How old is too old to be spoon fed?

June 1, 2008

When we were babies or even small toddlers, it would be foolish to try and teach us how to feed ourselves. Not only are we not physically capable, we have about a 50/50 chance of eating something non-edible versus something that has some nutritional value. As we grow older, we become more able to feed ourselves and more knowledgeable as to what is beneficial to eat. At a certain age, presumably, we are no longer told what to eat, and how to eat it.

As far as I am concerned, this is analogous to education. In preschool and kindergarten, our reading and writing skills are somewhat lacking, and we learn whatever teachers tell us, or maybe whatever is on Sesame Street or Blue’s Clues on a particular day. I would wish that all of us were blessed with great parents that also taught us many important life lessons, but I know that many do not. As we grow older we are encouraged, or ought to be encouraged, by those influential figures around us to read books, and begin to learn about topics on our own in, addition to those taught in the classroom. Below is a very interesting quote from Steven Covey, about how Americans are educated these days.

It’s a fact that more people watch television and get their information that way than read books.

One of my biggest pet peeves, and I am guilty of this from time to time, is when people talk about a subject, and they use information they heard on TV to support their argument. Granted, this is not always bad, but using “facts” from TV can get you into trouble from time to time. This is, and will be, especially relevant during the upcoming elections in November. I hope by this day in age, most people know that the American media can be a little bit biased… But that is a whole other topic.

Most people struggle with life balance simply because they havn’t paid the price to decide what is really important to them- Steven Covey

Don’t let this be you, and surely don’t let the media tell you what they think is important for you, because you will just be misled. Values of the media, in my opinion, should not be those that a life should be built around. Don’t let the media be in the driver seat of your life (maybe they could be in the trunk), but rather you yourself get in the driver seat and choose to be someone who proactivley seeks education.

The bottom line:

  1. Cut back on TV viewing time, taking in information with a grain of salt.
  2. Try to learn more about topics from different sources, like books.
  3. Do not let TV tell you what is important, because it usually isn’t.

What are you waiting for?

May 31, 2008

Putting first things first is one of the seven esteemed “Habits of Highly Effective People”. On the surface, this may seem vague, yet obvious. If something urgent comes up, we focus our attention on it, and knock it out of the way. However, Steven Covey’s insight is much different, and it runs deeper as well. He encourages readers to place daily activities into a matrix, helping sort out which activities should demand the majority of our time and energy. (Here is a matrix specifically aimed towards bloggers.) In general, quadrant three and four activities are not important, therefore not much time should be spent in them. He notes that it is important to clarify which items are actually in Q3, but are often believed to be Q1. Just because something is urgent does not mean it is important. Covey strikes the nail on the head when he describes matters that seem urgent, but “are based on the priorities and expectations of others.” A simple question to ask if you are always strapped for time is “What would happen if I didn’t do this”. I remember hearing on a radio show a technique a women used for time management. If two events ever conflicted, she would ask herself, “What will the consequences be in 10 mins, 10 days, and 10 years?” This frame of thought gives a nice balanced outlook in the short and long run, helping determine if an activity is important and/or urgent.

Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because, urgent or not, they aren’t important. They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II…Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. -Stephen Covey

When I read over this passage, I was prompted to examine my daily routine to determine which of my activities were in Q3 or Q4. For example, when a few of my good friends were going out to see the Indiana Jones Premier midnight showing, they really wanted me to go, and they told me that I would not want to miss out on this. Social pressures made this event appear as if it was urgent therefore important, when in reality, it was neither. Sure it would have been great to tag along, but when my sleep would have amounted to only four hours, I knew my studies would suffer, especially during class the next day or two. Other activities that were in Q3/Q4 were video games and aimlessly surfing the internet.

What I really want to stress in this post is this main point, taken from Steven Covey: “What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life?” A few things popped up in my mind right away when I read this:

  1. Read more books
  2. Create a blog
  3. Learn to type 40-50 WPM without looking at the keyboard

Bottom Line:

  • I encourage each of you to determine what parts of your daily routine are not important, even if they seem urgent.
  • Try to minimize these activities, learn to say “No” if you are feeling overwhelmed with responsibilites.
  • Focus your efforts on matters that are not urgent at this point in time, but which would allow “quantum leaps” in effectiveness in either our personal or professional lives.

Will you hurry up and finish so I can talk?

May 30, 2008

This phrase often runs through my mind when I am conversing with people, and I’m sure that I am not the only person that frequently has this mindset. When I enter into a conversation with someone, more times that not, it is because either of us has something that is personally important or interesting that we would like to share with each other: a news story from last night that is particularly important, a tidbit from that book we have been reading, or maybe that new music group that is the best thing since cable internet. It could be anything really.

Sometimes I stop listening to a person a few seconds after they have just started talking. For example, a friend recently came up to me to tell me about this really cool band he had recently started to listen to, but as soon as I heard “cool band” I immediately zoned out, and started raking my brain to come up with an even cooler band that I had recently discovered. When he stopped talking, I tuned back in and started saying “Oh yeah, cool… But I found this really cool band as well. Let me tell you about it.” I’m sure it is obvious how disingenuous I was being, yet I felt that I needed to one up him, and in the process I am sure he became very agitated.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply

-Stephen Covey

He continues to say that our reasons for listening this way is because we want to be understood. What a novel concept. However, there is not a positive correlation between how much I talk in a conversation, and how much people want to actually listen to me. It is unfair to expect our counterpart to listen with an intent to understand, when we do not do the same for them. This insight can be very powerful in establishing deep, effective relationships. I am not talking about manipulating people, or using special “listening techniques” so I can get what I want. That is dishonest, and frankly flat out wrong, even though it happens on a daily basis in every career field.

