Sunday, January 18, 2009

Be Proactive- Habit 1

To truly enter into "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", I believed it was necessary to take the recommendations of Stephen Covey to heart. Most importantly, the suggestion was to be proactive for 30 days. I am at day 17 of process, and it has been great.

In reading this "National Best Seller" I am struck by how it compares to other well known books, like "The Power of Now", by Eckhart Tolle. Covey says we must work on our being, on what we can be. To say, "I can be more patient" is much more powerful than making excuses.

This is one way to explain what living in the now is like. We are constantly making decisions. Covey points out that self-awareness in the decision making process is key to being proactive. This self-awareness allows us to choose our actions and choose them in the context of the ever present now.

Beyond the power of now (our self-awareness), Covey discusses three other "endowments" that contribute to our ability to choose. We have imagination, conscience, and independent will. Defined, they are:
  1. Imagination- the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality.
  2. Conscience- a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them.
  3. Independent will- the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences.
With these endowments in mind, Covey says, "... Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions." In one sense, our fundamental conditions never change. We always have the power to choose our response to any situation. Tolle describes this ability to choose as the power of now. Of course, our life is filled with mistakes as we try to make the best decisions. Covey acknowledges this reality and gives the following insight:
The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct and learn from it... Our response to any mistake affects the quality of the next moment. It is important to immediately admit and correct our mistakes so that they have no power over that next moment and we are empower again.
With this guide in hand, we can start now in the journey to be proactive, a challenge to make decisions in the now, guided by our imagination, conscience, independent will and with commitment to acknowledge mistakes, correct them, and learn from them.

Let's be proactive.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Victory Gardens 2.0

I find this symbolic possibility inspiring and hopeful with the potential for awesome consequences. Please VOTE and pass the word.

Reprinted from Please VOTE!

Thousands of Americans and people from the around the world are asking the Obamas to lead by example on climate change, health policy, economic self-reliance, food security, and energy independence by replanting an organic food garden at the White House with the produce going to the First Kitchen and to local food pantries.

The many successes(1) of the first Victory Garden movement were the result of effective public policy, bold leadership(2) at a time of national crisis, and the commitment of millions of citizens who were ready to roll up their sleeves for the greater good.

There' s no better, more symbolic place for launching a new National Victory Garden Program than at the White House, "America’s House". There's no better, more urgent time(3) than now. And there's NOTHING that can beat the fresh taste of locally-grown, home-cooked foods.


(1) Victory Gardens (behind homes, schools, in vacant urban lots, etc.) produced 40% of the nation’s produce at their peak, helped conserve food and natural resources at a time of crisis, resulted in the highest consumption rates of fruits and vegetables our nation has seen, and helped keep millions of Americans physically fit and active.
(2) First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House lawn in 1943 over the objections of the USDA, inspiring millions by her example.
(3) The UN estimates that 1 billion people will go hungry in 2009 while climate scientists predict this year will be one the five warmest years on record.


For more on the campaign to grow some organic food at the White House, see: and

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Child Wants to Be Successful

Principle One: (from Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids)
My Child Wants to Be Successful
This principle is beautiful, yet seems to be a quiet impossibility in our society, where mistrust is the norm. Our whole society is set up to try and mediate the effects of mistrust in all of our systems; whether education, financial, the work place, government, and even in our own homes.

It is hard to place an unfailing trust in our children when our families and immediate communities our fractured. Villages do not raise a child because no villages exist in the US. All of this mistrust makes success very difficult for children.

Home is very different from school which is very different than the neighbors, etc. You nor I are connected in the day to day with even our self. How can our children feel the trust they need for success when they are simply a cog in the wheel of our busy lives? We do too much for them, by necessity. If we could be, if we could let them be and trust them, all of us would be better off.

In fact, if we could live with the mantra that:
People of Any Age Want to Be Successful
we would be much better off.

In my mind, this means creating stronger neighborhoods (read villages). Bringing the level of trust in our lives to a higher level is better for us, better for our neighbors, better for our coworkers, and better for our children.

Strong relationships built on trust will help us all be successful.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Power of Paradigm

Earlier, I discussed the Character Ethic and What to Do When We Disagree with Others as outlined in the introduction of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Along with these ideas, Covey defines paradigms and what they mean in our lives.

He describes paradigms as maps, theories, or explanations that we use to view the world. He suggests that two kinds of maps exist:
  1. Realities-maps of the way things are
  2. Values- maps of the way things should be
Wrapped up in our paradigms is who we are. Covey tells us that "we see the world as we are". In fact, though we may talk about taking someone else's point of view, it is incredibly hard to do. This is what I outlined in my previous post.

In regard to paradigms, Covey insists that they are not separable from our character. He says,
Being is seeing in the human dimension. And what we see is highly interrelated to what we are. We can't go very far to change our seeing without simultaneously changing our being, and vice versa.
This changing our being is what many of us instinctively know we must do. How else can we explain the drive to make and keep New Year's Resolutions? We want happiness and know that involves seeing the world differently. And yet we makes goals to change ourselves to see the world differently. It truly seems to be a complimentary process as Covey describes.

As we change both our being and our seeing, then, we change our paradigms of realities and values.

Following posts will outline the habits Covey gives us to be stronger in our quest to change paradigms.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What to Do When We Disagree with Other People in Conversation

In Stephen Covey's introduction to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he stresses that one must cultivate a character ethic as a path towards primary greatness. He distinguishes primary greatness, or who we are, from secondary greatness, mere social recognition for our talents or what we say and do.

Covey outlines many different principles that we should act on in our life to live the character ethic:
  • Fairness
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Human Dignity
  • Service
  • Quality
  • Excellence
  • Potential
  • Growth
  • Patience
  • Nurturance
  • Encouragement

Covey insists these principles are not practices or values. They are in fact something deeper that stems from the human condition and that all of our lasting solutions will come from the "inside-out".

The point I most reflected on was,

"When other people disagree with us, we immediately think something is wrong with them."

Taking this quote to heart is quite eye-opening. He is right. This is the tendency of me and most people I know. When we disagree with someone it becomes a discussion, but that discussion is usually a covert attempt to persuade the other person that we are correct and that he or she is incorrect. Sometimes the attempt is much more overt and the discussion turns into an argument, and no ever really wins and argument.

What would the world look like if we could actually disagree with others without feeling the need to convince them that we were correct?

I believe we would need to cultivate the principles Covey outlines, and that it would also mean we listen by entering into the other's point of view without questioning it. This can be hard to do, but I find myself doing it often with books. This is why I can say whatever book I am reading is the best book I've ever read. It is allowing me to change my thinking without an argument.

Books present a great chance to practice this skill of listening without judgment. I know I can be patient with a book, even when I disagree with the contents. Transferring this mind-set over to real life conversation is difficult, but doable. It is better to practice a skill in a more controlled environment than in the heat of the moment.

One way to participate in a conversation where you find yourself disagreeing with the person is to stop believing you must convince he or she of something, simply listen, and view it as a chance to learn something that you did not know before.

It can really make for a fascinating time to consider the world deeply from an other's point of view as you listen to he or she describe his or her paradigm. In a sense, you become connected to that person in a way that is not possible in regular conversation.

Take time to consider what the person told you away from the initial conversation. Enter as deeply as you can into their paradigm and consider what similarities exist for you. Consider what differences there are, but still keep in mind why these might make sense for the other person.

After this process it is much easier to converse respectfully with someone you disagree with.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Be a Better Person

My wife and I set three goals for the new year:
  1. Be Better People
  2. Be Better Parents
  3. Grow More of Our Own Food
For myself, I have also made the goal to exercise more.

These goals seem at first quite vague, yet noble. One of our plans for follow through on these goals is to align them with different books that we will read throughout the year. I gave brief summaries for the three main books in my first post of the year. The books are: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids, and Practicing the Power of Now.

Another key I am using to achieve these goals is a journal, as in pen and paper. My process has been to read and take detailed notes about the book and journal about the chapter immediately afterward. This allows me to save all of my thoughts for later to blog online.

This method also keeps all of these books organized in my mind and on paper so that I can easily compare them as I go along. I am already amazed at how many parallels I see between these very different people and their great ideas.

So far, we have made some strides in each category. We have made a concerted effort to be better parents and problem solvers with our children. We have also been rather consistent with our reading. We installed a new garden bed along the edge of our fence to create more space for growing food. And I have also made my first exercise goal of working out every weekday morning for about 15 minutes.

I encourage you to find some good books for the year, write down your goals, and keep a journal of your efforts. May it bring success!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Books for Success in the New Year - 2009

My wife and I recently decided to read three of the same books during the new year and base some of our resolutions around them.

Generally, I will read 50-75 books throughout the year and browse many others. I have begun to think that reading is a sort of addiction for me and that has not been as enriching and fulfilling as it should be. Yet I find reading to be one of the best ways to enter into the "now".

This The Power of Now is one of the books we will be reading over the year. Actually, we will be reading Practicing the Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle writes about what we are usually missing in life because of our mind's incessant thinking. Instead of living in the now, we worry about the past or future.

If find this to be incredibly true. Our mind spends much of the day worrying about what we should be doing instead of enjoying what we are doing. I suspect there are many reasons for this habit of our mind, and I will explore these issues throughout the year.

On the subject of habits, we will be reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I actually read this book a few years ago and found it very powerful. I even incorporated some of the ideas into my life, but want to do so in a much fuller way. I've read enough other books in the same vein to know that this really is one of the best.

One indicator of the work this book demands came to me at the end of the chapter about the first habit: practice this habit for 30 days. And that is what I will be doing until January 31st.

The last book my wife and I will be focusing on is Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids by Bonnie Harris. We have found this book to be incredibly insightful, though we are only a few chapters in. Bonnie Harris sets out 8 principles by which to parent. The first one is quite enlightening and powerful: Your child wants to be successful.

This simple principle has already changed my tone of parenting. Though I lose my patience often, I do have hope to greatly decrease these instances by gaining a consistent mindset about what my children need, and being constantly aware that they want to be successful. Don't people of any age just want to be successful?

I hope you new year is great and that you find your own books to explore to their fullest potential this year. Maybe one of the above will provide some inspiration!