Saturday, January 4, 2020

Why Self-Compassion?

I’ve read so many self-help books, and upon reviewing the most helpful ones, I keep saying, “that’s another way of saying to have self-compassion”. The concept that ties all the ideas in these self-help books boils down to self-compassion.

I also recommend The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for a roadmap on how to organize your life in a practical manner, as a very effective and powerful way of doing your to-do lists, and so forth. I summarized the book here in two parts, this is the first part.

But it's really self-compassion that can motivate you to be effective in the first place, and to really stick to your goals! I wasn't able to follow any sort of positive habits for long when I read The 7 Habits in college, because of being easily demoralized.

Therefore, in this post, we’ll explain why self-compassion is such a powerful concept. Practicing self-compassion is personal and isn’t applied in a “cookie-cutter” way. In fact, having self-compassion is extremely challenging and difficult, as you have to find out what works for you.

In this past post, I superficially touched upon a self-compassion exercise, so in this post, we’ll explain why self-compassion is key, by summarizing Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself  by Kristen Neff, Ph.D., who is the foremost authority on the subject.

In the horrible Harry Harlow experiments, he nevertheless proved that love and connection are more basic than food and water. The poor baby monkeys were taken away from their mothers, and had to choose between the fake cloth mom with no food/water, and the fake wire mom with food/water.

Harlow himself thought that the babies would stick with the wire mom the whole time because of the food and water, but found out the exact opposite. The babies clung to the cloth mom and when hungry, run toward the food/water, and then immediately run back to the cloth mom.

What this experiment proved is that the basic need of all humans is love and connection, more so than even food and water. When you don’t have love and connection with others, it can lead to depression, anxiety and even suicide.

This sense of belonging is primary and deep, even in the most “macho” rituals, American football. By being a diehard fan of one team, you embrace other fellow fans. You see strangers hugging each other, sharing food and beer in these “tail-gate” parties. There’s a huge sense of connection if you ever participated in one of these parties.

Having self-compassion sounds soft and fluffy, but in reality, it can be very tough and painful at times, as we will see down the road.

PROBLEM ONE: Comparing ourselves to others leads to disconnection and suffering

At least in the Western world, we live in an extremely competitive society where we must excel, and it’s not “good enough” to be average, you have to be above average.

This is so illogical, because we can’t be above average in all things, and there are always going to be people who are more beautiful, smarter, more successful than us.

Sadly, by comparing ourselves to others and being competitive in wanting to be above-average, people tend to look down upon others to feel better about themselves.

We may get a rush from having higher self-esteem when we mistakenly feel that we are more “successful” than another person.

However, if we meet someone who is more “successful” than us, then our self-esteem plummets, and we feel like crap.

Therefore, comparing ourselves to others leads to this emotional see-saw. If we find we’re better, we get elated, if we don’t measure up, we get depressed.  Even worse, when we protect our self-image to avoid feeling bad about ourselves, we don’t acknowledge our faults, rather blaming the other person, even though “it takes two to tango”.

This leads to ongoing conflicts, which causes disconnection from your loved ones. Further, by not seeing our flaws, that leads to stagnation and lack of growth, because how can you improve if you don’t acknowledge your faults?

The solution to prevent these comparisons is self-compassion. Stop judging and evaluating ourselves altogether! Don’t label ourselves as “good” or “bad” but rather accept ourselves openly, and treat ourselves with kindness like a best friend.

Does this work? Yes! By having self-compassion you accept yourself because you’re like everybody else! Everyone has flaws, we’re no different. By accepting ourselves for who we are, then we can accept others as well, and there’s no reason to compare.

When you love and truly accept yourself, you’re not going to look down on those who are less fortunate. Likewise, you’re not going to have that sinking feeling that you’re not doing enough when you see others drive fancy cars.

Caveat: There are many people who are rather harsh with themselves, but would never be that way with others. However, by being nasty to yourself, you’re not going to feel good about yourself.

Why not pursue Win/Win where you’re compassionate towards yourself and others?

I notice that I tend to feel sour when someone I dislike becomes more successful (comparing), and I get down on myself for not being that successful. Then I feel bad that I can’t forgive the person and let go. It’s an absolutely awful feeling, it doesn’t do me any good, and certainly not to the more successful person. I really hate that pinched soul feeling.

Next, I continue to feel bad about myself for not being charitable, and this spirals downward to being angry with myself, “why can’t I just forgive!”.

