Covey’s first three Habits constitute what he refers to as the “Private Victory”. Before you can effectively manage and work with others, you must first learn to effectively manage yourself. This is the natural result of learning to integrate Habits 1 through 3 into your life.
Today I’ll be reviewing the first three of the seven Habits: Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind, and Put First Things First.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
One of the main things that separate us from the animal kingdom is the ability to consciously remove ourselves from our thoughts and observe our actions from a third-person perspective. This ability allows us to interrupt what many refer to as “instinct” or a conditioned response.
Instinct is what causes us to respond to certain stimuli in the way that we do. For example, animals when confronted with a stimulus have a distinct response based upon their instincts. Humans, on the other hand, have the ability to stand apart from a stimulus, creating a gap between the two – effectively allowing one to decide how to respond. This is the definition of being proactive.
Victor Frankl, in his phenomenal work, “Man’s Search For Meaning”, talks extensively about this. Having lived through the Nazi concentration camps, Frankl noticed that there was a distinct difference between those who were able to survive (and sometimes even thrive) during that experience and those who gave up. This was the ability to be proactive, or deciding how they were going to respond to that ordeal. The Nazis may have been able to take their liberty away, but the freedom of how they would respond would always remain with them.
The opposite of being proactive is being reactive. A reactive person is tossed to and fro by others actions and environmental circumstances. They are completely dependent upon external situations for their success, happiness and quality of life. These are the people who blame others for their lot in life – constantly pointing the finger at genetics, environment, government, or God for dealing them such an awful hand. They never come to the realization that all along, the power to change lies with them.
Without first integrating this habit into your life, none of the other six will be possible. Being proactive is really the beginning of empowerment.
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
Once you become empowered through applying Habit 1 in your life, you will naturally want to create the kind of life that is in accordance with your values and desires. Beginning with the end in mind allows you to project yourself into your future and mentally create your life as you would want it. I feel this is the basis for the Law of Attraction.
Covey refers to this habit as the mental or first creation. Through proper planning and preparation, you can mentally create what eventually will become the second creation; or what you physically see manifested in your life.
Failing to begin with the end in mind allows the external environment to dictate how your life turns out. You can either be a victim to the weather of circumstance or you can bring your own weather with you.
(I’m sure you’re noticing a correlation between Habits 1 and 2 by now. In fact, you’ll see that all the Habits build upon and support each other.)
Habit 3: Put First Things First
If you’re like most people, your life is probably full of continual demands and distractions for your attention. As more and more of these “inputs” come into your life, you may feel that you’re effectively managing your time because you’re able to deal with each new “crisis” as it comes up. However, this is probably the most ineffective way of managing your time.
Covey explains that constantly attending to these mini crises, you will forever be caught up in the trap of putting out one fire after the next — causing unneeded stress and eventual burnout. This is because you never learn this one lesson: to put first things first.
Learning to correctly prioritize these inputs based upon what’s most important to you is what putting first things first means. This is the key to effective personal management — and ultimately effective living.
Covey relates a study that was done which observed a large number of successful people to discover what the one thing was that separated them from the masses. It was this: successful people learned to put first things first; they do the things which other people don’t do but know that they should.
When you’re putting first things first you are doing important things which are not urgent. Things such as building relationships, prevention, planning, preparation, reading, improving your professional knowledge and exercise are all examples of important but not urgent things.
It’s these types of activities that will keep the crises and fires down to a minimum. They let you know that you’re living your live proactively — according to the end that you have in mind — and not simply reacting to whatever life throws at you. (The integration of Habits 1, 2 and 3)
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is the fifth of fifty-two books in Life Training – Online’s series 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks.