What The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens can teach the younger generation about balancing all aspects of life
Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a bestselling self-help and business book, with more than 15 million copies sold.
Covey proposes seven principles to practice (as the title suggests) in order to help one achieve one’s goals.
Now, Covey’s son Sean has adapted his father’s book into The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, showing that you don’t have to wait months or years to start finding your potential and attaining targets and objectives.
Breaking bad (habits)
Today’s modern-thinking world gives us more independence to choose what we want to do, how we want to do things, or who we want to be. Making the choice to begin is a big step in itself.
Covey says that the first step to improving yourself is to realise that there is more than one way of looking at things. To change the assumptions or perceptions you have about things is to go through a paradigm shift.
Instead of thinking, it’s impossible, you should start thinking, I could achieve this one day.
The key is to change your paradigms so that they become positive. It’s all about taking small steps.
If you’re an avid vegetable-hater, like me, but want to change your eating habits, don’t expect to immediately become a vegetarian.
Instead, first accept the idea of eating more vegetables instead of simply refusing to. Then, think about realistic ways in which you can achieve the target.
Once you change your thoughts, your actions will follow.
As Lao Tzu says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The fundamental steps you take are the ones you make for yourself. Think of them as the beginning of a journey of self-discovery.
Habit 1: Be proactive
Four years ago, as a young adult fresh out of my pre-university course, I was constantly given the advice by my internship mentor to “be proactive”. This means having the initiative to do things.
As adults, we’re trusted to make our own decisions instead of waiting for others to tell us what to do. This means we’re given the leeway to be proactive, or to possibly be reactive.
A reactive person, as opposed to a proactive person, might go home from work three hours early if he has finished all his tasks. A proactive person, on the other hand, might ask his boss what other extra tasks he might be able to take on.
We can be proactive in our personal lives too. The decision to be active and healthy starts in the mind, but we must take the initiative to put on our exercise gear and head to the gym.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind
Think about your life as a series of time frames. What do you want to achieve at the end of each time frame?
For example, you may give yourself a small time frame to achieve a task like baking a cake. You know what you want your end result to be: the fully-baked cake. Once you’ve pictured the end product, start thinking about what you need to make it happen. If you’re baking a cake, you would start to think about the ingredients and materials you need, like flour and eggs.
If your “end product” is getting into university, think first about where you want to go. Then, think about the steps you will need to take to get there: getting the marks you need to get in, collecting all the application materials, researching costs. Write a personal mission statement to yourself to affirm your goals. It can be as long as several ages, or even a single line: I will get good grades this year.
Habit 3: Put first things first
Imagine that you have a jar that represents your life, and each responsibility you put in the jar is a pebble.
Assigning yourself several large responsibilities at once will only make the jar full of huge pebbles, and eventually you won’t be able to fit everything in. On the other hand, if you assign yourself both large and small responsibilities, you can fit everything into your jar by first placing the large pebbles in the jar, then filling up the spaces with the smaller pebbles.
In other words, you should carry out all your more important tasks mostly (e.g. meeting important deadlines for school assignments), then if there’s time, you may complete your smaller tasks (e.g. taking a one-hour nap if you’re tired).
Sean suggests using the “Time Quadrant” model to plan your responsibilities, based on two factors:
- Is the task important?
- Or is the task urgent?
If your tasks are urgent, not important, or neither urgent nor important, you’re not spending your time wisely. Make sure you plan ahead, so that nothing ends up becoming urgent (and if anything unexpected pops up, you’ll have plenty of time to spend on it), and that only important tasks are being carried out.
Remember, it’s all about what you decide is important as an individual – don’t let distractions from other people or things distort your schedule.
Now that you’ve focused on your relationship with yourself, it’s time to think about your relationships with other people, like your family and friends.
Habit 4: Think win-win
The author George Eliot asks:
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
It’s natural to want to be competitive, especially in the cut-throat world of the big life. People compete all the time: for the best marks, job positions, university offers and so on.
Some healthy competition may give you the drive that you need to succeed, but your relationships with other people matter too.
Wanting to beat other people or be better than them may hurt your friendships, and you shouldn’t want other people to lose. You also shouldn’t want people to be equally as bad as you.
On the other hand, giving in to people all the time to maintain peace means you aren’t giving yourself the chances you deserve. Think of the best ways to compromise so that everyone is happy, and everything is fair. It’ll be healthier for yourself at the end of the day and should give you some peace of mind.
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Ever heard of talking a walk in someone else’s shoes? In a nutshell, it’s all about listening to other people and seeing what they have to say. That way you can help them, and maybe they’ll be able to help you too.
Poor listening includes spacing out, pretending to listen, selective listening, or only seeing things from your point of view.
Understand every detail of what someone’s saying to you, including how they feel about something. Then, try to help them the best you can, reviewing the situation from their point of view. Being genuine to people develops stronger relationships and can help you get jobs done effectively especially in professional situations.
Habit 6: Synergise
Synergy is about working together to accomplish more than if you worked alone. Putting it in simple mathematical terms: 1+1=3.
You can see synergy happening everywhere, in both the man-made world and the natural. Respiration and photosynthesis are examples of synergy: we breathe out carbon dioxide, which the trees and other plants take in and convert into oxygen for us to breathe in.
You’ll find yourself having to work with other people in many situations. In university, group work is a huge part of your degree. A university tutor advised me that a successful way of working as a group is to figure out what everyone’s best skills are, and dividing tasks according to them.
Are you good at research, but not so much at writing? Put yourself in charge of looking for information, and let someone else in your group who’s better at writing be in charge of that instead.
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw
I’m sure you’ve all been told the saying ‘practice makes perfect!’ As contrived as it may sound, it’s a wise piece of advice that you should take to heart.
The best things don’t happen overnight. Keep reminding yourself of what you have to do to be your best self. However, sharpening the saw is not just about improving your newfound habit(s) – it’s about improving yourself.
Renewing and refreshing all four aspects of your life – social, emotional, mental, spiritual and physical – will give you the energy and mindset to carry out your tasks and maintain a positive outlook. If it helps you clear your mind or improve yourself, go for a run, meditate, learn something new out of interest, or drink some tea.
I read this book as an impressionable 18-year-old, faced with the decisions of choosing what I wanted to study at university, where I wanted to go, and preparing myself for ‘adult life’ in general.
I wanted to achieve so many things, but I had no clue where to start. Sometimes, books with deeper or more complex theories can stress you out instead of help.
Sean’s book, aimed at the younger generations, explains his father’s methods in a relatable and approachable way. If you (or your younger relatives or other peers) are starting to find yourselves bombarded with crucial decisions or other barriers, just pick this book up – it will hopefully help you organise your thoughts and guide you through difficult teen years.