The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is an iconic book…one that’s often quoted in business and personal development circles alike. But I’d be honest, it’s been a hard book to read. I’ve had it since my college years, over 10 years now, and I haven’t finished it yet. While I haven’t read it from cover to cover yet, I’ve still applied the principles to my life.
When I picked it up again in 2018, I decided to take it in chunks:
- starting with the private victories by working towards personal mastery
- moving on to public victories where I take that mastery into my relationships
- and then renewal
The rest of this post is the 30-day challenge that I created to take action on what I learned from the chapters of the first three habits that form the habits of private victory:
- Be Proactive…to take control of your life by being responsible—using the space between the stimulus that acts upon you and your response to it to choose the appropriate response to influence the outcome you want.
- Begin with the End in Mind…there are two creations—the vision (the first creation, a mental one) and the achievement of the vision (the second creation). You don’t want to cut through a forest and get to the end of your odyssey only to find out you were cutting in the wrong forest.
- Put First things First…by prioritizing your time to match your first creation so you can get to your second creation. Bottom line do the things that matter instead of being busy for the sake of it.
You’re going to need to have a copy of the book to do the work laid out in this 30-day challenge yourself, so grab your copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and dive in.
Set the foundation
The process of foundation-setting in these first few days is to acknowledge where you’ve been and where you want to go.
Day 1: Learn from the past and work to put it behind you
”For those filled with regret, perhaps the most needful exercise of proactivity is to realize that past mistakes are also out there in the Circle of Concern. We can’t recall them, we can’t undo them, we can’t control the consequences that came as a result. The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct and learn from it.” ~ 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Before you step into the world of being a more proactive version of yourself, you need to acknowledge the mistakes that you keep marinating over and pick out the lesson to enable you to move forward.
- Make a list of the mistakes that you’ve made. The ones that you find it hard to forgive yourself for.
- List what you learned from those mistakes.
- Where applicable…acknowledge what you know now via the benefit of hindsight and forgive yourself for not acting on information you didn’t have.
Day 2: Identify your circles
Make a list of all the things that worry you right now…the things that keep you up at night. Once you have your list, break them out into your:
- Circle of concern: things that you’re worried about but have no control over.
- Circle of influence: things that you’re worried about and you can directly have an impact on to effect your desired outcome.
For more on how to tell the difference between the circles to make it easy to categorize, read Habit 1: Be Proactive in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Day 3: Set Your Circle of Concern Aside
It’s one thing to acknowledge that something is in your circle of concern, and it’s another to actually live like it is.
For the things in your circle of concern identify:
- why it’s a worry of yours
- why it’s out of your control
The goal of this exercise is to minimize the chance that you’ll fall into the trap of trying to control it. The reason you don’t have control over it is clear right there on paper…doing this exercise will help you avoid the trap.
Day 4: Seek Common Ground
As you go through your day, seek common ground with those you interact with.
When you start doing a lot of introspective work, it’s easy to find what makes you different…ethnicity, gender, political affiliation, etc., but there’s also a baseline humanness that connects us all despite our differences.
Think of today as a break from looking inwards…to:
- connect with people you normally won’t.
- take the time to notice what you have in common with the people you meet with, connect with, or even think about.
Day 5: Own Your Circle of Influence
Go back to Day 2. To the list you made of the things that fall in your Circle of Influence…the things that worry you that you can do something about:
- What are they?
- What about them make you worry?
- For these items in the list, what outcomes would you hope to outcome in the best case scenario?
- What do you need to do every day, every week, every month, every year, to get to that outcome?
Day 6: Begin with the End in Mind
In the beginning of Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind there is an exercise…I’m not going to ruin it for you because part of the impact of the exercise is the suspense as the author introduces it.
Doing this exercise today will set the stage for:
- connecting with the people who matter to you.
- identifying the roles that you’d like to be part of your who you are (regardless of whether they are today or not).
- writing your mission statement…the guiding statement for your life.
Day 7: Connect with Your People
Choose at least one person in your life that you care about. You can make it someone that you envision from yesterday’s exercise if you want…call, text, or better yet make an attempt to see them in person.
You’ve done a lot of heavy introspection so far and there’s more to come, so this another break in the day.
Day 8: Get Over the Sunk Cost Bias
You’re about to create something new to help you own your personal victory. You’re about to look at your life and choose to change the things that need to change and continue on with the things that don’t.
As you make this transition, you’re going to be tempted to hold on to things that might not serve you anymore because you’ve invested so much in them.
The desire to hang on to things because we’ve invested so much in it already is called the sunk bias…the idea that we value things more than they are worth when we already have them.
According to Greg McKeown…author of Essentialism…ask the killer question “If I didn’t already own this, how much will I spend to buy it?”
