. How I was a life-long learner and natural networker who inspired everyone in the office and beyond. How I was fun to work with and hang out with at social events. I’d want my colleague to be able to honestly say I was an amazing young professional, and a pleasure to market with.
  4. I’d want my future Platoon Sergeant to speak to my strengths as an Army Military Intelligence Lieutenant: how I pushed myself my hardest to lead the pack in P.T., how I lived the Seven Army Values and the Soldier’s Creed and Officer’s Creed with every breath, how I led from the front and never asked my Soldiers to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself, how I was brave even in scary situations, how I demonstrated servant leadership and prepared all my soldiers for the mission at hand, and how I was a skilled professional in the domain of Military Intelligence, and served my country in finding and analyzing the enemy’s positions, intentions, and resources. I’d want my P.S.G. to remember me as a promising Lieutenant who would’ve made a good Captain, and who worked well with him or her in leading and managing my Platoon’s human and material resources, and making sure that every individual under my command had what he or she needed professionally and personally to do his or her job. I’d hope that there’d many Soldiers and my fellow Officers who commissioned through R.O.T.C. with me attending my funeral.

Geez. That’s all heavy stuff to think about. But important. I don’t know when I’m going to die. And when I do, I won’t have the option of doing things last minute to elevate my reputation: I have to build that reputation now, every day. More importantly than reputation, I have to act in accordance with what I desire to experience myself: what skills I want to learn, what ranks to earn, what money to make, what places to visit, what people to befriend and love and share with. If I don’t begin each day with that end in mind, whether I die tomorrow, three years, or thirty years from now…then what the heck am I doing? I only get one shot at this.

I strongly recommend that funeral exercise. Really take the time to visualize visiting your own funeral,  what you’d want the mood and chatter to be like, and what you’d want those four important speakers from different areas of your life to say about you and how you touched the lives of others. This exercise might just be the kick in the ass you need to rethink your life plan, and really, deeply consider what you want to accomplish in your limited time here, and how you want to be remembered. I know that’s what I’m doing.

Leadership vs Management

Covey distinguishes these two concepts in the following way: management is the bottom line focus, of how best to accomplish things, while leadership is based on the top line, or what we want to accomplish. You, or any organization, need both to be effective, but Habit 2 focuses on Leadership: remember, you can be very busy and efficient, but if what you’re working on isn’t of real value for your life, you’re wasting your time. Companies, countries, armies, and other groups of people need leadership to see and examine the big picture and guide the managers into the right direction of effectively executing plans.

On a personal level, people screw this up all the time by setting goals without clarifying their values. Business managers get so caught up in the micromanagement of day-to-day tasks that they lose sight of the bigger picture of where their company needs to go. Military officers can screw up similarly with a fixation on the details of what every soldier in their command should be doing, rather than focusing on making the bigger plan and then delegating and trusting their N.C.O.’s.

Becoming your own first creator

I love this concept, it speaks to me on a religious level! Covey contends that through imagination and conscience, humans can realize their potential, and plan and develop to reach that potential. If humans do not go through such a process of “self script writing,” we are doomed to be dealt a script written by our parents, the media, corporations, and politicians. Of course, we’ll all be influenced by outside voices, but, with proactivity and beginning with the end in mind, it is possible to create a program for ourselves to follow, and if needed, modify.

Covey encourages the creation of a personal mission statement to help guide us in this sense. He emphasizes that drafting such a document is a long process, and requires much thought, meditation, and reading of inspiring sources, but is well worth it. I wrote a personal mission statement on my first reading of the book, and have revised it since…I want to play with it more before I share it here. You got enough of my personal life with the hypothetical funeral part. 😉

Covey also talks about how a mission statement is a great thing for the effectiveness of an organization, if all the employees involved take part and have buy-in on the values chosen. He also talks about the U.S. Constitution as a sort of “mission statement” for the United States, and recommends thinking of each of our own mission statements as a sort of personal constitution.