However, when I have self-compassion and realize that forgiveness is something I struggle greatly with, and indeed a lot of people have the same issues, I can be more patient with myself and move toward being less judgmental.

Allowing yourself to be kind to yourself humanizes you (as you suffer just like everyone), as well as humanizing others because you understand deep down that they’re going through same and/or different struggles as well.

In other words, as part of humanity, you are a worthy person, just like everyone else. When you see yourself as different than others, that again leads to feeling disconnected and not belonging to humanity.

Indeed, dehumanizing others leads to disconnection, which has led to unspeakable crimes against humanity. By seeing “non-Aryan” groups as other and less than human, it was easy for an entire nation to exterminate and torture people “because they’re not like us”.

PROBLEM 2: Feeling lonely and isolated

We looked at the first part of self-compassion which is self-kindness: gentle understanding of ourselves, rather than being critical and judgmental.

The second part of compassion we briefly touched upon. Why should we be kind to ourselves? Because we’re all part of humanity. As we’re kind to others, then it makes logical sense to be kind to ourselves.

The concept here is “we’re all in this together”. We recognize this common human experience of suffering, acknowledging the interconnected nature of our lives (Harry Harlow experiment), indeed life itself.

Therefore, compassion is relational. By seeing people as part of humanity, rather than “other” as the Nazis did, we feel connected.

As explained above, our deepest need is to belong, but when you compare yourself to others, this disconnect leads to loneliness. The KKK feel superior to others because they’re white, and the “other” is not. The same can be said of Men, Women, Democrats, Republicans, Americans, Russians, Christians, Muslims, and the list goes on. We’re part of this group, therefore, we’re superior to this other group. Fanatical group identity is dangerous as it leads to disconnection and even genocide. 

However, if you refuse to hold this view and have compassion toward yourself and others, regardless of group affiliation, you have connection. Instead of seeing differences, you reframe and see how we’re so similar to one another. We all want love and connection; that’s our similarity.

So when our sense of self-worth and belonging is grounded in simply being human, we can’t be rejected or cast out by others. It makes no sense to say that you’re rejected by humanity, because you’re human.

Remember your shared humanity. That can help you to have compassion for who you are. It helps to have others be kind toward you, but they can’t be there with you 24/7. However, you can be with yourself 24/7, so you might as well be kind to yourself using the “best friend” approach discussed in this post.

PROBLEM 3: Suffering

This is the hard part of self-compassion. Self-kindness and common humanity we discussed above. The third and last step is mindfulness.

You must be aware of your suffering, but in a balanced way, where you neither diminish, or make it out to be worse than it is. I tend to make a mountain out of an ant-hill.

Therefore, in this third part of self-compassion, you need to be mindful - clear seeing and nonjudgmental acceptance of what’s occurring in the present moment.

You’re facing up to reality, neither underestimating or over-exaggerating things. First step is to recognize when you’re suffering instead of suppressing it, because you can’t heal what you can’t feel. Be aware of your pain. By stuffing and ignoring pain, it can explode.

A good analogy of awareness is thus: Awareness is the blue sky. Your feelings and thoughts are the birds flapping around. Identify with the sky, instead of the birds. If you remain in awareness (i.e. sky) and not react to the thoughts and feelings (birds), you can be calm and centered as the sky doesn’t shift and change in a feckless manner.

You can’t change your thoughts and feelings very well, but you can change your reactions to them. There are many meditation techniques, but the key here is to hold and be aware of the pain, and don’t numb it.

Indeed, people who suffer from PTSD tend to numb their emotions, as a very understandable mechanism to avoid feeling the immense pain of trauma.

But by having this numbing of emotions, they can’t feel the positive emotions of joy, creativity, love. When you numb, you numb all emotions. Often, people who suffer from PTSD say that they’re living zombies and they don’t know how to have fun anymore.

The hard work in PTSD involves working through the painful memories in a safe, secure environment. The acknowledgment, and being one with the pain, is the really difficult part of self-compassion.

One example that makes us all feel bad about ourselves is when we hear a baby crying which irritates us, but we judge ourselves for having these thoughts, “what a horrible person I am for having that thought, it’s only a baby, a nicer person would feel sympathy rather than being triggered”.

However, if you have self-compassion, you stop the judgment. You become aware (sky) of the irritation (birds) you’re having, you acknowledge the negative thought, while recognizing that surely a lot of people would feel the same way, and the thought will eventually pass!

