What the 7 Habits Did For Me.


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I came to the Seven Habits later than I’d have liked, but since they weren’t published until 1989 and I was already 37 years old that’s not really surprising. I discovered the book in 1995 after I’d read Stephen Covey’s time management epic First Things First and realised that I enjoyed his writing style and presentation as much as I did the content.

In retrospect the book changed me in many positive ways, ways I wish to put on record and ways that I would encourage others to explore, if not adopt. I won’t look at the Habits themselves, as that would lengthen this article too much. I’ll just focus on their effect.

In reading The Seven Habits (and Covey’s other works):

  • I discovered that people allow themselves to be influenced, even created by their surroundings, and that I could decide that my surroundings would not affect me. We are all Pavlov’s Dogs, if we allow that to happen.
  • I discovered that the best way to achieve anything is to put myself forward rather than rely on things to happen in a way that suits me.
  • I realised that now and then it is better to just say nothing rather than express an opinion that will upset someone else, especially when there was no perceivable positive outcome to such expression.
  • I discovered that what was being presented to me by others is frequently coloured, flowered with opinion rather than objectivity, and designed to tell me what they want me to think, rather than what is actually unbiased and true. It made me question everything rather than just accept. Professionally, it made me a better investigator.
  • I noticed just how much time and effort is wasted on ‘things done the way they’ve always been done’ and without proper, considered thought. It made me challenge demands on my time – some I won, some I lost, but all taught me new ways to approach people whose demands challenged me.
  • I stopped challenging processes until I truly understood their objective, thus recognising what worked and what didn’t, so that I could influence effective change.
  • I started to think about my future and started developing and executing a plan that made my desired outcomes come into being.
  • I found that reading the book, with its considered prose, well-argued observations and incredible wisdom, made me more intelligent. It made me want to seek more knowledge, higher-level qualifications and challenging opportunities.
  • I decided that I wanted to teach this to others, and so I sought out the experiences, training and opportunities to do so. I even funded its availability in my local comprehensive.
  • I recognised that I have made many, many mistakes, but that they do not define me.
  • And many mooooorrrreeeee.

In conclusion, reading that book arguably made me a more productive employee, parent, husband and trainer. Yes, I still make mistakes but it is usually despite my knowledge rather than because of it. The principles apply – it’s my failure to apply the principles (on occasion) that influenced my personal errors. And given Covey’s confession that even he had trouble with them, I can live with it.

The book has sold 40 million copies, has just been re-issued as a 30th anniversary edition, and still surprises me with my recognition of bits of information that tweak my knowledge of the material and how it applies to my life.

I really, emphatically and enthusiastically recommend it. If nothing else, reading it led to some truly impactive self-discovery and personal growth. The hardback costs less than 10 pints and has a longer-term effect.

Or you can choose beer. Make the better choice.

Habit 5 – The Bit We All Missed


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I have been studying Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits for a quarter of a century, as have many of those with whom I have connected on LinkedIn. The recent 30th Anniversary Edition hit my hallway floor last Saturday – actually, it hit the outside step as the delivery person stood safely distant –and I am deep within its pages again. I have already discovered a few missed nuggets. Including today.

Habit 5 – Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood – has been a familiar tenet in the corporate world, I am sure. I have read that chapter many times, and always sworn to try to apply it in testing or inquisitorial conversations. The book itself describes its use in many such instances, using examples from the perspective of the lives of individuals in their personal and working lives to illustrate how verbal conversations can be improved through application of the aforementioned Habit..

Today, I found a bit I missed and, according to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (if my experience is anything to go by), so have a lot of other people. And possibly the reason I missed it is because this nugget was detailed not in Habit 5’s chapter, but in Habit 7’s, on renewal.

He wrote about great literature that ‘(reading in various fields) can expand our paradigms and sharpen our mental saw, particularly if we practice Habit 5 as we read, and seek first to understand.

That was a AHA! moment. Or indeed a DUH! moment. I’d never thought about that, even if I’d exercised it. ‘Seek First to Understand what we READ’. It isn’t just a conversational model.

Realising that, and recognising its importance, led me to ask the question, “If people read the news with an enquiring rather than an assumptive mindset, would most of the rubbish on social media go away?’

Yes. People would read the allegations, check the facts, research any science or laws applicable, review the political past of the reporter/witness/commentator and eventually, perhaps, come to a less) emotional, ideological or ill-informed conclusion. And then shut the hell up.