A Strong Center

Revisiting the Circle of Influence concept, here Covey talks about what we can place at the very center of that circle: our most basic paradigms, our vision, our values. If that center is strong, it can provide us:

  1. Security
  2. Guidance
  3. Power
  4. Wisdom

If these four factors are present, Covey says they create a great personality, balanced character, and an integrated individual. Neat. That makes sense. We all need to feel secure, to know what to do in different situations, and the energy to actually do the right things. But what should be at our center?

Covey says that people place many things at their center: money, love, pleasure, work, church, friends, enemies…and all of these have their weaknesses. While any of these can lead to us making the best decision sometimes, they can also be fickle and lead to unbalanced lives, or damage our ability to be independent and interdependent.

The better option, Covey argues, is to be Principle Centered. Unlike other people, or money, or pleasures, our principles will not betray or leave us or be destroyed by someone else, unless we let them. If we understand and commit to deep, classic truths, such as excellence, dignity, and honor, we will have Security, Guidance, Power, and Wisdom, even when the going gets tough. When values such as time with our spouse or an important work project conflict, our principles guide us to the right choice, and we can feel more secure and energized in our decision-making.

I like this idea a lot. I mentioned in my previous post, I think principles may be a bit more malleable than Covey believes, or at least, more complex as they interact and sometimes conflict when it comes to doing what is best in complicated situations. That said, I do think there are principles for living the good life as a human being, and that if one also carries a realistic model of how one’s surrounding society and culture works, the discovery of and commitment to these principles can serve someone well.

Whew, OK, it’s past midnight on Christmas. I need to read some Shakespeare and fall asleep haha. I’ll finish writing about this chapter tomorrow.

Reviewing from my second day of the 30 Day Proactivity Challenge:

I completed some of what I set out to do today, but not all of it. I had an excellent chest, bicep, abs, and running workout, which was the highlight of my day. I finished wrapping gifts for my family. I got some German practice in on DuoLingo. I re-read Habit 2. I also spent some quality Christmas Eve time with the family, including eating homemade pizza and brownies and decorating the Christmas tree. I meant, however, to get a lot more writing done, and to practice harmonica., and to get in an hour of room-cleaning. I’m kicking myself for not getting those. I wasted too much time sleeping in, and doofing around doing not much of anything.

So, I was thinking proactive, and that felt great. I got done things that will build my muscle and cardio abilities, and improve my understanding of a great book, and build the value of my blog. But I gotta keep my commitments to my to-do lists, for my own good! Begin with that end in mind: what I want most, (wealth, amazing muscles, many published books,)  not what I just want right this minute! (sleep, distractions, memes, video games.)


Merry Christmas everybody!!

Learning and Teaching The 7 Habits: Introduction and Habit 1 – Be Proactive

Getting Myself Unstuck: Re-Reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I’ve felt stuck lately. Truthfully, I have felt stuck on-and-off for years. I felt the crushing disappointment earlier this year of failing out of my financial sales job, and I have not been nearly as consistent as I’d like on good habits such as meditation, exercise, musical practice, and practice on social dynamics. I did have the achievements of getting into a good business school for my M.B.A, and earning an R.O.T.C. scholarship. But, I want to do better, because I know my potential! So, I’m re-reading and finding new self-development books to break out of old ways of thinking and doing, and getting myself moving again on an upward spiral of development!!

I’ve written before about Stephen R. Covey’s classic 1988 self-development book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. An excellent former work colleague introduced me to it, and I’ve found its lessons useful and well-communicated. Today, I want to begin a small project, of re-reading the book and writing my findings in a blog post series here. Covey suggests in his introduction that The 7 Habits is worth re-reading and studying thoroughly, with a mind towards teaching its lessons to someone else. The purpose of this and the other posts in this series will be to increase my own understanding of and commitment to the 7 Habits, and to help other readers get a deeper understanding.

I’m not going to belabor Covey’s explanatory stories and personal experiences. I’m writing with the expectation that the reader has read The 7 Habits, or plans on likely reading it in the near future.

Yesterday, I read the introductory sections of “Inside-Out” and “The 7 Habits – An Overview.” Today, I read “Habit 1: Be Proactive.” Let’s start with what I got from the introduction.