A silly example is when I went to a party. I tend to need at least 5 large glasses of wine and/or beer to feel socially comfortable. The extremely uncomfortable feeling of being socially awkward has been too hard for me to deal with.

However, at a recent party, I decided not to drink - this wasn’t too daring, because there were only 3 people at the party that I don’t know that well. I decided to practice self-compassion, since I just completed reading the book.I decided to be one with being socially awkward.

What helped me was chanting exactly how I felt, “socially awkward, socially awkward, socially awkward”. However, after 1 hour (I’m “slow to warm up”), I stopped feeling awkward, and I ended up enjoying being in the moment and having meaningful connections.

I’m not sure if this strategy would work if I’m in a party with people I barely know, but this is a small step to being aware.

Dr. Neff recommends that when you feel suffering, to have a mantra, in your words, along this line:

This is a moment of suffering
Suffering is part of life
May I be kind to myself in this moment
May I give myself the compassion I need

I kind of like Brene Brown, Ph.D. (author of Daring Greatly) mantra where one of her interviewees, when in pain would simply say, “pain, pain pain”. Or you can say “ouch, ouch, ouch”, to acknowledge the pain, as well as the rest of the mantra as suffering being part of humanity, and to give yourself kindness and compassion. It’s best if it’s in your own words.

On a positive note, when you have awareness, you’re going to have awareness of positive emotions too! In this situation, you can hold it in loving awareness and really make that feeling bloom! You can experience love and joy with more awareness and rejoice in it - it actually overflowed to my coworkers and strangers!

Using the three part component of self-compassion as a way toward love and connection, it helps you to deal with pain and suffering.

I then chuckled at Dr. Neff’s stages of self-compassion, because I went through the same thing. Initially, as I had self-compassion, I had this outpouring of love toward my coworkers, and work was light - I actually made some rather creative suggestions which surprised even me. I was enamored with self-compassion.

However, I then saw the hard work of self-compassion. It doesn’t take the pain away at all, rather it helps you to be more resilient and deal with pain in a more effective way.

Instead of numbing or burying your feelings, which will pop up again, as survivors of trauma would all attest, in the form of disturbing intrusions, horrific nightmares and flashbacks, rather self-compassion holds you in awareness.

With self-compassion, you gain the resilience to work on painful emotions, feelings and thoughts head on. While having compassion for yourself that you’re suffering like the rest of the world, and being aware of the pain, you can wait for the pain to pass. You can weather these negative emotions. This leads to emotional resilience, and with practice, you become better and better at it.

PROBLEM 4: Being successful

If you think about it, if you see someone more successful than you, and he brags to you about all the things he bought, where you “only” have a run of the mill sedan, it’ll be hard to be friends with him.

Therefore, what if you’re highly successful, does this mean you’ll be disconnected from others? If you have self-compassion, no! As part of humanity (principle 2 of self-compassion), you’ll have shared joy.

You are concerned for your own well-being as well as others, so you want both to succeed! By recognizing our inherent connectedness, Dr. Neff writes, “When we’re part of a larger whole, we can feel glad that ‘one of us’ has something to celebrate”.

You celebrate with exuberance in the success of others with self-compassion. In fact, with self-compassion, you can genuinely feel that way, instead of grudgingly when you see your friends being more successful than you.

Instead, armed with self-compassion, you become aware of other people’s positive traits and fully appreciate them, not taking them for granted. You rejoice in yourself, just as you rejoice in others.

PROBLEM 5: I’m not going to be successful if I have self-compassion

The opposite is true. So many psychological studies have shown that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation.

If you’re stuck in the self-esteem, need to prove myself trap, you’re doing things to be successful, to look smart, athletic so that you can be admired, which strokes your ego. This is extrinsic motivation.

Let’s say the activity is very grueling, streaming as a career. With extrinsic motivation, your self-esteem increases when your viewer numbers go up, and then it crashes when your number goes down.

I know this very well. In the early stages of streaming, I actually got depressed when my viewer number went from 10 to 9, WTF!

But you still stream for those numbers because when you grow, your self-esteem does as well, and I did get emotional high’s when I got an average of 20 in one month - it’s like a drug!

However, during summer, when many are off on vacation, your numbers tend to be lower for the next 3 months. Since you’re streaming for self-esteem and those numbers, you may be demoralized and then give up.

