Perhaps, more specifically, why don’t I live it all of the time?
That is a question asked by many students of the Seven Habits and parallel philosophies as they struggle to comply with the highly idealistic constitution that they put to paper having discovered, and accepted the sheer power of, the Mission Statement concept.
It would be unnecessary to go over the rationale of a Mission Statement in a forum such as this – all of the readers will have an idea of it already. So what is it that prevents us from living our MS?
First, even as we write it we are told to make it a representation of our best selves, who we want to be and how we want to live. This ideal is independent of ‘things’ and ‘stuff’, which are transient. The objective is to state how we believe a person of character, as defined by our own values and sense of purpose, should live. In other words, we create a perfect plan of how we will ‘be’. And as they say, as we make our plans, God laughs.
You see, the next part is execution of the plan. Here comes the first obstacle: our environment. Not just the space around us, but our entire lives – where we are, what we do, who we do it with and for, and what life does to, for and with us. The MS tends to be written in a quiet, contemplative setting. Indeed, that is where we are advised to go when we prepare it. It’s not written in the kitchen where the cakes beckon. Nor is it conjured up at work where conflicting and pressurising priorities abound. It’s not prepared while the kids all contend for our attention and (Dads) the contents of our wallet. It is when these things occur around us that execution of the plan is hardest, because the plan is not about what we do but about how we do it. And competing environmental pressures pull at us to the point of distraction from that very desire to be great.
The next distraction is convenience. In that moment of choice, where our Mission calls upon us to act with integrity, the immediate unavailability of ‘perfect’ all too often catapults us not to ‘near perfect’ but to ‘easiest’. We go from genuinely seeking a salad to guzzling chips (fries, for my US readers); from going out for a run to watching NCIS; from completing necessary uninspiring but work, to playing Angry Birds. From properly raising responsible children to just giving in to what they want.
Another interruption is confusion, where we know something needs to be done, but we are not sure how to do it. Rather than learn how, we avoid asking the important questions, or we deflect ourselves from the risk of ridicule for our lack of self-confidence, and go off and do something in which we have confidence that we are proficient.
When writing a Mission Statement it may be worth considering, in that quiet and contemplative place, how you would act in those circumstances. Dr Covey himself wrote of affirmations, which he used to anticipate how he would still comply with his MS and values system if and when such challenges arose. To use his own example, ‘It is deeply satisfying (emotional) that I (personal) respond (present tense) with wisdom, love, firmness and self-control (positive and Mission orientated – my addition) when my children misbehave.”
Ultimately, however, there is but one answer and we know, in all conscience, what that is.
“Must try harder.” This is a phrase that many, if not all of us, have seen in our school reports. In an educational sense it is both a criticism that we aren’t working hard enough, and a recognition that we are capable of so much more. In the final analysis, we are responsible (response-able) for controlling our response to our environment, for making the inconvenience of living more convenient, and for our own learning and confidence.
So here’s a thought. Supposing Dr Covey was writing your school report, and he used those words. Would you do it? I think you’d try. I think you would make more effort to execute the First Resolution, the Resolution that serves the execution of Habits 1 to 3. You would overcome the restraining forces of appetites and passions (convenience, environment) and you would resolve to exercise self-discipline and self-denial in that moment of choice. Even confusion would be overcome if you exercised those two skill-sets in an effort to learn more.
So I have three words of advice. They are:
Go on then.
(Having written that, now I have no excuse…… )