Why I write what I write.

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“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” Louise May Alcott

I sat in my chair this morning, wondering whether the books that I write will ever receive the attention and interest that I desire – all writers want to be a ‘success’ – and then I read the above paragraph and realised that success or not, writing my books is personally rewarding and informative.

When we write, there is a lot ourselves in the result. And not necessarily the ‘us’ that existed when we set out to create, but the ‘us’ that we became as we went through the process of researching, drafting, refining and finalising what was finally put into the public domain. I know from my own crafting of The Three Resolutions that I have become more disciplined, congruent, competent and other-people centred than I was when I began exploring the concepts.

Zig Ziglar felt the same when he wrote ‘See You At The Top’. He tells in its pages of how he weighed several dozen pounds more than a personal development speaker and writer ought to, and part of the writing process was to slim down and get fitter so as to be seen to be what he professed he ought. Yes. I did that, too. Think of me as the less fundamentalist equivalent of that ex-smoker who evangelises at anyone who lights up.

So while I would welcome some interest in my philosophical and practical musings on self-leadership, and my experienced and researched counsel on time management for police colleagues, I haven’t in any sense failed just because I’m not as famous as Stephen Covey and David Allen.

I won’t achieve their levels of success and brilliance. But I can aspire, like Alcott, to do my best to apply what I have learned and about what I have written. If only because of my firm belief that what I learned – about the principles and about myself – make the whole effort worthwhile.

What are you doing to get even better than you are?

Available HERE

Seven Habits – Day 17 – Habit 7 and Conclusion

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Habit 7 is the Habit of Renewal, hence the epithet ‘Sharpen the Saw’. It is a metaphor for ensuring you’re sharp enough to keep working, rather then getting and staying blunt through poor and excessive focus on the P of th P/PC Balance discussed in week 1. How do we sharpen ourselves then?

Most importantly, we need to do so in all four human dimensions.

Physical. You achieve and maintain a healthy weight so that you aren’t dulled by excess. You eat wisely. You exercise to help the body act optimally and for as long as needed (endurance, strength and flexibility). You get enough sleep and try not to poison the body – the only tool through which you channel everything about you.

Mental. You read in your field, and more broadly where possible, so as to improve your intellectual capacity to apply different ideas, and to be creative. You make sure that you aren’t made redundant during what Covey later called the ‘professional half-life’ of about two years, that period being the point at which, untrained, your competence halves.

Social-Emotional. You maintain and improve relationships, both with others and yourself. Your self-esteem is important, provided it doesn’t grow into a huge ego. This is arguably the easiest part of you to renew because you are doing it constantly as you live your life around other people.

Spiritual. You discover your personal values and reflect on how to live in their accord. You ensure you find meaning. Even if that isn’t in work, you seek out and discover that which fills your heart – passions, hobbies and above all, service to others.

Renewal is in Quadrant B/2 – it is important but never urgent, so you have to act upon it. You have to plan your weeks so that you get the renewal done – with the exception of the social dimension that happens all around and all the time, the rest of it is down to you to arrange.

Try to synergise. Train at work, using work’s resources (physical, mental, social). Exercise with friends and family (physical, social, spiritual). Go on a nature walk and reflect upon your mission (social-emotional, physical, spiritual). The possibilities are many, and all serve you and your ability to live a principled, productive lifestyle.

Renew – stay relevant, happy, productive and ‘on purpose’.

That’s the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People down from 340+ pages to about 14. I have really edited down a synergistic, whole-life approach to the life you design because you want what’s in it.

Now I really encourage you to go get a copy and read for yourself the wisdom that Stephen Covey himself edited down from 200 years of what he called ‘the wisdom literature’. You would see that it isn’t just a list of to-dos, as many books can be. There is an intellectually compelling completeness to what Covey wrote. You start with learning about a Paradigm and then realise that you’re reading a book where you end up noticing that how you see each Habit affects how/if you apply it. You realise that everything you do well is in your Circle of Influence if you want it to be there – or it stays outside that Circle and just bothers your conscience. And you realise that you have the capacity to act, because you are aware that you can. If you want.

Be careful, though. Through reading and applying this material you might just get what you want. I did.

Good luck.

Seven Habits – Day 16 – Habit 6 – Synergise

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Once you’ve learned to listen and understand better, you can synergise. What is that? Habit 6 – Synergise – is based on the principle of Creative Co-operation. How so?

Synergy recognises a natural truth that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts which, put another way, means that the relationship between the parts is one of the parts, and an important one at that. In nature, you know that one plank can bear a great weight, but two planks properly placed together can support well in excess of twice the weight of the one. Synergy.

