Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Habit One - Radically Alter Your Entire Worldview. Do It Now.

There is no piece of advice in the "Habit One" section of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that couldn't be seen as a piece of good advice. If you are interested in learning about the habits, I can save you a lot of time. Here is a summary:
When something happens, choose to act in a positive way instead of letting the thing that happened dictate your reaction.
Yeah, that's all you have to do, just be positive about things all the time. Now, he clearly differentiates his approach, which he calls proactivity, from simple positive thinking. He thinks you should be clear and honest about challenges. You know, positive thinking but don't be unrealistic in your positivity - positive thinking but everyone but me is dumb.

And that's it. The chapter certainly has examples of people who were positive and who did pretty well. He makes a lot of reference to Victor Frankl who manages to not only survive but flourish in a Nazi death camp by choosing how he would act in the face of the terrors. That's an inspirational story of a person who didn't let even the worst circumstances dampen his spirit.

First, let me complain about positivity. We are talking about a Nazi death camp here. We really don't know how many positive thinkers were killed in these camps precisely because they were positive about their experiences and thus threatening to the people running the camps, and for all that Covey writes about how inspiring it is when someone faces death with dignity, those people still end up dead. Covey may have a fantasy land afterlife story in which things work out okay, but that's just make believe. Face death with as much dignity, indignity, happiness, sadness, courage or dread as you like, one day the universe will be as it would have been if you had done the other. Nothing persists forever.

Now that I've vented my generalized negativity, let me say something bad about the book specifically. The advice really is to just do this. Like, "Hey, did you know that no matter how bad things are, you still get to decide how you react to them?" Yes, I did realize that. I'm sure that some people don't realize that, but reading it in a book isn't going to help.

The book is called the seven Habits of highly effective people, so you'd think it would include some kind of habits in it. Maybe a hint as to what behaviours you could engage in to acquire these habits. Here is Covey's list:

  1. For a day listen to your language and the language of those around you and see how often you say things like, "I can't" and "If only"
  2. Think about a situation you are going to encounter and how you could approach it proactively. Then do that.
  3. Identify a problem you have, figure out how you can use the advice of chapter to work on it. Do that.
  4. For a month, just be the way I say to be in here, maybe you'll like it?

My friends used to chant, "do it! do it! do it! do it! do it! do it!" very quickly as a kind of alternative to "come on." Aside from number 1, that's what Covery's got. He's got "Come on! Just be proactive already!" and that's all.

In my first post about the book I compared self-help books to fad diets, and this is really helping with that comparison. The chapter is long on things that are supposed to leave the reader feeling inspired and short on mundane approaches to acquire a new habit or skill. The advice basically covers this problem off itself. Since the advice is to be proactive instead of being acted upon, why don't you be proactive about being proactive instead of being reactive and waiting for something to come along and make you proactive?

Is there a point to a book of advice that begins with the advice to pull yourself up by your bootstraps?

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