Chances are the reflection you did on Day 6 will result in you looking to reprioritize how you spend your resources (time, money, energy, etc.), so anticipate that you might have to confront the sunk cost bias sooner rather than later.
So ask yourself for the things that take up most of your resources…If you didn’t already:
- invest money in something, would you invest in it again?
- commit your time to something, would you say yes to doing it again?
- spend your energy on something, would you choose it again today?
You don’t have to have the answers to these questions for everything, but as you move to execute the first creation for your major roles, you’ll find yourself confronting the sunk cost bias.
Start with the First Creation
Days 9 to 18 are all about the first creation for the things that matter. Each day below is based on the things that matter to me, so feel free to change it up for yourself.
You might not need a full nine days to go through this step, or you might need more. But the goal of this part of the challenge is for you to take a day for each of the aspects of your life that matter to you and execute the first creation…think of how you’d like that part of your life to be.
You can use this quote from the book as your guiding light (or read Habit 2 to get the full picture):
“To the extent to which we understand the principle of two creations and accept the responsibility for both, we act within and enlarge the borders of our Circle of Influence. To the extent to which we do not operate in harmony with this principle and do not take charge of the first creation, we diminish it.”~ Stephen Covey
None of these first creations need to be perfect. What you’re looking for is a starting point to be intentional about creating for each of your important roles.
Day 9: Execute the First Creation—Marriage
Here are some guiding questions that you can use in your first creation:
- Who do you want to be as a spouse?
- What would you like to bring to the table in your partnership?
- What do you want to receive from your partnership?
- If you were to die today, how would you want your spouse to remember you (Day 6)?
- What can you start doing today to be more of this spouse that you want to be based on the answers to the previous question?
Day 10: Execute the First Creation—Parenting
Here are some guiding questions that you can use in your first creation as a parent:
- Who do you want to be as a parent?
- How do you plan to nurture your children—physically, spiritually, emotionally?
- How do you want your children to see you today (a parent they can tell anything, the fix it parent, the disciplinarian, etc.)?
- If you were to die today, how would you want your kids to remember you (Day 6)?
- What legacy do you want to leave behind for your kids?
- What can you start doing today to be more of this parent that you want to be based on the answers to the previous question?
Day 11: Execute the First Creation—Work
Here are some guiding questions that you can use in your first creation in the work you do:
- What contribution do you want to bring to your work?
- How does your work serve you beyond the compensation that you get from it?
- If you were to quit today, how would you want the people at your job to remember you?
- What can you start doing today to be more of this person that you want to be at work based on the answers to the previous question?
Day 12: Execute the First Creation—Financial Independence
This aspect is one that is important to me because in my mind, money gives you options.
Here are some guiding questions for this aspect of your life should you choose to explore it:
- When you consider money as a tool, what do you want that tool to help you achieve?
- How much of that tool do you need to achieve that goal?
- If your primary source of income were to disappear today, what would your financial life look like? Are you happy with the answer to this question…and if not, what can you do to change that answer? This will really help you shape your first creation.
Day 13: Execute the First Creation—Friendship
Here are some guiding questions for this aspect of your life:
- Who are the people you’re going to allow in your orbit and call friend?
- What do you hope to add to these people’s lives?
- What do you hope they’ll add to your life?
- How will you support them and how do you expect them to support you?
Day 14: Execute the First Creation—Our Home
Describe how you want it to look and feel, what you want it to be for every family member…keep in mind the kind of memories you hope to create in your home and envision how you’ll design your home to do so.
Day 15: Execute the First Creation—Where We Choose to Live
I’m an immigrant and this question is important to me. If you find yourself in a similar situation or are considering moving from where you currently live, contemplating what that would look like.
Here are some potential questions:
- Where are you thinking of planting yourself?
- What would you hope where you eventually choose to be like?
- How do you expect to contribute to your new future home?
- What freedoms do you hope to be able to explore?
- Who would moving there enable you to be?
Day 16: Execute the First Creation—Our Education
I work in a job that requires me to learn from every single project and I have two kids who I would love to be avid learners and that’s why this aspect exists. If you want to consider this ask:
- What type of learner do you like to be?
- What type of learning style would you like to model for your children to see?
Day 17: Execute the First Creation—Our Extended Family
We tend to take for granted that we will always make time for family, but that gets really hard when you start adulting.
You start with parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins…and as you get older, you add nieces, nephews, in-laws, etc.
It’s easy to take extended family for granted, having a first creation for it can help you be intentional to ensure that does not happen.
Day 18: Execute the First Creation—Our Life Post FI
On Day 12, you already considered what you want your financial picture to look like. Today is about painting the picture of what life will look like after you achieve financial independence.