Nature is full of examples of synergy – two people can add up to two in a partnership, but  they can create a few more people if they breed! Synergy is in parenting, team games, the classroom – all examples of where the relationship between the participants is great and can magnificently improve the creativity of the sum of its parts.

But sometimes, it needs courage. When two people disagree, even agreeably, then it takes courage and confidence, plus a little consideration, to seek to introduce a synergistic potential to the debate. It requires one party to say, “How would you like to seek a third alternative that is better than the one either of us can come up with?” It takes courage to agree to that, and it takes courage to say, “Let’s hear you, first.”

The two then start a mutually respectful, “I think”, “Ah, but how about” back and forth until the 3rd, better alternative is found.

Synergy is better than compromise = where 1+1 = 1½. Compromise is for when there is a lack of trust between the parties involved. It’s the best that ‘enemies’ can come up with if they have equal power.

That courage and consideration mentioned earlier is in your Circle of Influence. It requires seeing (paradigm) the other party as an equal, worthy of deep respect. It also requires seeing that there can be an alternative – imagination, which is one of your human endowments addressed n the first few posts.

And sometimes, particularly in these days of polarity in debate, the bravest of us all can start the process of reconciliation and solution by saying, “Good, you see things differently. Tell me more.”

As Covey opined, when two people agree totally, one of them is unnecessary. Creative co-operation requires different viewpoints if it is to work, but it also means recognition that one may be superior to another, and that there may be other ways that have yet to be explored.

Synergy is the fruit of Think Win/Win (root) and Seeking First to Understand (the shoot).

As we come to the last Habit – Sharpen the Saw, you will come to realise that the 7 Habits themselves are an example of synergy – all the Habits have great value in and of themselves but when they are applied together in our daily lives they can identify, create and work for outstanding and effective results.

Habit 7 – the Principle of Renewal, is an essential, foundational Habit that serves and supports execution of the other six.

But can it also be ‘stand alone’? We shall see.

Seven Habits – Day 15 – Habit 5 (with good and bad examples)

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Empathic communication – sounds deep. And it is, but it isn’t impossible. Empathy is more than sympathy, which is just a form of agreement. Empathy is truly understanding another from their frame of reference, as if you’re in the same situation and feeling the same emotions. Why is that so hard?

It’s hard because in our world we listen with the intent to reply – or, more accurately, butt in with our better story or advanced and superior opinion. This is actually normal, so don’t grieve if you find yourself doing that. But when you can, work in your Circle of Influence, be proactive and aware, and decide to listen with the intent to understand before speaking. Habit 5 is called Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. There is a sequence, and it is both logical and pathological.

There are 5 levels of listening; ignoring, pretending, selective, attentive and empathic. Most of us vacillate between selective and attentive, but the latter is the most effective in conversations involving emotion – like political and sociological debate. The enemy of empathic listening is the need to probe, advise when only listening is required, to interpret (wrongly) based on our experience, and to evaluate or judge.

To properly hear what someone is saying you have to listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Your eyes and ears will add emotion to the words being spoken, and your heart will seek to interpret what is really being said. Unfortunately, the Twitter world says we must decide in advance what the racist/sexist/transphobic misogynist is saying, even before they speak, and we then call ourselves enlightened and woke.

Covey’s advice is to reflect and reframe someone’s communication as a means of seeking to understand and to demonstrate that you hear what they are saying. If you want an example of how this is NOT done, watch Jordan Peterson being interviewed by Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News, where she keeps reflecting back what she has decided he said, when he clearly has not! (Go HERE)

My own experience is that once you start to listen ‘better’, you find yourself finishing other people’s sentences before they do – hopefully in less emotional discussions but the principle applies. You are clearly listening with intent to understand if you can demonstrate that understanding by completing the other’s thoughts!

Another way of seeing that you are effectively exercising Habit 5 is when you disagree with someone’s opening statement, then listen and find that your original counter-argument is amended – or even unnecessary. Listening has resulted in them realising the error of their thoughts – or in you doing the same.

Consider the art of empathic communication next time you watch any political debate on the television, and you will soon realise that ‘our betters’ are rarely interested in the first part of Habit 5. At the risk of starting an argument, watch Jacob Rees-Mogg and Vince Cable HERE, and see how each listens to the other without interruption, so that each can understand and counter the other’s argument. Then compare it to most such debates you see.

Habit5 requires that you work within your Circle of Influence out of genuine interest in the other’s thoughts and words; exercising the character to listen rather than speak; and also the maturity to be willing to be influenced by what is being said.

