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.


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