7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Begin with the End in Mind

This is the fourth on my series of articles which draw upon the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.  


Habit Number 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Picture yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. You enter the funeral parlour or church and walk toward the open casket. Looking down at deceased you see yourself. This is your funeral.

You sit down on a bench or seat and look at the programme. There are four speakers: A family member, a friend, a work colleague, and a member of a community group or church.

Now, what would you like each person to say about you? At the end of your life, how would you like to be remembered?

All things are Created Twice

Stephen Covey, the author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, provokes the reader to become the creator their own life. With Habit Number 1, Be Proactive, he tells us how to be self-creators, rather than simply reacting to our past and present. Habit 2 is the creation.

The problem with proactivity alone is that it could make us highly effective at getting nowhere at all. How do we know where to go? How do we orient our proactivity so that we are capable of achieving long-term goals?  Of developing a strong, healthy character?

We have to begin with the end in mind.

In the eulogy exercise above, what did you imagine your loved ones saying about you? How did you imagine them feeling about your passing? This is exercise is a tool for creating a blueprint for your life.

A blueprint is needed whenever building something complex, like a house. The creation of the blueprint precedes the creation of the house. In this way, the house is created twice, once as a blueprint and once physical building.

Likewise, your life is created twice. The second creation is your life as it was, is, and will be. But first, all lives have a designer, a creator.

Who is the Creator?

As a human life is lived, its creation comes into being. But not all lives are lived consciously. And not all life blueprints are designed deliberately. Many, or most, lives are created by default.

Lives designed by default are those which are simply reaction to our genetics, our family-of-origin scripting, our cultural scripting, and to the necessities of whatever problem we’re currently facing. A default-designed life is hardly one we can claim ownership over. We are living the life of our culture, our family, of anything but our own conscious control.

In contrast, when we take responsibility for being our own creator we use the power of our self-awareness, imagination and conscience to create our own scripts, habits and major life choices. We must work out which principles lie at the centre of our being. The principles that we wish to drive our lives.

Part of this means identifying and changing alternative centres. Is money at the centre of your life? Is your spouse? Your job? Your possessions? Any one of these external centres is likely to make your partially or conditionally successful.

Remember the eulogy exercise.

The money or work centred person might have had their work colleague say wonderful things about them, but not their family.

The spouse centred person might have received glowing words from their wife, but not their work colleague or friend.

Having a principle-centre means that you have integrity across domains. You’re not the prick at work and the saint at home. You’re not the academic high achiever whose family doesn’t speak to you.

You’re a whole person. A creator of a clear character that gives you wisdom, security, guidance and power.

This is hard. It takes time. Anything that takes time to do makes us susceptible distractions. How do we maintain focus on our principles without getting distracted and reverting to the old scripts?

Personal Mission Statements

I have always seen mission statements as corporate B.S.! A bit of manipulation of the customer and the front-line grunts by corporate types. “We stand for (insert lofty virtue here)”! All the while actually standing for only making money.

It took me some time to warm up to the idea of a personal mission statement. But Covey does make a compelling case for their use.

A mission statement is blueprint for your life. It is a self-authoring project. It is the embodiment of your desire to be a first creator.

Covey describes mission statement writing as a semi-conscious process. He encourages activities that not only use the logical, linear left brain, but also those that use the holistic, intuitive right brain. This is why he recommends using the eulogy exercise and other imaginal techniques, like imagining future birthdays, and imagining oneself carrying out achievements.

Once the bigger picture is captured, he recommends writing out principles, roles and goals. Writing the statement in the present tense and using “I statements” to highlight the immediate and personal nature of the document.

And once the statement is written, it doesn’t stay dormant. On a regular basis it is accessed and evened edited as life and goals change.

It is the mission statement that forms the embodiment of the second habit. It is a written blueprint for your future. It is what you hope your reputation is, and your legacy will be.

I wrote a mission statement for the first time this year. I felt silly at first, but I know that it’s already made me more consistent with my approach to life. I would recommend you give it a try.

Speak Your Mind


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