Stephen Covey once said that this was the hardest Habit for him – and if it’s hard for him, recognise that means you have to start practising now!

Tomorrow -Synergy.

Seven Habits – Day 14 – The Beginnings of Public Victory

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If, as I would hope, you have accepted your own responsibility for ‘life’ and have started focusing in your Circle of Influence, creating and working on a plan that serves your legacy, you need to work with other people – which can be fraught. Working your Emotional Bank Account through Habit 4 is a great way to do that. It is the beginning of Public Victory.

Many people confuse the name of this Habit. When asked what it is, they say “Win/Win” with gusto. Wrong. It is “THINK Win/Win.” As you cannot predict or demand any response from A.N. Other, you can only focus on your own attitude and approach as that is firmly within your Circle of Influence. You have to take 100% responsibility for communication.

There are 6 takes on agreements. They are Win/Win, Win/Lose, Lose/Lose, Lose/Win, Win, Win /Win or No Deal. Think of them like this –

  1. Win/Win good; the ideal opening “thought-salvo” to any negotiation;
  2. Win/Lose; “I will beat you into the ground to get what I want at your expense”;
  3. Lose/Win surrender; “Walk over me, everyone else does.”;
  4. Win – also selfish but with no regard for the other;
  5. Lose/Lose is used a lot in divorces; “If I can’t have it neither can you!”; and
  6. Win/Win or No Deal, which means we can decide to disagree, agreeably, and not do the deal.

Only Win/Win and Win/Win or No Deal establish and maintain good relationships – all of the others fail that test and actually prevent future discourse.

There are 5 Dimensions of Win/Win, applied in turn in order to achieve the best ‘deal’. By the way, by ‘deal’ I mean any agreement from a merger between Pepsi and Coca Cola to getting your teenager to clean her room. The dimensions executed in order are Character – what you are as a person, e.g. congruent and reliable; Relationship – established and firmed up before proceeding; Agreement – results focused and made, confirmed, and described in a way both parties understand and accept (see DR GRAC); Systems – for making the agreement work; and Processes – for detailed execution of the agreement.

Character is also described as the nexus of Integrity, Maturity (balance of courage and consideration) and an Abundance Mentality (an acknowledgement that there is enough pie to go around). Maturity means having the courage to seek what you want but having the consideration to do so with the other’s needs firmly in mind and part of the solution.

Once you have the character to start negotiating – i.e. you enter with Win/Win as your objective – then you start to establish or improve a relationship so that open conversation can take place with a view to then entering into the DR GRAC element of the agreement. Once the agreement is reached, then systems for accountability, reward and execution can also be agreed and implemented.

In The Seven Habits book, Stephen Covey provides examples of each of the 6 levels of agreement, and examples of how this kind of thinking has worked in the home and in business. Indeed, his example of establishing such an agreement with his son, through DR GRAC, is now legendary in the world of personal development. It can be viewed on YouTube HERE. His son says he was framed.

Approaching any potential agreement with Win/Win in mind is the Root of interpersonal success. Tomorrow and Thursday we will look at the shoot and the fruit of the Public Victory.

Seven Habits – Day 12 – Habit 3 – First Things First

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As Habit 2 is the habit of personal leadership, Habit 3 is the habit of personal management. The crux is that leadership is doing the right thing, management is doing things right. It is the ‘art of control’ and Habit 3 – time management – is the art of controlling events. How do you execute with leadership and vision in mind?

Time management addresses two measures – urgency (time critical) and importance (mission critical). In the 21st century, due to the immediacy of personalised communication and broadband, many of us have adopted an urgency mentality – it pops up, it must be read/assessed/done NOW! And that is all done regardless of (a) its level of importance and (b) whether it should ever actually be done at all. Habit 3 invites (demands?) that you use the ‘independent will’ in your Stimulus-Response Gap to make an assessment as to where, in a matrix, the task lies. The matrix looks like this:

I won’t insult you with a detailed explanation but as you can see, the most important things lie ‘above the line’, and this is the point at which you must decide where your task lies. If it’s below the line, it can wait. If it’s above, do it. If it’s above and to the left, do it now!

The best place to be is ‘Quadrant B’ and it’s where you do the preparation: planning, proper recreation, envisioning, etc. It’s where you ‘think’ so that ‘stuff’ like emergencies either don’t occur, (thus shooting you unprepared into Quadrant A), or are anticipated, meaning QA isn’t so uncontrolled. But you can’t prepare in QB unless you have done the work in Habit 2 to assess your mission, which requires work in Habit 1 to help you recognise you are responsible, that what you intend is in your Circle of Influence or Centre of Focus, and that you are seeing things as they should be (paradigm).