(Of course, it might wind them up even more…..)

At the moment, we are witnessing a change in the reportage of the media. They have gone from just reporting, worked through and past analysis, and on to out-and-out commentary. Unfortunately, this is proving to be commentary without real, deep, objective or unbiased analysis.

It’s as if the middle bit is a bar to profit for the printed and commercial media, and a bar to fame and notoriety for the public-broadcaster’s employees who are all vying for a better position, or their own programme. The objective is no longer balanced reportage – it is fame and/or profit through a ‘shock-jock’ style approach..

(The last time newsreaders did something outside simple news-reading for fame, they dressed as sailors and did flick-flacks for Morecombe and Wise.)

Where have the Paul Foots and the Martin Bells and the Michael Buerks gone? They all reported injustice and societal disasters without the need for constant personal attack or self-importance. Even the famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward now seems to be left-biased, and only appears when the right is to be attacked. (I would’ve said criticised but they’ve all gone way past that.)

But more to my point – why have we, the public, stopped putting in the effort and started to just accept what is thrown at us by the media without asking ‘Is this true, exaggerated, misunderstood or made up?’ Why have we omitted that step and then just lost our sanity and sense of calm over what we have not checked is worth that effort?

Habit 5 – Seek First To Understand is a sensible, reasoned, objective and intellectually satisfying approach to news, documentaries and other sources of information. The counter to Habit 5, Seeking First to Assume, makes an – well, you know.

Don’t be one of those.

Unconscious competence is the place to be. Or so you’d think.

You all know the model, credited to Martin M Broadwell  on 1969 as the earliest explainer of the concept. How we start at unconscious incompetence (not knowing what we don’t know), to conscious incompetence (knowing what we need to know), through conscious competence (knowing and thinking about what we’re doing) before the formerly acknowledged top level of unconscious competence, when we can do what we do without thinking about it.

(Of course, when Republican Vice-President Dick Cheney explained that to the inherently biased left-wing media, they displayed their ignorance by taking the mick.)

We tend to prize the level of unconscious competence because it implies we have transcended the intellect, that we are so good we don’t need to focus attention on the competence, and that we are at the flow level, executing to the highest degree.


If we settle at unconscious competence being the best we can be, we stifle our personal growth because we have settled, in our minds, any debt we feel to get even better.

No, the top level (and this is supported by Dr Stephen Covey, Leadership Expert) is conscious competence. And it is also the hardest.

Why is that? It is because it could be argued that TRUE conscious competence IS conscious incompetence.

And no-one wants to admit to incompetence, surely?

Look at conscious competence like this. It means three things – first that we know what to do something and how to do it, but also why to do it, why it works. And thirdly, how to explain and/or teach it to other people. Marvellous.

But the higher level, surely, must be the ability to look at what we are doing and develop new ways of thinking about it and new ways to execute, or even finding new uses for what we’re doing. That’s a whole level of thinking that is higher than unconscious competence, which is something rats can do when they go a-huntin’. That requires awareness that there is something better – which is knowledge yet to be obtained.

The reason that conscious competence is so hard is because all too often we know what to do and why to do it, can teach it and want to do it – but won’t.

If you consider a specific skill, then conscious competence is easy. Take widget, turn crank, ta-daaa.

But in terms of holistic living, not so much.

Example? People know smoking is bad and could stop – but don’t. People who feel really bad after a drinking binge – and do it every weekend. Overweight people who know exercise is good for them – but if they could, would park their cars in their office or living room rather than walk the length of a car park.

You see, those four intellectual levels of learning apply just as much to ‘being’ as they do to performing. And while being able to teach that stuff shows great competence, knowing what you’re not doing and then really, consciously doing it is the best way forward.

Incongruence cost me – don’t let it cost you.


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Ever done something you wish you hadn’t? Ever spoken down to someone when you didn’t mean to? Ever knowingly broken a rule, then regretted it? Ever judged a situation at a time of emotional disquiet, acted accordingly and then realised you had it wrong and always did – but let your emotion rule your thinking?

I’ve done most, if not all of those. And in each case, the fault lay within my acquiescing to the deed because I wasn’t wholly acting congruently – that is, either with my own values or (and this is important) the stated values of the organisation for which I was working. I may not have agreed wholeheartedly with those values but I should have accepted and complied with them. Silly me.

