7 Habits of Highly Effective People

While the country was at lockdown level 5 I had the privilage of working from home for a full month.

A full month you say?

You are probably thinking, why did you do that!? Working from home is so much fun! Not only do you save all that petrol, but you get so much done…clocking 17 hours in a working day.

You see I work for an essential services company and driving to work and back during lockdown was a beautiful experience – There was absolutely NO TRAFFIC.

There were moments where I drove past the army stationed at a road block on the highway, and I was just waiting for the zombie horde to come shuffling over the hill.

But as the lockdown levels lifted, everything gradually returned to our new normal. Including the traffic, and with it the road-rage pandemic.

And yet road rage has very little to do with traffic. Road-rage is a classic example of the reactive mind taking over (that part of the brain that triggers the fight-or-flight response), rather than the wise mind (the part of the brain that aids in effective decision making and critical thinking.) It’s not like you can run anywhere, so you fight.

This has a number of side effects…

Your IQ points go out the window to the point where you drive so close to the car in front of you, that the car in front of the car in front of you feels pressured to get out of the way.

While the brain is distracted the adrenal glands take the gap and pump so much cortisol into your body that the immune system is so confused that it doesn’t know where to start fixing or if it should actually be fixing anything.

Which then stresses out your dreams, causing your mind to chew up even more energy – leading to an impulse you end up regretting later.

The secret sauce is in recognizing when your reactive mind is triggered, and then be proactive in engaging your frontal lobes to consult your wise mind and consider a more rational decision.

It will not only make you a better driver but it also will:

โœ… Improve your health;

โœ… Improve your relationships;

โœ… Make life more enjoyable;

It will even make you a more attractive human being!

If it were possible for us to turn something as compelling and dynamic as mindfulness into an energy drink, we’d likely be billionaires. We’d sell it in quirky small cans and employ athletic rugby players in hyperventilated commercials, where they would encourage you to “sharpen up!”

Unfortunately we haven’t yet discovered how to turn common sense into a spiffy sparkling consistency.

Regularly applying a little mindfulness to your daily life will produce a solid favorable effect.

There is a very popular poem written by Linda Ellis which is called “The Dash,” where she explores the themes of the beginning and end of life, as well as its purpose.

Her speaker investigates the meaning of โ€œthe dashโ€ that separates two dates, oneโ€™s birth and oneโ€™s death. It is a small thing but it represents so much.

What do you have to say about yourself?

This is one of the most powerful questions you can ask.

Are you doing the things in your life which are aligned with what you want to be able to say?

Do you want to say that you’re a very good spouse, that you have a happy marriage? Do you want to be remembered as a person who added value to society?

If that’s the case are you doing the things that will allow you to say that, or are you scared of failure and choose comfortable mediocrity instead?

Visualize that what you’re doing is aligned with what you want to be able to say before you start pursuing it.

When you make this conscious effort, you take much greater control over your life and circumstances.

If I were to ask you what is the one thing you could do (something not currently happening) that, if you practiced it frequently, would improve your personal life tenfold.

Chew on that for a moment. It can really be anything, enjoying more time with your family, excersising more, learning a new skill or practicing something.

So why haven’t you done anything about it yet? Low confidence? Distractability?When you have a mountain to climb, waiting won’t make it smaller.

My One Thing

For me it definitely is my writing. Full time I work with numbers, so stringing words together is really hard.

One idea was to write just before I go to bed. Little did I know that this idea was a kamikaze pilot.

I’m still dealing with the FUD –

โœ… What if my content sucks;

โœ… What will people think of my writing;

โœ… What if I’m not good enough.

But so far the feedback has been positive, so I must be doing something right.

The important thing is to actually prioritize it and have the discipline to write consistently.

The point is that you need to organize yourself around your priorities.

All of us have a lot going on – all the time. But when we look closely we’ll realize that most of them aren’t as important as we think they are.

Your one thing is more important than spending hours binge-watching series.

But our brains follow the path of least resistance and allow these outside things to control us and prevent us from doing what matters.

So what is the muti we need?

Two things – Focus and Discipline.

The motivation won’t always be there so we need the discipline to keep at it in those moments when we don’t feel like doing it.

And please guys. Always remember, only do ONE thing at a time.

The human mind isn’t made to multitask. It is a weakness, not a strength and it makes you less productive. Why?

Because you are breaking your brain!

Chronic multitasking is a little gremlin that needs to be left in a dark corner of the 1990s.

Life happens one day at a time. Identify the most important task for the day and focus on getting it done.

If you seriously need to look at something else, use the 20 minute rule: Work at least 20 minutes on a task before moving onto the next one.

Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. – Benjamin Franklin.

Punching numbers everyday, I’ve heard my fair share of this quote. Not so much the death part, but no one likes paying tax – including me.

I’m sure you’re saying, “Seriously? This article was going so well. Now he used the words death and taxes in the same sentence!”

Well, I’m glad to say, that is what I’m definitely NOT talking about. The point I’m trying to make is that there is a third thing that will always be certain.

There will always be competition.

It’s ingrained into us from a small age. There is only one winner, and second place, is the first loser.