You see, now, how the Habits and basics all gel?

The way to plan is to find a tool into which you can place your TANC – tasks, appointments, notes and contacts (although the need for the latter has been electronically usurped since the book was written in 1989). You manage your time by keeping a one-stop shop for this stuff. Then, when you make an appointment, you record a note about how/why it was made, write down the appointment, and plan any preparation for that appointment in the task list so that it’s all done in QB before the QA appointment takes place.

There is a whole lot more in the book about time management but this page really boils it down.

Covey wrote a whole book in 1994 about interpersonal time management, i.e. on Habits 2 and 3, which I recommend. It’s called First Things First.

Tomorrow, delegation.

Seven Habits – Day 11 – What’s at Your Centre?

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Where do you centre your life? I bet most people would answer ‘Family’ but my experience suggests that work always comes first if you have a job. My reason – the hours my colleagues spent earning overtime. We used to have a joke that Daddy spent so much time earning overtime to feed his (family’s) lifestyle that the kids would ask, “Who’s that man in your bed, mummy?” The kids would have all the gadgets, but never what they wanted. Attention from Dad. (BTW, that’s just as applicable to Mum, nowadays.) What’s going on?

Centres. Stephen Covey suggested we have a tendency to see things (paradigms) through the lens of our most important (to us) Centre. This Centre was the focus of our Security, Guidance, Wisdom and Power. The Centre gave us Security because it was a reliable source of our identity, self-esteem and strength. When asked about yourself, we all tend to mention our job, first. Guidance means that the work provides us with direction – for example, if you are Church-centred your religion’s demands dictate your mission. Wisdom – your experiences as provided (for example) by your friends dictates how you think. And Power – your ability to act is based on your ‘centring’ around having a lot of money and resources. The Centres I have used in the examples are work, church, friends and money. There are other examples: pleasure, possessions, enemies, spouse and family.

They may consciously – including the enemy – provide a way of looking at ‘life’ which heavily influences your decision making. If alternatives arise, your preferred Centre dictates which action you take. For example, if asked to work overtime, a money-centred person would work, as would a work-centred person. But a family person might decline if there was a family event planned. Note: alternative Centres may provide the same decision, but the motive for that decision will be Centre-based.

Covey suggested we look at things through Principles and ask, “What is the right thing to do?” instead. You might make the same decision, but this time you will do so not because of your emotional tie to a ‘thing’, but as a result of a more objective assessment.

Understanding this concept is part of defining your personal mission statement, as is another psycho-biological idea, that of left-brain v right-brain thinking. Left brain is logic, Right brain is creative. Using the two in tandem means you can create a PMS that is both imaginative and realistic. A logical thinker might just do what is possible, but a right brain approach might change what is possible. The right decides what/why, the left decides how.

In truth, this part of the book is valuable as a theoretical explanation and foundation for those of us who like a bit of depth, but the power of Habit 2 thinking lies firmly in the experience of sitting down, imagining what you would like to do with your life (the legacy you would like to leave), and the values and behaviours that will help that happen. Discovering the what, how and why of your life.

Such an approach – use of a PMS and principles-over-centres thinking – results in a life that serves the individual, their loved ones and those other relationships we all have. It causes us to try harder to consider the needs of everyone involved instead of just ourselves.

While Habit One is about self-awareness, Habit Two is about creative imagination and conscience. These are three of the elements we use in the Stimulus-Response Gap when thinking about and deciding how to respond to an event.

Tomorrow we start on Habit Three, the Independent Will that we apply to that Gap.

Seven Habits – Day 10 – Habit Two. Begin with the End in Mind.

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We read over the past few days how we have the ability to choose our response to any event that happens to us. So how do we address the biggest event of all? Through Habit Two – Begin with the End in Mind.

On first sight of that term, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we do that any time we plan a project, be it going to the shops, applying for a job or planning a holiday, for example. My response would be that you’d be surprised how little effort many people put into even those projects. And rarely to the biggest project of all.

Have you ever gone shopping, then got home and realised you forgot to get something you planned, or more likely forgot to plan to buy something you needed. Beginning with the End in Mind is often something to which only lip-service is paid. But I digress.

Beginning with the End in Mind, remember, is a Habit of highly effective people. Not just a tenet, it’s a way of life. And this is where it can have the most impact – life. As one writer put it – we spend more time planning our holidays than we do planning our lives.

The most impactive and profound exercising of Habit Two occurs when what you have in mind as beginning – is the rest of your life.