Character Ethic vs. Personality Ethic

“Inside-Out” and “An Overview” explain Covey’s approach to successful living, starting with its foundation. Central to this approach is the difference between what Covey terms the Personality Ethic and the Character Ethic. The former is surface level, seeks shortcuts, and focuses on techniques. The latter runs to the core of how a person thinks of himself and tends to behave when no one is watching and is perceived on a deep psychological level, e.g. what he “Is.” This Character Ethic is based on the principles that govern human effectiveness.

Closely related to these two Ethics is the difference between Primary Greatness and Secondary Greatness. The former can come only from character, and is the glory of internal consistency with oneself and with principles in thought, feeling, and action, and the influence of this greatness in the lives of other people, while Secondary Greatness is merely the externally visible results such as financial success, popularity, or the movement of people to one’s will through insincere interaction.

Covey fully recognizes the importance of technique: social skills, positive thinking, development of one’s personality. But, he finds that these are all secondary to Character; to the deep core of who and what someone actually is, as this will determine whether they actually end up happy, and whether other people ultimately see them as a great person when all is said and done. Fakers and cheats almost always get found out eventually. So the Character Ethic, that focus on starting with the principles and one’s worldview and habitual thoughts, can create Primary Greatness, and then techniques can work more effectively, when propelled by the energy of a strong character, to produce the Secondary Greatness of social influence, money, career positions, and all the rest.

Personality Ethic Character Ethic
Popular in the past 100 years, as seen in numerous books, videos, blogs, and talk-shows. Supported in Ancient philosophy, some traditional religious views, and self-development writers such as Benjamin Franklin.
Focuses on technique and outward personality. Focuses on character and principles.
Can produce secondary greatness in externally visible rewards. Can produce primary greatness in enduring admiration and personal satisfaction, plus give a firm foundation for secondary greatness.
Promises quick fixes to problems. Promises a long process of honest reflection and habit development.

Paradigm Shifts

The modern concept of paradigm shifts comes from Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A paradigm is a worldview: the lens which colors and affects how one sees the reality in front of them. Paradigms in science shift as skepticism and experimentation reveal new information: the Earth at first appears flat but it is not, the Sun at first appears to orbit the Earth but the opposite is true, the Newtonian Model of physics appears to precisely describe reality until relativity and then quantum physics shake it all up again, etc.

Covey sees paradigms operating and shifting in the social sciences, too: he points to the foundation of the United States as a paradigm shift in Western Civilization, as democratic republicanism replaced the divine absolute rule of kings. Critically, the Character Ethic and the Personality Ethic are both social paradigms. Covey observes with displeasure that the Personality Ethic seems to have become more popular in the past hundred years, as self-help books have grown more popular and people have sought “quick fixes” in a rapidly changing and competitive economic environment.

Covey emphasizes that one what paradigm one holds is critically important to one’s attitudes and choices. Paradigms virtually never describe reality perfectly, they are maps, and reality is the territory. That said, a map of Chicago will help a lot more than a map of Detroit when you’re trying to navigate the city of Chicago! So, it’s important to be open to the possibility that the way you currently view the world isn’t the final say: you must honestly test your paradigm, and when necessary, change it so it better describes reality.

The paradigm that Covey urges the reader to shift to is the Character Ethic Paradigm: he finds it superior to the Personality Ethic for the reasons I described above. It is effective because it is based on principles


Covey argues that as there is an objective reality in science, even if our perception of that reality is imperfect, there are also realities in human thoughts, feelings, and social relations that remain true across cultures, even if cultural practices may subvert or suppress these human realities.

These realities of humanity he calls Principles, and he gives as examples fairness, integrity, honesty, human indignity, and excellence. Adherence to these principles leads to good outcomes for the people involved, and violation of them leads to bad outcomes. In response to questions of these principles’ fundamentality,  he asks us what would happen if we tried to live a life based on their opposites: unfairness, deceit, baseness, uselessness, mediocrity, or degeneration. These would lead to the opposites of happiness and success.

Covey also addresses values. Values differ from principles in that values are concepts, personality traits, or physical things that individuals and groups of individuals hold to be important, whereas principles are important – the former doesn’t necessarily conflict with the latter, but it also doesn’t necessarily align with it. Thieves can have values, but are not acting according to principles.

Beginning with the Inside-Out

Concluding this introductory chapter, Covey explains that his approach with the 7 Habits reflects his focus on Character and Principles. While many people hold a paradigm that all their problems come from “out there,” with their boss, their spouse, the government, or the economy, Covey encourages us to shift our view on our response to external factors, and on our own adherence to principles and development of our characters.

To sovle the problems “out there,” you must first solve the problems “in here.” The 7 Habits begin with developing internally sound practices, and expand outward. Covey believes that much of this truth is common sense to most people on a deep level, even if they lose sight of it through the way they’re raised or have conditioned themselves to think.

An Overview of the 7 Habits

We next move on to Covey’s overview of the 7 Habits he finds critical to personal effectiveness. Covey defines habits as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is what to do, skill is how to do it, and desire is the motivation. You need all three to form new habits, and this is easier said than done: Covey likens the starting of a new habit as the lift-off of a NASA rocket out of Earth’s gravity: it takes a massive amount of effort to break free of that gravity, but once you’re out there, you can move whatever direction you want pretty easily and get to amazing places.

The 7 Habits take someone through a progression of maturity, from Dependence, to Independence, to Interdependence.

The first three habits are Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, and Put First Things First. These three get someone to Independence: at this point, the person has attained a private victory, and possesses internal control over their thoughts and actions, along with a plan of what they want and how to achieve.

The next three habits are Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand Then to Be Understood, and Synergize. These take the Independent person to Interdependence, where he can maximize his potential through useful relationships with other people.

Finally, the seventh habit is Sharpen the Saw, which encircles the other habits and helps maintain the individual’s emotional, physical, spiritual, and social effectiveness over time.

The P/PC Balance

Continuing with his description of effectiveness, Covey enters the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs. In this story, a farmer owns a goose who lays one golden egg per day: this is, of course, wonderful for the farmer, and he’s getting richer and richer every day. But, the farmer gets greedy and impatient, and decides to kill the goose and take all its eggs at once…only to find that there are no eggs stored in the goose, as they’re produced singly each day: he’s lost his source of income, in his efforts to get too much too fast.

Similarly, Covey cautions, we risk our Production Capacity (“PC”) when we try to Produce (“P”) too much too fast, without putting effort into the investments and maintenance that provide the PC. We can see this with someone working himself to death on a project, with no sleep, no exercise, and no quiet time for meditation or other resting of the mind.

Conversely, some people go to school forever without ever beginning to produce anything useful: they are overfocsued on PC, at the expense of P.

So, having a good balance between P and PC is critical for someone to be most effective in producing wealth and creative works, in having good relationships with friends and family, in staying healthy, and in overall being happy with one’s current status.

Work hard and smart with a plan, and take time to rest, reflect on what works and what doesn’t, and expand your knowledge of your field.

Habit 1 – Be Proactive

As I mentioned above, Covey organizes the Habits sequentially, and this first habit, Be Proactive, helps form the foundation for the rest. The essential lesson Covey wants us to take away in this chapter is that human beings, unlike other animals, can choose our response to stimuli. That is to say: we experience something, we can think about how to respond, and then respond in the way that will align with principles and our goals. Personally, I think Covey doesn’t give enough credit to of the more intelligent creatures out there, like crows and chimpanzees, and, I think humans are more instinctual than he cares to admit, but, his point stands true and useful in the essentials. If you can control your response to stimui, you are that much more independent from uncontrollables such as the weather, the economy, and how much people like you.

Covey tells the inspiring and true story of psychologist Victor Frankl, who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Frankl experiened the absolute horror of most of his family being worked to death and gassed, and he suffered the cruelty of beatings, starvation, and frequent hateful verbal abuse by his Nazi captors. But, Frankl, drawing on his knowledge of psychology, came to realize that the Nazis could never take away his core individual identity, or his choice of how to respond to his circumstances. Frankl chose to not be mentally broken, and he was not: he kept his hope in the future, and the happiness and purpose he would regain when he would someday leave the camp and be able to write about his experiences and teach new psychology concepts to his students.

