One Habit of a Slightly Effective Person

At the height of the late 80s and early 90s dudebro corporate culture, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was its epitome. Self-assured and self-congratulatory people were scooping up planners, taking management seminars, and aggressively putting up workplace posters. I was too busy finishing an Army tour and limping through college to be much concerned with organizational effectiveness, even as I waded through bureaucratic inefficiencies on a daily basis. I was born a woman into a poor working class family, so suit ties and fraternal backslapping and BMWs seemed a tad repulsive and Stephen Covey got tossed under the very same bus.

36072Nearly 30 years later, I meet a woman in the course of my writing life. She’s energetic, intent on learning, a good listener, and positive about her life and interactions. My first reaction was irritation. My second was envy. My third – curiosity. What motivates her? How does she operate from such a place of positivity? How does she make others feel welcome and heard? I knew that it was a far distance from where I was currently residing. One of her secrets? That old manual of hair gel, firm handshakes, and relentless optimism – the porn of personal success, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I have a particularly bad habit of aggressively rejecting ideas until they seep into my self-consciousness, roll around in my head like a tennis ball, bouncing off this idea and that. A few days, months, or years later, I think hmm, I might try that. It drives my husband nuts. He makes a helpful suggestion, I stomp on it, and then six months later I do it and exclaim “I can’t believe I didn’t do that sooner!” It really takes the wind out of his I told you so, because enough time has passed that I’m convinced it was originally my idea. Yeah, still married (shaking my head with disbelief).

It’s been a few years since I recognized that I do this and I’m starting to think I need to work on it. The learning curve in my brain is barely perceptible as a curve because it stretches out over years. Now that I’ve tripped into my 50s, I think I might need to speed up the process a bit. This is aided by the one habit that will, I hope, eventually save my bacon.  I’m always learning and I actively pursue wisdom.

This morning I took the 7 Habits Personal Effectiveness Quotient Assessment. I was as honest as I could be, which is brutally, occasionally unfairly, honest. It’s all in the perception and my self-perception is not kind. Needless to say, I can show up on time, but I couldn’t get anyone else to show up with me. And I’m not being particularly effective in pursuing success as a whole. Maybe I need to finish reading that book.

17349126I just finished reading Daniel Goleman’s Focus: The Hidden Drive of Excellence. It started out well for me, but took a turn into the corporate world that had me reading at light speed, just so I could get to the author’s conclusions. I walked away with a handful of interesting concepts that will likely show up in my life a few years down the road.

This self-improvement bender I’m on is par for my life. I was feeling pretty self-satisfied until life events knocked me for a loop. In order to re-engage, find my way back to the path, I start to research for inspiration. It might be a person, a book, a random thought from four years ago. I do think that slowly, awkwardly, I’m getting wiser, but I’m beginning to realize that the goal is not where it’s at. My joy is in the process. Being there. The process is where we spend most of our time. If it can’t be joyful, we’re dooming ourselves to all the struggle and few of the benefits.

It’s odd to realize my joy comes in recognizing how little I know, how much more there is to learn, and that there is no being done. For years, I viewed this propensity for self-improvement as a result of never feeling like I was enough. Sometimes those early messages embed themselves inside our psyche and we, like moths to the light, spend our lives trying to get close to that warm feeling of perfection, no matter how damaging or dangerous.

13588356After reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, I’ve been thinking a lot about how small I’ve been living. In a heated discussion with my teenager, she said “You’re such a rule follower!” It stung and then I had to think about why that would bother me. We’re often torn between who we are and who we think we should be. The failure to embrace who we are, the struggle to resist it, the efforts we make to counter it – it’s exhausting and sometimes destructive.

There is a point, though, when you say okay, this is who I am, how do I make it work in my favor? What’s the upside? I would tell my little teenage rebel that mama doesn’t need bail money, for starters. It’s a quick turn of the kaleidoscope or, as Stephen Covey would say, a paradigm shift. He says paradigm a lot. It’s a pretty cool, intellectual word, especially if you pronounce it with a silent ‘g’ – and don’t just read it on the page and then drop paradiggem into a conversation. Let’s hear it for the heavy readers out there, hey-o.

I have a rather large stack of books about the meaning of life, how not to suck at life, and why my life could be so much better. This is, I’ve finally realized, my happy place – feeling so down and out that I hit the books in search of inspiration. Even a book that uses the word “synergy”. If the author uses synergistic, though, I’m out.

18 Comments on “One Habit of a Slightly Effective Person

  1. Be grateful he didn’t use the word “curate.” That one just sends me right over the edge — especially when it’s used to describe the vegetables that are part of a meal selection on a menu.

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    • I find that one forgivable since the phrase comes from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, which the writer uses as inspiration for her book. A little more palatable than say, “Who Moved My Cheese?” or “The Secret”.

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  2. I’ve dabbled in self-improvement books and talks for most of my adult life. They have great information but you have to practice them every day like a new language. Most of us just go back to our usual habits once we finish the book because we can’t afford to have Tony Robbins call us every morning to remind us not to be a loser. Right now I’m reading, ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People.’ Once I realized I was a poorly designed human being I surrendered to these books and YouTube videos with ridiculous sounding titles but have good reviews. Improvement/progress is happiness. Hopefully by the time I’m 60 years old I’ll be a high functioning person in society.

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    • That is, of course, the crux of the self-improvement genre – none of it does any good unless paired with some sort of action on the part of the reader.
      I do believe, though, that ideas and concepts can take root and help inform the choices we make, whether or not we consciously recognize it. I always think of reading these books as just more fodder for the brain and treat the ideas like a buffet – taking what works for me and leaving the rest behind.
      And I’m just going for functioning – low, middle, or high.

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  3. I recently found The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire in a magazine I was tearing apart. The average score is a 4 out of 6. Mine was 2.5. I took this to my therapist who suggested I focus on the items that scored highest and forget about (let go of) the ditch-dwellers (another variation on “this is who I am and how do I make it work in my favor”). It was a helpful session, and I realized I’m not the Dismal Dora I sometimes believe I am.

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    • Argh – I found that same questionnaire and fall into the neither happy nor unhappy category (a nearly exact numerical average of happy and unhappy responses). I think they call it the blah category, which feels about right at this particular moment in time. I think that’s the kicker with that assessment – it’s entirely relative to one’s mood at the moment.
      I’m halfway through the Covey book and feeling a burning irritation in my brain with the incessant management chatter. I used to think it was important to work on areas of weakness – sort of the Renaissance approach to being a well-rounded person. The Covey book unintentionally made me realize that I really just want to get better at the things that I value – personal relationships, creativity, and physical well-being and stop trying so hard with everything else. I’ll leave the team-building, ad revenue-generating, and glad-handing to people more adept and passionate about those things.

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  4. I bought the 7 Habits… book years ago. Have dipped in and out countless times. Then, gradually, over years tiny snippets start to seep into my consciousness. Take the gap between stimulus and response, for example. I didn’t get it for a long time. Then I did. And I was like, ‘Wow, this actually makes sense’. Great blog by the way 🙂

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    • I just read through the stimulus and response section yesterday. There are some nuggets of good ideas that I’ve been taking note of, but as I get further along in the book, it’s getting repetitive. I also think that presenting empathy as a novel concept (he uses different words) is definitely a male perspective. I might laugh it off as being dated, but here we are, in a society where empathy is now often in short supply. I imagine a few years down the road having similar ‘a-ha’ moments like yours from some of the reading I’m doing now.
      Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

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