Whether you choose a traditional retirement age or an early retirement, it’s good to have a picture of what you want for yourself in this next chapter of your life…even if it’s only to remind you of why you work:
- What would you hope retirement would like like?
- What do you hope to do with your new-found free time?
- What kind of connections/relationships would you like to build to get there?
- What kind of life would you want to craft as we step into this new adventure?
Step into Your Private Victory
Day 19: What Were Your Impressions (character, contributions, achievements) from the Funeral Exercise? (Day 6)
“Take the time to record the impressions you had in the funeral visualization at the beginning of Habit 2. Organize your thoughts accordingly:”
Based on what your immediate and extended family, the person from your work, and the representative from your community:
- What were the impressions you got around your character from the eulogy?
- What were the impressions you got around your contributions?
- What were the impressions you got around your achievements?
Day 20: Based on the Funeral Exercise, What are Your Most Important Roles and How Do You Define Them?
Write down your roles as you see them today:
- Are you satisfied with the image of your life that they paint?
- If you are, why so? So you can keep doing more of what you need to do to be more of that woman.
- If not, why not? So you know what to change.
Day 21: What are the Centers that Each Role Currently Falls In As You Live Today?
Go through the chart in Appendix A of the book…where it shows different centers and note all the centers you identify with.
- Do they form a pattern for the behavior in your life?
- And is it a pattern you’re comfortable with? Why or why not?
- Since you’re being a proactive first creator, what about this pattern would you like to break? What would you like to keep/reshape around a principle-based center?
Day 22: What are the Principles that You’d Like to Build Your New Center Around?
Make a list of the principles that you want your roles to be built around e.g. mutual respect, integrity, freedom, etc.
Day 23: Identify Notes, Quotes, and Ideas that You Can Use to Write Your Personal Mission Statement
Take a moment to look through old notes, quotes, and ideas you may want to use as material in writing your personal mission statement.
Also use this as a place to add material to for future revisions of your mission statement.
Day 24: Start Working on Your Personal Mission Statement
Take some time away from everything and reflect on the work you’ve done so far and use that and the examples and guidance you get from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to create your living personal mission statement.
Day 25: Reflect on How You Are Living in Your Circles Right Now
It’s been over 3 weeks and you’ve had practice working within your Circle of Influence as opposed to worrying about your circle of concern.
Now is a good time to go back and review your notes on Day 3.
- How has your circle of concern changed?
- Has it shrunk or expanded? Be very specific in your answer as it could reveal just how much can change when you don’t focus on things that are outside of your control.
It’s also a good time to go back and review your notes from Day 5.
- How has your circle of influence changed?
- Has it shrunk or expanded? Be very specific in your answer as it could reveal just how much can change when you do focus on the things that are within your control.
Day 26: Start a Time Log for the Next 3 Days in 15 Minute Intervals
Spending your time on your priorities…putting first things first…will require you to actively choose what you spend your time on. Also making time for Quadrant II activities will require letting go of other things i.e. you only have so much time.
So over the next three days you’ll be tracking your time in 15 minute intervals. It sounds tedious, but it’s something that could reveal so much about what you do prioritize right now so you can be conscious of the changes you make.
Day 27: Continue Your Time Log…15-Minute Intervals from Waking to Bed-Time
Today’s day 2 of your time log. Take note of what you do today and tomorrow in 15 minute intervals. You’re almost halfway there!
Day 28: Complete Your Time Log
Today’s day 3 of your time log. Take note of what you do today and tomorrow in 15 minute intervals. Sprint to the finish!
Day 29: Review Your Time Log…How Closely Does it Match How You want to Spend Your Time?
At the end of the day identify:
- What are your important activities?
- What are my Quadrant II (important, but not urgent) activities that you need to prioritize?
- What can you delegate?
- Which activities on your list must you do to help you achieve your personal mission and help you be more of the woman that you heard spoken about so lovingly and with much respect on Day 6?
Day 30: Bring it All Together in Your Personal Mission Statement
The key activity for today is to reflect on the last 30 days. Ask the question…how is your life different and what will you carry into the next 30?
Some ideas include:
- Review your circles (Day 3 and Day 25) and reflect on how much more you’re living in your circle of influence
- How has your influence changed in the key areas of your life?
- How has your sense of well-being changed? If you’re focusing on your circle of influence and not your circle of concern, I’m willing to bet that it has improved.
- Complete your Mission Statement and keep review it periodically e.g. at the beginning of each week to set the tone.
- Follow the directives in Habit 3: Put First Things First from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to create your Quadrant II Tracker.
Take some time to let the work you’ve done after 30 days sink in:
- Practice proactivity often.
- Spend a month or two planning your time effectively to put first things first.
- And make sure you keep touching base with your first creations…your mission statement so your trajectory keeps moving in the direction of the vision you’re creating for yourself.