In lesser circumstances, the lack of integrity had short term results – poorer relationships that meant reluctance to engage with someone when I really needed to do so. Phone calls being put off, visits being postponed, and so on.

In the worst case, I felt I had to leave my job. Not entirely because of the offending act but because of the untenable situation it left me in. Nevertheless, the time management/productivity consequence of my failure to act with congruence was no job to manage or to be congruent about.

In TimePower, Charles R. Hobbs discussed how a lack of personal integrity – which I never thought was different to professional integrity but my job loss suggests otherwise! – causes problems not just in the productivity sense but also in terms of our own sense of self-esteem.

(I’ve known people use the term ‘personal self-esteem‘. What other kind of self-esteem could there be?)

When we fail to meet our own standards we tend to dwell on that failure. I’m not talking about failure in the sporting sense. If we didn’t fail to win at sports, no-one else would, either. To paraphrase Ziglar, if someone didn’t come second the winner wouldn’t have been first, they’d have been ‘only’. I’m talking about the kind of failure that our conscience tells us is our own damn fault.

In other words, failing to act with integrity – congruence with our personal beliefs or those we have adopted – wastes time in self-examination, further self-doubt, lack of self-confidence and, potentially, a whole host of other things that stop us doing, effectively, what we are supposed to be doing.

Now ‘retired’, I find that my biggest regret isn’t the lost money I would have earned, but the inability to do the work I had the opportunity to do. And the realisation that even when I wasn’t happy at work, I could have been. Which is an odd thing to write about stressful work but it’s true. I now have less to manage my time about, and less of a need to have high professional standards.

Which isn’t to say I won’t have high amateur standards!

Of course, some lucky people have no personal or professional values, so their integrity can float around complying with anything it likes, so they never fracture their self-esteem.

And do you realise just how much you can’t trust those people?

In conclusion, therefore, I encourage you to spend time identifying your values fully, then decide whether you’ve complied with them so far and then how you’re going to be congruent with them from now on. That’s NOW ON, not ‘in the future’, which is a bit nebulous. If you need help in doing that, it is available HERE. At no cost.

It IS worth the effort, and NOW is the time.

Are your habits making or breaking you?


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This has been reproduced from the internet. Unfortunately the original author hasn’t been identified, and is frequently stated to be that prolific philosopher, Anon.


The Habit Poem

I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half the things you do, you might just as well turn over to me,
and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed; you must merely be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great men.
And, alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine.
Plus, the intelligence of a man.
You may run me for profit, or run me for ruin; it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will put the world at your feet.
Be easy with me, and I will destroy you.
Who am I?

I am a HABIT!


What Habits do you have that serve you best – and worst?

And what are YOU going to do about the latter?

Start today. Start NOW.

This isn’t worki…… WOW!


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I had an experience this morning. I can’t say I haven’t had one like it before but it was the first for a wee while.

Jack Canfield wrote a book about 15 years ago called The Success Principles. It is good. This year he (finally!) brought out a workbook as a parallel. I like workbooks, they make me think. The trouble is that over the years I find them hard to complete because I’ve had the same thoughts over and over again.

There was a set of exercises about finding your Life Purpose. Done it before. One question was ‘define your Joy’. Ick. It was to finish the sentence “I feel joy when ……….” I don’t do joy. I define joy as being almost ecstasy, which means 5 minutes after the miracle of birth I’m all “What’s next?”

Then a few more exercises and finally one I’ve actually done before but ….. well, “Meh!” anyway, in the interests of science I went ahead, anyway. The questions were pretty much ‘Describe 2 characteristics you possess’, ‘Name 2 things you like to do’ and ‘What would your perfect world be like?’

Now, I cannot for the life of me recall what happened in terms of the order of thinking, but I came up with “I use my integrity, intellect and productivity to create, master and promote an inspiring philosophy so that all can live congruent, organised and purposeful lives.”

Pretentious? Moi?

I know I cheated – 3 words instead of 2 – but I realised as I drafted, edited and finalised it that (apart from the mastery part!) I am wholly focused on doing exactly that. Now, you may not be reading this (at all) and thinking, “Yeah, that’s Dave,” but that is what Dave does and that is what Dave aspires to.

