Covey a legacy on behaviour change
I was very sad to learn of the death of Stephen Covey this week who died after a cycling accident. Dr. Covey was the brilliant author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which is a classic book with sales of well over 25 million copies and at one stage a reported 750,000 people per year trained by the Franklin-Covey Group in its principles.
This book made a lasting impression on me and is one I have returned to regularly over the last 20 years. Whilst the 7 habits are now very well known and many spin off books have been written about them, the legacy Dr. Covey leaves is one of building the fundamental principles of character, something we all can benefit from. Covey’s book is interwoven with his personal experiences and the study of success literature spanning over 200 years. He arrived at the conclusion that many of the “success” books written between the years 1934 and 1984 were focused on what he called the personality ethic:
“The personality ethic is illusory and deceptive. And trying to get high-quality results with its techniques and quick fixes is just about as effective as trying to get to some place in Chicago using a map of Detroit.” Adding further “It's symbol without substance. It's the ‘get rich quick’ scheme promising ‘wealth without work.’
Or if we look at it another way in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." It is fair to say that The 7 Habits was quite instrumental in re-shaping the Self-Help genre, moving away from the quick fixes or band-aids that did not lead to lasting change, happiness or success. Covey builds on the principals set by Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, and Viktor Frankl and presents a compelling case for building a ‘character ethic:’
“The character ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.” These are: “things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule.”
Covey indicates that before we can start implementing the 7 habits into our lives we need to make a paradigm shift. A paradigm as he interprets it is: “the way we see the world -- not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, and interpreting.” We need to shift the very root of the self:
“If we want to make significant, quantum change, we need to work on our basic paradigms…..We can only achieve quantum improvements in our lives as we quit hacking at the leaves of attitude and behavior and get to work on the root, the paradigms from which our attitudes and behaviors flow.”
In the words of Thoreau: "For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root." Dr Covey agrees and advises us that:
“Change -- real change -- comes from the Inside-Out. It doesn't come from hacking at the leaves of attitude and behavior with quick-fix personality ethic techniques. It comes from striking at the root - the fabric of our thought, the fundamental, essential paradigms, which give definition to our character and create the lens through which we see the world.”
No quick fix
As I mentioned in The 7 Habits Dr Covey gives many examples from his own life of how he failed to live the natural laws, of the principles that create character, but he indicates we should not short-circuit living them, nor should we try to pretend but we should have a desire to grow:
“Building character of total integrity isn't easy. It isn't quick fix. But it's possible… Our level of development is fairly obvious with tennis or piano playing, where it is impossible to pretend. But it is not so obvious in the areas of character and emotional development. We can "pose" and "put on" for a stranger or an associate.
We can pretend. And for a while we can get by with it -at least in public. We might even deceive ourselves. Yet I believe that most of us know the truth of what we really are inside: and I think many of those we live with and work with do as well. I have seen the consequences of attempting to shortcut this natural law.”
If we deceive ourselves, then the chances are, as Covey eloquently states: “if you don't control yourself, if you don't have mastery over yourself, it's very hard to like yourself, except in some short-term, psych-up, superficial way.” And if we deceive ourselves I am reminded of the inscription on an ancient Hermetic tablet: “As within, so without."
What we do
We have heard the ancient sages and thought leaders repeatedly advising us that: “what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.” As Emerson once put it: "What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say." Dr Covey teaches us that “it is character that communicates most eloquently” because:
“We simply cannot maintain wholeness if we talk and walk differently.” So “Whether we communicate with words or behavior, if we have integrity, our intent cannot be to deceive.”
Who we are flows naturally out of our character, the kind of person we truly are – not what others say we are or what we may want them to think we are. It is evident in how others actually experience us.
The gap between stimulus and response
In order for us to experience and be experienced better by others Dr Covey writes about a discovery he made which has “powerfully influenced the rest of my life.”
“I read the paragraph over and over again. It basically contained the simple idea that there is a gap or a space between stimulus and response, and that the key to both our growth and happiness is how we use that space.”
That sentence is one of the biggest take home points in The 7 Habits and in the Personal Development literature - the gap between stimulus and response. We have the power, the freedom to always choose our response. In the words of Steve Pavlina: “As you become more conscious and aware, your effective gap becomes wider and wider, thereby increasing your ability to choose your response consciously instead of having your response well up from your unconscious.” And this is crucial in relationships of all kinds as you avoid knee-jerk reactions.
Imagine putting that gap between the stimulus to buy something and actually going ahead and doing so… it may be the best piece of advice for overcoming spending habits.
The Golden Rule
Covey expands magnificently on The Golden Rule:
“The Golden Rule says to "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." While on the surface that could mean to do for them what you would like to have done for you, I think the more essential meaning is to understand them deeply as individuals, the way you would want to be understood, and then to treat them in terms of that understanding."
That is simply a great definition to ponder and observe as we relate to others. Please reflect on the importance of the Character Ethic and how it may improve your life and how you may want others to remember you Dr Covey beautifully writes:
“By centering our lives on correct principles and creating a balanced focus between doing and increasing our ability to do, we become empowered in the task of creating effective, useful, and peaceful lives...for ourselves, and for our posterity.”
"There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children one is roots, the other wings."
"...to learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know."
“Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
To paraphrase ancient wisdom…it’s easy to act as if you are a weathervane, always changing your beliefs and words, trying to please everyone around you. But we were born to be lighthouses, not weathervanes. For this reader Dr Covey you were a lighthouse and your wisdom has set many on the path to wholeness, improving habits and behavior in all aspects of people’s lives.