"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
Dr. Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change is one of the most successful motivational books in history. It was published back in 1990, and it continues to be a best-seller with more than 10 million copies sold. It's no wonder. Dr. Covey combines time management, positive thinking and a revolutionary way of looking at how to achieve goals, adapt to change, and solve problems using a time-honored, "principle-centered" approach. Less a book and more a comprehensive manual for living a successful life, it's a book that you will return to over and over again.
Dr. Covey's book is not a quick read. It is loaded with ideas and concepts that will stretch your mind, and challenge your beliefs. You will find yourself re-reading passages and even making notes because the process of changing your mindset and developing successful habits can require hard work, especially if you have unconsciously allowed yourself to lapse into the following bad habits, habits there are guaranteed to destroy any chance you have of achieving your potential. Do you engage in any of these bad habits?
Not surprisingly, Dr. Covey's first habit of the highly successful is "Be proactive." I say not surprisingly because as he points out, it is only through exercising our uniquely human ability to choose how we will react to changing circumstances, that we can truly experience freedom. If we allow other external circumstances such as other people's behavior, economic conditions or even the weather to decide how we will feel, what we will think and what we will do, or not do, we are not truly free. Unsuccessful people are usually reactive, and by that I don't only mean that they wait for other people to set their agendas for them, which of course, they do. On a higher level, I mean that rather than taking charge of their destiny by setting objectives and choosing how to react in every situation so that they can reach those goals, even in the face of obstacles, they plod along day after day with no end in mind, hoping for the best and expecting the worse.
Action Step: Grab the reins! Make your plans, set your deadlines and forge ahead. When problems come up, be determined to solve them, even if the solution isn't always obvious. Remember that you either call the tune or dance to someone else's. I'm not saying it's easy. I'm saying it's necessary.
Be as Lazy as Possible
Laziness and reactivity are best friends, and they almost always hang out together inside the heads of the unsuccessful. Obviously, one with a proactive mindset will be constantly evaluating his best course of action on a yearly, monthly, daily and even hourly basis so that he can reach his goals. That sort of mental discipline requires the grit and determination to see projects through, make adjustments when required and push a little harder when things get tough, as they always will. The successful person doesn't wait for things to happen. He makes things happen, but that takes work. Isn't it just easier to watch tv?
Action Step: The reason that laziness and reactivity so often go together is that often the unsuccessful person doesn't believe he has any control, failing to understand that believing in himself and being pro-active creates the control he craves. So, take action, take action, and then take more action. The results will amaze you.
Be an Avoider
When there's a difficult, or even unpleasant task to do, it's only natural to want to avoid it, but therein lies the difference between success and failure.
Action Step: As they say over at Nike, just do it. Don't think about how hard it is, or how much your dread it. It won't be easy, and it will require mental discipline, but if you want to achieve your goals, you will need a boatload of that. The pain is inevitable. The suffering is optional.
Spend Almost Every Waking Minute Thinking About Your Past Failures
Despite last-century theories about "multi-tasking," the human mind can focus on only one thing at a time; therefore, every second that you spend thinking about anything other than constructive ways to solve problems and achieve your goals, is a wasted second, time that will never get back. Unsuccessful people tend to spend a lot of time ruminating about their past failures, which is often more appealing to them than creatively thinking about how they can improve their situations. Your life sucks, right, Junior? Not only that, it has sucked for years, and you love thinking about it! Some might wonder why, but for the loser with this mindset, dwelling on his lack of success feels warm and comfortable, like watching a favorite movie for the hundredth time on a rainy day.
Action Step: Stop thinking about that stuff! I know. That's much easier said than done, but that fact reminds us of the importance of mental discipline. If you let your mind run wild like an out of control, off the rails bullet train, you will never get anywhere. Control your thoughts. Control your results.
Spend the Time You Don't Spend Thinking About Past Failures Nursing Rage and Bitterness Against Those Who Wronged You
For the foundering, unsuccessful person is satisfactorily chewing on his past failures, there mix is even more flavorful with a little bitterness sprinkled on top. After all, none of this is his fault! It was this bad boss, or that unfair break. He never seems to notice that there are many successful people who are no smarter or more educated than he, and they don't seem to have all the same "bad luck."
Action Step: Let's assume that someone treated you unfairly, or even shabbily, in the past. That person is a complete jerk, right? I remember the guy who decided to fire me by voice mail. My husband can't understand why I'm not angry at him, and why I don't think about that lousy, no-class move. The simple reason is that if I were to allow that jerk and his behavior to make me feel bad in the here and now, I would be giving him the power to affect my mood and thoughts today. I don't have time for that! He's not going to live in my head for one second. Don't allow of the jerks in your life to live in yours.
Wait for a Rescue
It's ok. You don't need to figure out how to be successful. You don't need to set objectives and deadlines and create a workflow. Somehow things will just "work out." Maybe you'll win the lottery. Maybe the "six-figure salary fairy" will knock on your door. It sounds unlikely, but why worry? Back to planning the week's tv schedule.
Action Step: Dr. Nathaniel Brandon, the father of the self-esteem movement and the author of The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, likes to say "no one is coming." He tells the story of a patient who objected to this declaration. The patient said, "But Dr. Brandon, you came." Dr. Brandon replied, "Yes, and I came to tell you that no one is coming." Take your skirt off, but on your big girl or big boy pants on, and make something happen for yourself.
Think About Yourself as Much as Possible
The most miserable people on earth are people who spend time thinking about themselves. Dr. Covey wrote that "[l]ife is not accumulation, it is about contribution," which is a profound expression of the truth that human beings are happiest when we are being creative and helping others.
Action Step: Whenever you find yourself thinking toxic thoughts about yourself and your situation, discipline yourself to instead think of how you can do something nice for someone else? Have you said a kind word to your spouse today? Might a friend be delighted to hear from you? What constructive activities can you do at home to make life better for your family? After several weeks of this sort of shift in your mind set, you will suddenly realize that your personal happiness has increased dramatically, not only because your personal relationships have improved, but because your focus has turned outward.
Research has shown that, on average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. Keep that in mind as you implement the suggestions here. I wish you happiness and success as you work hard to reach your goals!
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