It’s not a goal statement. That’s the next bit. But now everything I do and all the goals I seek will reflect more accurately, and more consistently, that Purpose. I’ve written four books, two specifically on my philosophy and productivity, and I have two more on the go. I teach people Advanced Driving and enjoy the requirement that I master it myself. And above all, in a sense, I aspire to mastering myself, too. There is a need for discipline, character, competence and service implied within that sentence, too. Three Resolutions compliant, so it is.

And the best thing of all is – and don’t take this personally – that whether or not people read, accept and implement the counsel that I advocate is not important. Their interest is outside my control. What is within my control is whether my daily activities reflect that sentence. Anything else is a bonus.

The AHA! that came with the realisation that this reflected what I was already doing, allied to having finally been able to put it into as short a sentence as that, boggled my mind. It may not boggle yours, but is there a similar sentence that accurately reflects your purpose and personal aspiration to live by some personal philosophy that you know makes perfect sense but you aren’t quite up to speed in terms of congruent performance?

Go on, I DOUBLE dare you.


A Kite, to be free, needs an Anchor. So do we.


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Years ago, I was on a needed holiday. I’d arrived in a bad mood – I can’t remember why – but I felt tired, depressed, unmotivated and just completely uninterested, even in the holiday itself.

On the second day of that break, I found myself lying on a warm, grassy playing field. I was basking in warm sunshine, and I held the string of one of those plastic kites you can only seem to buy at the seaside. As I twisted and pulled the string of the kite to make it go hither an’ thither up in the sky in a fashion that I decreed it should, I had a sudden flash of the blinding obvious. You know the sort of thing: that realisation that you actually know something which you already knew, had forgotten, and needed to know right then.

The kite only succeeded if it was firmly anchored at the other end of its string.

If I let go of it, the kite would plummet uncontrollably to the ground. Even if it flew in a heavy wind for a few moments, eventually gravity – a principle – would take command of the situation and force it to clumsily dive into terra firma, and the flimsy toy would probably perish in the process.

He same applies to us, psychologically. Imagine that you’re like the kite. You are capable of whatever it is you have been trained and prepared for. In an ideal world you’ve selected the profession in which you work.

Then you lose some perspective. You forget why you chose that line. Perhaps someone has changed the rules and the values you upheld last week are no longer welcomed. The impositions have increased, but neither the time available nor the compensation have increased to match the added workload. The situation and the dedication that applied yesterday – have gone.

Suddenly, like an un-anchored kite you lose direction. You float where the wind blows but now it’s with no sense of control.

Maybe that’s how you feel in this period of isolation. You can’t do what you’ve been able to do for ever. So you drift, aimlessly. Towards the fridge, like as not.

But there’s a solution.

Rediscover that anchoring point, that ‘other end’ of the piece of string that can refocus you on what was important, and always will be important. Being current, professionally. Being available to family, friends, colleagues and your community. For me, that is a set of written, defined values and a personal mission statement. It could be like that for you, but you may choose other terms or a different route.

But it’s the anchor that lets you fly. Always was, always will be.

Find it, rediscover it, renew it. Perhaps, given the current uncertainty, completely rewrite it.

Whatever you decide is important, get it down in writing (rather than trying to remember it), and then work from it.

Your kite – a metaphor for your life – will fly all the better for that fixed point.

NOW is the time to prevent the post COVID explosion of stress.


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David Allen of Getting Things Done fame, wrote:

“Many organisations are exhorting their people to be ‘customer driven’ and to ‘go the extra mile’ to add a competitive advantage of extraordinary service that will win more business. But they may not be addressing the ability to handle that business. …… When your front line feels overwhelmed, watch out for resistance to new customers and opportunities.”

That, leaders in the public sector, is how your staff feel every day. Every time you say yes to a government diktat, or to a local authority project, or to a promotion-seeking evidence gatherer, you add to your staff’s stress. Every time you ‘listen’ to your staff and take no notes and do nothing, you’re adding more. And when you take on more and more new work in the knowledge that it’s not you but your front line that has to do it, and you do that without ridding them of the other work, you add stress.

No matter how productive your staff, you cannot just keep loading them with more without then having to wonder why they’ve gone sick for 6 months. And why they sue you for constructive dismissal.

Wake up!

Now would be a great time to look at all that stuff that is building up because of what’s happening, and respectfully, considerately, courageously but resolutely decide what to leave behind when it’s all over.