It is an attitude towards life that says the trifle of achievement is only so big, and if you get the slice first, there is less for me. So I’ll make sure I’m getting a piece first.

A win-lose attitude is full of pride.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.”

There is so much more to life than competing. It is a belief that there is more than enough achievement and success to go around for everyone.

You care about other people, and you want them to succeed. But you are also learning, developing and improving yourself to succeed as well.

I enjoy writing and get a lot of satisfaction from sharing my experiences and how I’m trying to apply the ideas I read about in my own life. Thereby equipping, engaging and encouraging others to become a better version of themselves.

You are reading this because you are curious and want to learn.

It’s not either you or me. It’s both of us.

I’m certain you will agree that all of us have a deep desire to be –

โœ… Loved;

โœ… Appreciated;

โœ… Valued; and

โœ… Affirmed.

A need to be part of a tribe, surrounded by like-minded people that gets us.

But in order for this to actually happen we need to uncover and appreciate another person’s perspective.

Easier said than done right!

Because, by the very nature of our existence we struggle with a self-centered mindset (I love my ideas and I want you to love them too!) coupled with under developed listening skills.

The essence of this habit is a temperament that favors curiosity, open-mindedness, empathy, and patience โ€” all rolled into one. In order to appreciate a different perspective, you cannot have already judged a person or situation. You need to develop a desire to understand โ€” meaning a desire to see things from othersโ€™ point of view, to see their reasons, and feel what they feel.

I know exactly what you’re thinking –

“Is this guy for real!?”

“I have absolutely no desire to understand where someone else is coming from.”

“It’s my way or the highway.”

And I get that, because there are still times where I still look at the person, smile, and think, “You’re going to love my idea!” But then I stay quiet and carry on listening.

So let me share a couple of ideas that I use in my daily interactions:

โœ… Be attentive to and respectful of the other personโ€™s preferred communication style.

โœ… Not just speak less and listen more, but listen better through the use of active listening.

โœ… Not just listen better, but question better by asking insightful questions that demonstrate an interest in learning key initiatives, challenges, and desired outcomes.

โœ… Ask hard questions softly to surface the risk and cost of leaving a critical situation unattended.

โœ… Hold off on a solution or recommendations until they have first uncovered and developed the full set of the critical goals, issues, and initiatives.

Only when we can appreciate another perspective we must determine where we can truly add value based on the boundaries within our control and these overlapping areas should then form our action plan, timeliness and main focus.

To me this habit is the most important of the seven.

The old adage, โ€œtwo heads are better than one,” has always rung true – It’s the habit of combined effort, open-mindedness, and the adventure of experimental collaboration in finding new solutions to old problems.

But it doesnโ€™t just manifest on its own.

Itโ€™s a process, and through that process, people combine all their individual experience and expertise to produce far better results than they could on their own.

Together we discover things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves. It is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Yes, 4 + 2 = 6 and 5 + 1 = 6, but always remember that there is also a third option of 3 + 3 = 6.

We are fortunate to have a bit of paddle cactus flourishing in a section of our garden, most of them standing over 3 meters tall. And each season, when the prickly pears were ripe for the picking, we had numerous occasions where we caught the kids in our neighborhood trying to pick the ones hanging over the wall.

Now neither of the kids have the necessary tools to pick the pears, nor do they have the length to actually reach them by themselves.

So what is the next logical step they come up with?

Of course! One leans against the wall while the other one gets on top of his shoulders and picks some prickly pears.

And as soon as we come walking around the corner, they just drop everything and run! But if they just knocked at the gate and asked we would gladly give them some.

Now I’ll be the first to admit, we can’t achieve this with everyone, but when people begin to interact together – unpretentiously – and theyโ€™re open to each otherโ€™s influence, they begin to compliment each other’s weaknesses and gain new insight.

The ability of devising new methods is increased exponentially because of differences. Valuing differences is what really matters.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. โ€”Abraham Lincoln

Sometime last year my beautiful wife and I tackled a project, in the spirit of love and togetherness, to build and fit burglar bars in our parents’ flat.

We bonded, it was super fun and it was quality time we’ll spent, but what I’m trying to get at is that my experience had all to do with drill bits.

More to the point (pun intended), how many drill bits does it take to drill a hole through 24 pieces of 5 mill flat bar?

One, three, five, fifteen?

After two hours, by the sweat of my brow and a pair of jelly arms, I used 21 drill bits to drill those 24 holes.

It was one of those learning opportunities where I got an A for effort, but unfortunately all those drill bits were blunt, and I haven’t learned how to sharpen a drill bit yet.

I’m sure you’re curious as to why I would even have a stash of 21 of the same drill bits, but that’s a story for another time.

My lesson learnt, the next day I bought 5 new drill bits, and it only took me an half an hour with three drill bits to drill the same amount of holes.

Well come to think of it, I should actually just throw those old drill bits away and learn to sharpen my new ones.

So the takeaway from all of this is that we need to prioritize the time to recharge and renew the four dimensions of our being – Physical, Mental, Social and Spritual – in order for us to be more efficient in our daily doings.

The only constant is change.