Further, by wanting to be successful so you can prove yourself as the “better” streamer (stroking your ego), you’re afraid to take creative risks, make mistakes, for fear of losing viewers. You then look “wooden” which is the death-knell in entertainment. You keep to a regular script which can get stale, also another way to make yourself bored and not wanting to stream anymore.

However, if you have self-compassion, which leads to awareness of what you truly want in life, you decide to stream because you love the process as well as your viewers.

You enjoy the connection and the challenge of negotiating chat and gameplay, and finding new creative angles to be entertaining.

This is intrinsic motivation, you’re doing something because you want to do it. You don’t care if you fail and your numbers drop like flies, because your self-esteem isn’t harmed in any way, because you have self-compassion.

If you do something "dumb" while streaming, you’ll be able to do your “ouch” mantra, hold the embarrassment, and move on, with emotional resilience. You can take enormous risks (historically leading to major advancements in technology and innovation) because you simply don’t care about social rejection or judgment, or low viewer numbers. You are authentic and free.

If you’re stuck on an issue with streaming, you’re not afraid to ask for help for “fear of looking stupid”. In other words, you’re not controlled by societal pressures when you have self-compassion.

You do your own thing with utmost courage, authenticity, honesty and integrity, screw the rules! Contrary to what people think, self-compassion isn’t “wimpy”, but bad-ass! What's more bad-ass than being true to yourself and a "rebel".

At any rate, it appears that those who do something they absolutely love tend to be more successful than someone who’s doing it to prove themselves.

When you love something, you never get tired of doing it, to the point where you may have to work on self-care issues such as eating regular meals and getting enough sleep (I’m thinking specifically video gaming).

When you’re doing something to prove things, you’re going to be demoralized when there’s a glitch, a temporary obstacle, and failure, and you may quit altogether.

The person who’s spending and practicing that many hours because of the enjoyment will tend to be better at the activity than someone who quits in fits and starts due to obstacles in the way.

I wanted to outline the three components of self-compassion here, and present the major arguments for self-compassion.


There are many exercises in the book that I won’t outline here, so if you feel that the concept of self-compassion makes sense and can make a difference in your life, I highly recommend Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

I found the concept of self-compassion jump started me on being way more pro-active in self-care and fulfilling my specific goals. Perhaps borrow the book from the library or look through the book at the bookstore. Do the exercises that resonate with you. Above all have self-compassion!

Note: I have been including the How of Happiness link in the bottom of all my posts, but I found Dr. Neff's Self-Compassion equally important, so I'll be alternating posts with these books.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Part II Summary

We covered the Private Victories (Habits 1 through 3) in the last post, so we'll carry on to Habits 4 through 7. I found Habit 5 the most powerful of these, but the most challenging habit to master, so we'll spend the most time on Habit 5.

HABIT 4: THINK WIN/WIN

In general, the best approach is Win/Win as it seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. It sees life as cooperative, not competitive. Whole books are dedicated on how to achieve Win/Win in actionable steps, demonstrating the powerful impact of this book.

However, Covey takes a more fundamental approach, so you can apply it to all areas instead of a formulaic, simplistic way. He notes that character is the foundation of Win/Win, and we need three character traits to achieve this.

Trait One: Integrity. You need Habits 1 to 3 to develop and maintain integrity. When we identify our values and what we want, we can go for the Win. You can’t go for the Win if you don’t know what your goals and principles are, because what are you fighting for in the first place?

Trait Two: Maturity. This is the balance between courage and consideration. You need to be very courageous because you must show your vulnerability as you discuss your needs and wants openly and honestly. This must be balanced with consideration of the other person’s needs and wants. Maturity validates BOTH you and the other person as important. This also boils down in self-compassion principles where you honor yourself as much as others.

Trait Three: Abundance Mentality. Covey was the one who coined the term Abundance Mentality, as well as Scarcity Mentality.  The concept of Abundance has also led to tons of books written on the subject.

When you have Abundance Mentality, you recognize that there’s enough in the world for both parties to succeed. Your success does not have to take away from another’s success.

With an Abundance Mentality, you realize that there is plenty out there to go around so you can share prestige, recognition, profits, decision-making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives and creativity leading to Synergy (Habit 6).

Again, self-compassion allows you to have Abundance where you rejoice in your successes, and you equally rejoice in others’ successes, even if they have more success than you. This feels infinitely better than having that pinched feeling of jealousy and envy toward your friends.

