The first time I came across this book was many years ago. A friend wanted to lend me his copy after reading but the idea somehow never materialized into action. Lately, another friend told me to read this. This time, I decided to search for the book. I am not into the habit of buying books now because I feel that the same copy is… more valuable if more people read it. For that reason, I am passing my books around too. When another friend finally borrowed an available copy from NLB and passed to me, my initial thought was “300+ pages, oh my god”. And the horrible part to me was that it looked like some kind of management or financial book. For the past three years, I had been reading either classics for literature class or when I could spare the time, a few comics for pleasure.So I started reading, somewhat reluctantly. And I am so glad that I finished the book and I really have to thank the friend for telling me to read it (no, she didn’t exactly recommend, it was more like an instruction). The language in the book is simple, the writing style direct and the examples are so precise that I could relate to them immediately. As with other self improvement books, this book offers knowledge and insights that one could apply to daily life. Although the book is structured by seven habits, these habits do not go sequentially, as most of us might be conditioned to think, given our years of mandatory education. Instead, the habits are all tied together to either to “private victory” or “public victory”.
The journey into the book starts off with a standard overview. The one thing I have learnt from this overview is the frame (or lenses) of my view, and not the angle. I have always thought that I could see things from different angles, and I still think that is true. But what I have not realized is that, I am still using the same frame to look from different angles. This frame is not something that anyone can change overnight, as it is the subconscious tendency that governs our choices and decisions. With this realization, my focus is now on my frame, rather than my angle. Of course, there is no shortcut in life. If one wants to improve myself, one needs to sweat for it.
The first three habits are tied to “private victory”. There is a common saying “the greatest enemy is yourself”, and I could not agree more. External factors can only torment us this much, and the last straw to break the camel’s back is usually served by ourselves – that is, despair. Habit one says to be proactive and the first word that came to my mind is “initiative”. Having initiative is just the basic, but rather, it means to have initiative to choose your response. At this point, I am happy to say that this is not something new to me; I just need more practice to perfect it.
Habit two is very lengthy, even though it is something that should have been very obvious. But I guess the reason for the great length is that many people do not realize that they are missing that. To begin with the end in mind requires imagination and perseverance. All great inventions begin with imagination. Without imagination, there can be no progress or improvement. After the end is visualized by imagination, perseverance becomes the next ingredient to turn this vision into action. A friend mentioned to me the concept of “baby steps”. Successful people are always taking baby steps towards their visions, while the rest of us are just walking in circles. In management terms, it would mean “to do the right thing”. It sounds very simple in black and white but how often does any of us stop to think whether this thing is a necessary (right) thing to do? Instead, many people would be engaged in thinking how to finish the thing (fire-fighting), and this leads us to the third habit.
Habit three is probably one of those habits that are already practiced by many people. To put first things first is definitely nothing new as it simply means doing the thing right. At this point, the word “priority” comes to mind and to master this habit, there are a few concepts to clarify. Firstly, “urgent” is not the same as “important”. After being in operational work for many years, these two words have tied themselves together. People yell “urgent” all the time and we rush to complete the tasks. Subconsciously, I have taken “urgent” to be “important”. But it is definitely not the case. Important things should be those that are important to me in the long run, things that I will regret not doing when I am on my deathbed. Urgent things are simply things that require immediate attention, but if one does not attend to them immediately, it does not matter that much anyway. Secondly, human interaction should have more priority than task completion, and that one should think effectiveness with humans, and efficiency with tasks. At the end of the day, we want to manage time efficiency but not at the expense of sacrificing our human relations.
The journey now moves to the area of “public victory”. This is not an area that I am focusing on right now, but nevertheless, I will touch briefly on them. Habit four says to think win/win. This will be something that sounds familiar too, only that your idea of win/win might not be my idea of win/win. At the end of the day, if each of us looks at the opposite end with our own frame, there can never be a truly win/win situation. Habit five is also something that sounds easy and many of us are likely to think that we are doing it already. But to seek first to understand, then to be understood is a skill that is very difficult to master, although it is something that anyone can start practicing now. I feel that it is only when the other party opens up to you, then you can really know that you have done it. To simply “be a good listener” in your own terms is just not sufficient, because you are dealing with another individual with his own frame, his own thoughts. It is at this point that perhaps a win/win situation is possible, when both truly seek to understand and then to be understood. Habit six is to synergize. This is something right at the end of the tunnel, where it is only possible to reach after the rest are passed. The main idea here is to acknowledge that the strength of a combination is greater than the strength of each isolated individual. If one is of the opinion that he is always better, then this will never be possible.
The last habit is to sharpen the saw. It simply means maintenance. The one to be doing all the above is yourself and this is the main asset one should invest in. Spend an hour daily to maintain yourself in four areas – mentally, spiritually, socially, and physically. I personally have a rough idea of this but it is always good to be reminded as we are all trying to squeeze everything into a day’s work. Finally, I want to conclude this by saying that all the above are simply text on an electronic screen, and that a book is nothing but just printed words on pages that are bonded together, it is up to the individual to “open the gate of change” as change has to come from within.