And where necessary, tell those who want that cr4p that they can’t have it unless they cough up money and resources for the catch up process.

Otherwise the cost of what you think you’ll be doing is going to be a lot more than you can afford.

Loss of morale (minimum), loss of staff (probably) and in extreme circumstances, loss of life. Some people can’t cope.

You’ve all heralded the new world of Mental Health in the Workplace.

Actively choosing what is TRULY important (as opposed to every different department demanding ‘their’ figures and forms be submitted by the end of any working day).

Train your staff in time management methodology,  and divest them – and you – of the Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 ‘nice’ stuff that is burning up their potential productivity. THAT is the way to keep staff and create the results that matter.

So put your money where your mouth is. Decide what isn’t going to be done when this is all over. And stand by your decisions.


Earn twice as much? Twice the time off? Bulls**t.

I have a bone to pick with personal development speakers whose tagline is “You can earn ten times as much” or ‘You can earn enough to take twice as much time off.” My bone-picking would be supported by the vast majority of people who work for a living.

Nurses. Firemen. NHS Doctors. Police officers and staff. Shop asnd factory workers. Milkmen. Postworkers.

In other words, anyone who works in public service or for an hourly wage. Guess what, Jack Canfield, Grant Carbone et al: in order for them to do what you suggest, they’d have to work 300-hour weeks with enhanced overtime, and I’m sure you see the flaw in that idea.

Of course, the self-employed can up their rates, profit margins, and hours. But the rest of us have to negotiate even the opportunity to work overtime, let alone try to cram ten weeks into one.

Of course, the ‘experts’ in this field would now criticise my ‘lack of ambition’ and ‘dearth of imagination’, but they’d be missing the point.

People in most of those professions do those things because they WANT TO. They have a desire to serve the community in a very important way. Right now, we are all celebrating the services provided by people who can’t change their rates, can’t work 300-hours a week even if they wanted to, and certainly aren’t in a position to take twice as much time off.

And even if they could, do you think their families would appreciate never seeing them again – even if they did have a nicer house?

The self-help field has a lot going for it. It can help people see the value in what they do, to appreciate themselves and others more, to seek abundance within and even despite of the limitations their lives provide. It can help them emotionally when challenge attacks. It can provide inspiration for them to change their situations, create possibility, or to just be content.

But selling the impossible serves nobody.

Rant over.

And thank you to those who do what they do for as little as they get. Because they are almost invariably worth a lot more.

New job title – what’s that about?


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You may not care 😊, or you may be intrigued about the new the job title I’ve used on my profile  – Mission Controller.

What is a Mission Controller? In NASA terminology it is a person sat in Mission Control at Cape Canaveral who sits at a computer screen monitoring information, interpreting its meaning and transmitting the data and conclusions up the chain of command to whoever needs it, including the astronauts themselves, if necessary. What a Mission Controller does not do is decide what the Mission is. Nor does the Mission Controller (necessarily) tell the operative what to do. That is for the operative themselves to decide. The Operator takes the given information and, using training, experience and set protocols, does whatever is needed to continue the Mission.

That is the perspective I have used when choosing my new ‘title’. As Mission Controller I will not:

  • Tell people what their Mission should be.
  • Tell them how to carry it out (unless a set, principled protocol already exists).

Those two elements are strictly within a client’s remit.

We tend, to varying degrees, to have a way of life dictated for us by others.  Everything we do, we do for, because of or with other people. That’s the interdependent reality. But how we deal with that is usually systematic rather than self-directed. Society demands that we deal with people in a certain fashion, but how we deal with ourselves should be entirely our own principled choice. We should decide as much as we can, for ourselves, what we are for.

My new purpose as Mission Controller will be to help people identify their sense of personal mission. It is to help them discover and commit to a vision that they will discover and design for themselves,  after which my purpose will be to provide advice and the occasional protocol for them to complete their mission. Unfortunately, geography and logistical difficulties will mean that I will not be able to monitor their commitment to your mission. That will be entirely down to their own self-discipline.

The mission they select, should they wish to complete it*, will have two specific elements – firstly, what they want to achieve (the Vision), and secondly, how they are going to achieve it (the Practices). I will not set out either of them for people.

I will provide advice on finding out what their mission is, learning how to achieve it, how to teach others about it (if they wish) and the potential pitfalls that may cause them to lose their way.

And once we have finished, success will be entirely down to them.

Good luck