With Abundance, you come from a position of open-mindedness and whole-heartedness - you can achieve more together in a connected, holistic manner. Two heads are better than one.

Whereas, Scarcity Mentality is where you feel that you have to destroy the other person to succeed, otherwise that person will take your spot. You refuse to help others who are struggling in your field, for fear they will take over your resources and eclipse you. You may profit from Scarcity Mentality, and indeed, malignant Narcissists can be highly successful with this approach (even at the level of CEO), but this position is soul-crushing.

By attacking the other person and refusing to share, you become disconnected from others. Disconnect leads to despair, depression, anxiety and even suicide. Realize that connection is an even more basic need than food and water per the Harry Harlow experiments (baby monkeys prefer cloth mothers with no food to wire mothers with food).

Win/Win example:

I saw a father who was too strict with his daughter, Jane (for anonymous purposes) because his wife was killed when Jane was only 3 years old. Therefore, he doesn’t want any harm to go her way like his wife. Jane is obviously suffocated as she wants to go out with her friends on weekends, but she can only socialize with her friends in school.

It was obvious that they both love each other, even though they fight constantly about this issue.

We problem-solved and sought a Win/Win. I mentioned to Jane if she’s okay with her father taking her friends to the mall (many teenagers would rather drop dead), and she was absolutely delighted, much to my surprise.

I discussed with the father, and his face also lit up. He said he would be very happy to drive Jane and her friends to the mall, movies. This was an obvious solution, but the father was so trapped in his fear that he couldn’t think of alternatives, and clung to a Win/Lose situation (he wins by over-protection, and daughter loses).

Breakdown: The father is happy because he can “insure” his daughter’s safety, and Jane is thrilled to go out with her friends.

Application Suggestions: 
  • Think about an upcoming interaction where you have to reach an agreement. Commit to a balance between courage and consideration. 
  • Make a list of obstacles that keep you from applying the Win/Win paradigm more frequently. Determine what can you change about yourself to eliminate the obstacles.
  • With your most important relationship, think of a perpetual disagreement you have. Try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes, and figure out what that person sees as the solution. Write down what you see as a solution. Approach and work this out to a point of mutual beneficial agreement.
HABIT 5: SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD

We will spend more time on this habit since Empathic listening is so difficult to do. Carl Rogers expounded on Empathic listening, and Covey did a superb job conveying the elements.

Empathic listening is exceedingly difficult, and I’ve committed all the non-empathic listening “sins” frequently, so do not judge yourself if you do all the "wrong things".

Covey starts out with seeing an Optometrist due to vision complaint. The Optometrist listens to your complaint, then takes off her glasses and hands them to you.

“Put these on,” she says. “I’ve worn this pair of glasses for 10 years now, and they’ve really helped me. I have an extra pair at home, so you can wear these”.

You put on the glasses, and it makes your vision even worse! When you tell her it’s gotten worse, she retorts, “You’re so ungrateful, after all I did to help you”.

You would never see this doctor again, as she clearly doesn’t understand your problem, barely listening to you, and then giving you advice that doesn’t fit who you are or your situation!

We all do this, often well-intentioned, because we want to help our friends, and we think giving advice, telling them what worked for us when we encountered this situation, but has no bearing on what his specific problem is, as everyone and every situation is different.

We also tend to listen to reply, because we think this will make us look clever and witty, when in reality, no one cares! When your friend is hurting, being there, listening empathically is the approach, not trying to one-up her.

Empathic listening is the opposite. You remove yourself from the equation, and understand what the person is not only saying from his viewpoint, but also understanding the emotional nuance of what he’s going through, without judging (you’re neither agreeing or disagreeing), giving advice, or putting your 2 cents in.

You are focused on him and doing your best to see what he’s going through. You are diagnosing the problem, and once you have all the facts and they feel understood, they’ll be more receptive to problem-solving. Your advice will also fit the issue at hand, as opposed to being the wrong prescription.

Step one: Remove yourself from the equation. Do not inject your autobiography when listening. These things are:

Evaluate: To agree or disagree. Does it make sense if the optometrist says, no I don’t agree that this lens is worse than this? You’re wrong (even though this is YOUR eyesight). WTF, how can she say she’s right, she doesn’t have your exact eyesight.

Probing: asking questions from our own frame of reference, for your own benefit, not for theirs. “Have you really tried your best?” Advise: You give counsel from your own experience, but you are you, not the person you’re talking to! “I’ve been through the same thing myself, so this is what you need to do”, but maybe not for someone else!