So that’s a major aspect of “Be Proactive:” no matter what horrible things may happen to us, we can still choose how to respond. You can give up and sink deeper into your despair, or build on a glimmer of hope to take the positive action that can get you to a better place. You can choose where to focus your attention.

Another major concept for explaining proactivity is the Circle of Concern vs the Circle of Influence. Covey describes this with two overlapping circles: one contains everything we have direct or indirect influence over, and one contains everything we have some mental or emotional involvement in. Some people choose to focus on the things they’re concerned about, but can’t control: these people diminish their own influence, as they do not put energy into the thoughts and actions that can give them greater control over their lives.

But, the people who see the potential for distressing or awful things in their circle of concern, yet realize that they only have so much influence, and then choose to focus on what they do control, will tend to grow their influence. They make the plans, learn the lessons, network with the people, to improve their situation. Their first response to setbacks and challenges is “How can I do this better, How can I get what I want, Let’s find the best route, I’d prefer that this not be so difficult …” Effective people don’t focus their blame on their boss or the government, even if they do recognize that thoe external factors have a bad impact on them. They find the tiny footholds of influence and build on them.

Actionable Steps for Habit 1

Covey gives us solid advice on how to build our Circle of Influence. It all starts with commitments and promises. We can make commit to goals, and keep promises to ourselves: working out on a fixed schedule, applying to so many jobs per week, keeping to a new diet, building a monetary budget, beginning to keep a journal of our thoughts and feelings of each day. With these incremental, internal steps, we can begin to grow that circle of influence to encompass more of our circle of concern and thereby feel more confident, comfortable, and in-control of our lives.

As a challenge of proactivity, Covey challenges us to take a 30-day proactivity test. This test consists in every day paying attention to your mental and verbal language: how often do you use counterproductive phrases like “If only,” “I can’t,” or “I have to”? Even if your circle of influence is truthfully very small, you must begin with it in order to grow that influence. During this 30-day test, you must also track how you feel your circle of influence expanding or shrinking, as you change your thinking and actions.

I’m going to publically commit to this challenge myself today. From today, 23 December, through 22 January, I will focus on my Circle of Influence, and on proactive thought and action. I’ll write the results of that here, as I continue with my re-read and summary of the rest of the book. 

To start this, I’m going to respond publically an application suggestion Covey gives at the end of the chapter.

This suggestion is to think of a potential near-future encounter that could lead to me behaving reactively, rather than proactively, and then think through how to respond proactively, and imagine how the encounter would go.

A situation I can think of is the challenge of applying to summer internships. Internships are important during my MBA program to help me get the experience and connections for a full-time job when I graduate. But, I have the unusual challenge of needing to do ROTC Advanced Camp for a month out of this summer: many employers will want an intern for the entire summer, and may have a hard time accommodating my situation. Furthermore, the entire process of applying for jobs and internships can be frustrating, with “quirky” online entry forms, bizarre personality quizzes, and unreachable hiring managers. The way I could react to this situation, if I were to be reactive, would be to throw up my hands and declare that business employers and H.R. workers are all inconsiderate jerks with no respect or consideration for R.O.T.C. Cadets, and how Millennials have it so hard in this economy and that I might as well not even try for an internship in the first place, because what are the odds it’s gonna be paying, anyway?

That is not a helpful response. It guarantees that I won’t get any kind of relevant work experience over the summer, and will leave me feeling more frustrated and depressed about my career prospects, further hurting my motivation in the future!

A proactive way to respond to the challenge would be to talk to the co-op and career services folks at my school, to see what students in similar situations have done. I could also work on perfecting my resume and cover letters, and try communicating through phone, email, and in-person as much as possible with the companies I’d want to intern for, to get a conversation with someone relevant and see how I can work for them around my irregular summer schedule.

I could still fail to get a good internship. Many of the problems involved are indirect, meaning I don’t have personal control over the outcome. But, I’d have a far, far better chance than if I just let my frustration get to me. And even if I failed, I’d at least know I did everything possible to try.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue with Habit 2 – Begin With the End in Mind, and, I’ll update you on my 30-day proactivity challenge.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. I’m having a good time rereading this book and explaining it! How will you choose to respond to your circumstances? Reactively, or proactively?