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!!

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