Interpreting: Figuring people out to explain why they’re doing something, based on our own motives, feelings and behaviors. Everyone’s unique, you can’t make assumptions like this. “What you’re trying to do here is this” when in fact, that’s not the case.

Advising: Telling them what to do from your own point of view, not taking into account their unique concerns and issues. "What has always worked for me in these circumstances is..." Yes, that worked for you, but not for me!

Instead, Empathic listening requires this step-by-step approach:

Level 1: Mimic content. You just spit out what the person says. At least you’re paying attention, but it’s very limited and stilted:


          “I hate school, Mom!”
          “You hate school”

Level 2: Rephrase the content. This is a bit better as you don’t sound like a parrot:

          “I hate school, Mom!”
          “You don’t want to go to school anymore”

Level 3: Now that you know the content, you reflect the feeling only. Here you accurately sense his frustration, but you focused more on the feeling, not so much the content:

          “I hate school, Mom!”
          “You’re feeling really frustrated!”

Level 4: This is the highest stage of Empathic listening. You use all three levels simultaneously. You digest the content, rephrase it to show you understand, and reflect the feeling:

          “I hate school, Mom!”
          “You’re feeling really frustrated about school!”

In level 4, you got the feeling and content down all at once. As you listen authentically to understand, by rephrasing content and reflecting feeling, the person feels that you’re on the same wave-length and creating a safe, nonjudgmental space.

They will feel more open to discussing how they truly feel. To get a sense of why empathic listening works, please refer to the 25th anniversary edition, pages 259 to 260 (what not to do), and pages 260 to 261 (empathic listening).

Once the person feels understood, you can then problem-solve with all the facts and feelings in a much more effective way.

If the above skill-set sounds hard, that’s because it is. When I was in college and volunteering for crisis center, we underwent a very vigorous program on empathic, nonjudgmental listening.

Sadly, there are no classes that I’ve seen outside of volunteering, but you can always improve. Work on level 1 and get that down to perfection (i.e. you’re actually paying attention with no electronic devices and other distractions). When you’re able to 100% focus on the content, then work on level 2, and so on.

We can’t be perfect listeners, but as long as people see you making the effort, doing your best not to interrupt, allowing them to talk freely without judgment, reflecting on their feelings, that can go a long way in your relationships.

HABIT 6: SYNERGIZE

Once you have a good grasp of habits 1 through 5, you can now synergize, which occurs between two or more persons. Example is two separate plants, by themselves, they can only grow so much, but when they're planted together, they grow even more since two plants close by can enrich the soil more.

Whole books are written on synergy, as results can multiply in a "whole is more than the sum of its parts" kind of way.

Here's a typical example of synergy. One person is very creative and brilliant but so disorganized that nothing gets done. He meets potential girlfriend in class who's extremely organized and can streamline things.

She was struck by the genius fragments of sentences and poems he wrote, and then collates them in perfection, taking a couple of days. He is struck by what she put together because that's exactly what he meant, he just couldn't organize it.

They publish the book and becomes a national bestseller. This is a parody of the typical Covey example when you do something using the habit, and you end up being a billionaire, Kappa (gamer emoticon for sarcasm).

In other words, you respect other people's differences and talents (i.e. one is very creative, the other is strategic, the other is good at actualizing) and come up with something greater than you could've accomplished on your own.

In this step, it's crucial to recognize how there are different ways of looking at things, there's no one right way, so each will be open to using these different perspectives and skills, to synergize.

For instance, in this famous picture, some will see an old woman, others a

young woman, but both perspectives are right. However, when you put both perspectives together, we get a fuller truth, that this picture is BOTH an old and young woman.

HABIT 7: SHARPEN THE SAW

You've arrived and "mastered" all 6 habits, but don't rest on your laurels. In this habit, you must preserve and enhance the greatest asset, you! Build on what you have to improve.

Physical: exercise, sleep, nutrition, stress management

Social/emotional: Service, empathy, synergy, intrinsic security

Spiritual: value clarification & commitment, study and meditation

Mental: reading, visualizing, planning and writing

These habits are difficult to follow, so you need good sleep and nutrition to even have the energy to carry them out!

It's also good to review if you're following your values, by taking a breather and re-evaluate - it's so easy to get stuck in the details, that you forget the big picture.