Therefore we need to regularly update our life versions so that we can identify the areas where we need to adapt, in order to overcome the new challenges we face each time we level up.

Millenials call this “self-care,” but unfortunately the brain is committed to its comfort zone, and convinces us that it isn’t important enough that we need to prioritize it.

In the short-term it will feel like “self care” will hinder your productivity, but it will greatly enhance it in the long-term, because in the end you won’t be sidelined by unhealthiness, mental illness, and nervous exhaustion.

YOU decide how to go about sharpening your drill bits. It’s YOU vs YOU. Your future self will thank YOU for doing something about it NOW.

Dr Covey mentions that there are 4 attributes we need to focus on:

โœ… Physical;

โœ… Spiritual;

โœ… Mental and;

โœ… Social.

All of these attributes are meshed together. Neglect one and the rest suffer. A bit of excersise will not only give us mental clarity, but we will also have better control of our emotions. If our social life is good, we will have more energy to take care of ourselves spiritually and live a purpose driven life. Synergising these attributes will help to do more in less time.

๐Ÿ”† Let’s get Physical

Life happens. That is why you need to certify that your body has the energy and resilience it needs to take life on as a boss. Don’t set yourself up for failure by struggling being sick and tired all the time. Your productivity will just go down the drain.

Looking after your body should be a priority. Focus on the basics:

โœ… Excersising

โœ… Eating Right

โœ… Getting enough sleep

These basics will go a long way in keeping you physically agile, so use them as a starting point and be consistent.

And if you don’t just want to stick to these basics, that’s fine as well. Go to the bush and do a walking trail, get a massage at the spa, play a game of squash with your friends. Do what ever makes you feel re-energised and refreshed.

Also, this doesn’t need to take lots of time out of your day. If you only have 20 minutes available, go for a quick run or have that power nap. The key is in being consistent.

๐Ÿ”† In good Spirit

Your spiritual attribute has to do with your sense of purpose in life. It stems from your cores and values and the reason you do what you do. But let me tell you, keeping at it with blunt drill bits, not sharpening or replacing them, will just burn you out.

It’s also easy to forget about the spiritual attribute. The devil is constantly trying to fill us with forgetfulness, of God and our purpose, by letting our daily doings take up most of our attention.

But the neglect eventually catches up to you. It’s in those moments, each year when your life version gets closer to the big 4.0 you’re wondering “What am I doing with my life?” or the world is under lockdown due to covid and you’re stuck at home. It makes those moments so much easier when you live a purpose driven life.

Keeping your spirit in shape is much the same as keeping your body in shape. You have to renew your spiritual drill bits regularly, so that you’re ready when you need to use them.

So how do we go about doing it? Through spiritual discipline and our habits:

โœ… Spend time in the Word of God

โœ… Pray regularly

โœ… Attend church services

โœ… Fast from Food

โœ… Cultivate a spirit of Gratitude

Spending a bit of time each day renewing your spiritual drill bits can magnify your capacity to give back to the world, which will lead to a more purpose-driven, fulfilling life overall.

๐Ÿ”† Mind over Matter

I’m a bean counter by day, so balancing the corporate beans is largely “mind work.” It constantly dulls my mental drill bit.

So would you agree with me that doing more mental work in my leisure time is counter productive and will only burn me out. Won’t it be better if I just switch my mind off completely by watching Netflix, playing a game on my phone or surfing through Instagram?

Change is the master key.

The best way to rejuvenate your mind is not to switch it off, but to give it something else to cannibalize than what it usually chews through at the grind. This will not only stimulate unused parts of your brain, but can give you insights that can loop back into your physical, spiritual and emotional success.

Some activities to help you sharpen your mental drill bit are:

โœ… Read for intellectual stimulation.

โœ… Play a game of Chess or Soduko.

โœ… Listen to an informative Podcast.

โœ… Write regularly, even if it’s an email.

โœ… Watch a documentary.

๐Ÿ”† Social Media

If you have a look at my Not a Robot section, you will notice that both Andrea and I are introverts.

Although we loved the time we were alone at home during lockdown, our brains are wired to socialize in one form or other, and so we like socializing in small groups (less than five around the table).

Several studies have found that socializing not only helps to reduce stress and reduce negative depressive feelings, but creates learning opportunities and moments to regain perspective.

A few ideas for social drill bit sharpening:

โœ… Have a braai with friends.

โœ… Have a date with your significant other.

โœ… Eat dinner with your family.

โœ… Host a team building session.

โœ… Dump toxic people from your life.

We all know that we need to make self-care a priority. The trick is to actually do it!

Remember that you need to protect your – sharpening the drill bit – time. Never feel guilty about saying “no” to someone so that you can concentrate on your self-care. All that self-care you’ve prioritized is preparing you to take all the things that you’ve said “yes” to, to the next level.

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this journey through Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as much as I have writing it. Having a closer look at these habits provided much needed insight as to which habits are sitting above level 90 and which ones are below level 10 and I still need to work on.

If you haven’t read the 7 Habits yet, I highly recommend you get the e-book or even the audio book. If you’ve read it, maybe go through it again. There’s no telling what new insights you may discover about how to be more effective in every area of your life.

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