All things are created twice – there is a mental creation, which gives rise to the physical creation. A building is planned in meticulous detail before ground is broken, so why not your whole life. Your physical, mental, social and spiritual lives can all be planned, selected – chosen. Beginning with the End in Mind is leadership – self-leadership. It is deciding how you will live the rest of your life. It is establishing a vision for the legacy you will leave, and then making it happen. It is using the four endowments discussed earlier – self-awareness, creative imagination, independent will and conscience – to decide how you will achieve what you want to achieve.

When you exercise Habit Two, you approach as many experiences as possible with a plan – what is the objective of what I am about to do? Conversations will have new purpose, relationships will be more rewarding, projects will have a higher success rate – if you know what the objective is before you even start. Including your life.

Viktor Frankl is famed for suggesting, from his experiences in concentration camps, that having a purpose beyond ones self is a sound basis for living a long and happy life. He called his theories ‘Logotherapy’ from logos – meaning. A man or woman with a purpose is a hard thing to oppose!

What we choose – or fail to choose – to do in the face of this knowledge predetermines our sense of personal self-esteem and our levels of success. If we know what we are for, and set about it, every success is a victory, every setback just means we change direction, just as an aircraft does on a flight. It gets buffeted by winds but always gets back on course, arriving at its intended destination despite all that buffeting.

Covey promoted the creation of a personal mission statement, a document created by an individual in which they stated in clear terms what they wanted to achieve (vision) and how they would behave in order to achieve that (values). I have found that having such a document can be extremely empowering – particularly when, having stated therein that I wish to be fit and healthy, I don’t want to exercise. I read it – I exercise. I reinforce my own desire towards a particular ‘end’ when I state, in advance, what the end actually is. Like writing this series of articles to convince others to read a book that can change their lives.

Tomorrow – what is at the centre of your life?

Seven Habits – Day 9 – The Third Circle and Inner Peace

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Yesterday we covered the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence, but there is a third Circle the Stephen Covey omitted in the 7 Habits but which he described in his 1994 book First Things First, so today we’ll briefly cover this one that, if accepted, might just change your view of how you do your work. Then we’ll finalise Habit 1 with another consideration and a recap of how Being Proactive can breed our success.

The third Circle lies within the Circle of Influence and Covey called it The Centre of Focus.

While the Circle of Influence was where we should focus our mental efforts in preference to the Circle of Concern, the Centre of Focus he described as containing ‘the things we are concerned about, that are within our ability to influence, that are aligned with our mission, and are timely.’ He went on, ‘when we set and achieve goals that are in our Centre of Focus, we maximise the use of our time and effort.’

So many people, and so many organisations (particularly public sector) dissipate and diversify and dilute their efforts by adopting new work, imposing new protocols and practices on their front line staff, so that what was once their primary aim becomes just another thing to get done. This is an example of where, instead of bearing down on their Centre of Focus, leaders try to expand their Circle of Concern in the mistaken belief it provides influence, to the point at which the Circle of Influence actually shrinks, and then throttles the Centre of Focus. (Ask any police officer dealing with another ‘partnership’ initiative. Well meant, but dilatory.)

Working in your Centre of Focus means being better at what you do, better service provision, and greater self-esteem.

The final example of proactivity is how we address mistakes. Making a mistake has consequences, we know that. The first time we make a mistake, we reap the consequences and we learn. That itself demonstrates a principle – we can choose and control what we do, but the consequences are dictated by principles outside of our control.

Covey suggested that mistakes are in our Circle of Concern – they are in the past, unchangeable. Once made and the lesson learned, our next choice is in our Circle of Influence – we choose better. Focusing on the error is reactive, focusing on the solution is proactive.

All in all, many things lie in the Circle of Influence, the ultimate locus of Proactivity and exercise of Habit 1. Making and keeping commitments, punctuality, goal-setting and acting with those goals in mind, taking responsibility for communication, defining your personal mission, thinking ‘we’ not ‘me’, personal renewal and personal integrity – everything succeeds or dies in the Circle of Influence.

If you are reactive and let emotions, moods and circumstances direct your reaction, you are not living – you are ‘being lived’. If you live a life based on your values and not your moods, you are truly going to discover that your life is effective. You will get the results you want, and you will achieve them consistently.

Dr Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, says three things control happiness – genetics, circumstances and the things you can control. But of the three, it is the latter – being in control – that has the most impact. In essence, he is saying you should spend as much time as possible in your Circle of Influence, ideally in your Centre of Focus. Charles R. Hobbs and Hyrum W. Smith said the same thing – that greater personal leadership and management are precursors to the higher levels of self-esteem that bring peace of mind.

Tomorrow we start to explore where you find what makes you happy.