Often times I wonder why many of my relationships are shallow, where conversational topics only skim the surface, and the most personal thing I know about someone is what they ate they ate for lunch that day. I now realize that this void is just fallout of daily conversational battles, where each person is yearning to be understood, but is never fulfilled. I have been in numerous situations where a person will start to say something, and before they can finish their first sentence, someone has starting talking about a similar experience, leaving the first person feeling dejected. Covey writes that instead of pretending to listen, or flat out ignoring a person, one should use “empathetic listening”. He continues to delve deeper, writing that empathetic listening includes “listening with the ears, but also more importantly listening with your eyes and with your heart.” When a listener takes this course of action, he/she will begin to really understand the speaker, and climb into their frame of reference. It is at this point in which relationships will deepen, and when people will feel more comfortable opening up and talking about more meaningful topics.

The Bottom Line: Genuinely listen to people, “listen to understand, then to be understood.”

Victim by choice?

May 29, 2008

One of the main ideas throughout The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is that people tend to blame their environment as the cause of their problems. Excuses run the gambit; from blaming your family, your genes, your job, the economic times, etc. Stephen Covey’s response is that “Quality begins with me.”

You’re not a victim of conditions, you’re a victim of your own decisions, your own choices.

-Stephen Covey

With this mindset, in most circumstances, accomplishing goals in life depends on personal initiative and determination. However, the scales can be tipped in either direction, from “My life isn’t what I want it to be because of other people”, to “I can do everything myself.” I feel it is important to not be arrogant by not accepting help from anyone, or to be foolish enough to believe that everything can be accomplished just by myself. Mr. Covey does talk about this in the book, and one of the pillars of “being effective” is synergism. In essence, he stresses the importance of being able to work collaboratively in teams and the immense benefits that can come if it, but that is another topic in and of itself.

The main theme I wanted to write about today was about taking control of the events in one’s life that are within one’s grasp. To be able to distinguish which events can be affected by you, and which events are simply out of your control is a skill that can be very powerful in life. Challenging may it be, I am going to try and get a handle on situations in my life, while recognizing those that are out of my control. With a mentality such as this, “luck” happens more often. I am becoming a fan of Ralph Emerson, and his many quotes that are so applicable to life: “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

You Reap What You Sow

May 28, 2008

Stephen Covey used a quotation taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson that I thought was especially encouraging, yet basic at its core.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier—not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a point in my life where many of the daily tasks I am doing are relatively new to me, a lot of them seem appropriately daunting. I am learning valuable skills in these coming years that will be pertinent in relation to my life, career, and future family, and it is easy to try and look for an easy route. Most things in life have no “easy way out”, and Stephen Covey vehemently supports this notion, “You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut,” He uses the idea of trying to cram on a farm, forgetting to plant in the spring, and brushing it off all summer, yet coming back in the fall to try to reap a harvest that you did not sow. It isn’t possible. While some special cases may occur, the general rule stands true, and should be in the forefront in all of our lives.

The Bottom Line: You reap what you sow.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

May 26, 2008

Currently I am reading this book by Stephen Covey . The basic overview is that there are a several principles for which people ought to live by. The habits he overviews is

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win/ win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

Main theme throughout the book is to be Proactive. It is quite obvious in the beginning of this book that Mr. Covey desires to be in control of his emotions. He states many times throughout this section that he does not want to be reactive to outside stimuli. He gives an example “Chasing after the poisonous snake that bite us will only drive the poison through our entire system” (91). This is a neat analogy, often times I realize that in an attempt to fix the problem, I just do what I think is the best course of action at that moment, letting my emotions drive my actions. Upon later reflection, I realize that if I had just waited 10-15 seconds before taking action, my mind would have been much clearer and I probably would have chosen a much more logical course of action.

Another idea that he touches upon is that a person should not blame their problems on their environment, genes, family relations etc. He says be Proactive, not reactive. There is a period between a stimulus and a response, and it that in that time is the crucial decision to “Act or be acted upon” (76). He stresses the importance of recognizing what we believe “We have to do, must do, only do” and what we truly have the choice in doing. Too many people live their lives feeling stuck doing things they have no control over, when in reality, they do have control over these situations. Mr. Covey points out that often time, people are influenced by “Social weather”, meaning that “if people treat them well, they feel well.” Everyone is still influenced by outside stimuli, but what separates them is Proactive people “are driven by carefully thought about, selected and internalized values”, rather than being “driven by feelings, circumstances, and conditions” (72).

I really like the Illustration Steve Pavlina has on his blog about being a Reactive person VS a Proactive person. “If a reactive person were to captain a ship, the ship would flow with the currents”, and “If a proactive person were to captain a ship, however, the ship would go wherever the captain wanted it to go.” You should go check out his post about it, as his analogy goes much deeper and paints a great mental picture of what Mr. Covey is trying to get across in his book.

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.

-Stephen Covey