Conclusion: It's no wonder that Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People continues to this day. I appreciate how you must hone in on exactly what you want in life because it's important to have a map, otherwise you'll get lost. By cutting out the crap and meaningless things (i.e. keeping up with the Joneses), you can cut to the chase and be more effective in actualizing your goals, and having deep, meaningful relationships.

The How of Happiness Review

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Part 1: Summary of the 25th Anniversary Edition

INTRODUCTION: WHY 7 HABITS?

This will be a long post, as I'll be summarizing Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People through the first 3 Habits. The last 4 Habits will be covered in a separate post to be more "organized".

After using self-compassion, I noticeably felt better. I recall in this past post,
that I tried reading Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but couldn't even do the first exercise due to fatigue. But now that I'm in a much better place, I decided to go through the book again.

I completed the entire book when I had way more energy in College, and really found it eye-opening and helpful. However, the lessons didn't stick, otherwise, I would've remembered and continued with these habits to this day.


These habits can be very difficult to follow as it takes a lot of due diligence, willpower to not do what you want in the moment, but to work on what you find worthy, meaningful and important.


You can feel demoralized as you continue to slide back into bad habits. You may even feel negatively towards yourself, and feeling like a failure for not being an "effective" person.


That's why it's absolutely imperative that you practice self-compassion. There are going to be many days where you'd rather sleep in and not exercise, and you may berate yourself.


However, if you're kind to yourself, you'll validate these universal feelings, indeed, animals tend to use the least amount of energy, evolutionary speaking! We try to conserve energy in the face of scarcity.


Using self-compassion, you will then say, but I'm a truly worthy person, so I'll commit to exercising after work. You can walk up and down the stairs for 10 mins, or walk around the house for 10 mins as alternative. Some movement is better than none!


Therefore, if you didn't do the one habit that would make an enormous difference in your life, with self-compassion on your side, you'll just pick yourself up and do light exercise later on in the day!


Carl Rogers noted that having unconditional positive regard is the key to change, and an important ingredient in making things work for you. 


Additionally, you must have energy. When I was exhausted, I couldn't accomplish anything. So exercise, getting a good night's sleep, eating fruits and vegetables, and so forth can help with energy.


Why follow the 7 Habits in the first place? Because of Covey's work, future self-help books base their principles on his work - namely, one book will be on empathic listening, another on synergy, and so forth.


Further, I found the book not only profound but practical, as it outlines steps that can help you reach your goals, in a principled manner. Covey gives you exercises to act on these positive habits.


Through these exercises, you will find what you value, not what society, family and friends say you should be. Then, the book helps you to live in line with your own truths, again in a principled way.


Again, do these habits with self-compassion, recognizing that it's very hard work. Even Covey mentioned that it's difficult in his Foreword to the 2004 edition. He writes, "I have personally found living the 7 Habits a constant struggle...Because I sincerely work and struggle every day at living these principle-embodied habits, I warmly join you in this adventure" (p. 20). And this is the man who wrote the book!


Because of self-compassion and seeing ourselves as worthy, we want to live with integrity and principle. After all, we don't treat our precious things with contempt and carelessness, but rather with care. Likewise, when we value ourselves, we want to take care of ourselves, we want to be happy and pursue purpose and meaning in our lives, in a principled way.


I'm summarizing the 7 Habits as I find it's in sore need of an update for people of diverse backgrounds. It appears that Covey is writing to the upper white middle class families. Even so, "don't throw the baby out with the bath water", but rather focus on the principles of what Covey is expounding.

FOREWARD TO THE 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

In this Foreword, Covey acknowledges that our problems and pain are universal, and solutions will be based upon universal, timeless, self-evident principles

These principled solutions stand in contrast to common thinking of modern society as outlined below.


BODY:

Cultural tendency: continue with unhealthy lifestyle habits; treat health problems with surgery and medication.

Principle: prevent diseases and problems by incorporating healthy life choices. Such as the tried and true sleep hygiene, eating healthy, exercising, meditation, preventive medical checkups, and so forth.


MIND:

Cultural tendency: watch television, "entertain me"

Principle: read broadly and deeply, continuous education


HEART:

Cultural tendency: use relationships with others to advance your personal, selfish interests

Principle: deep, respectful listening, helping and serving others brings greatest fulfillment and joy.


I found the above compelling because when people think about being an "effective" person, they think you need to manipulate and use others to get ahead of the game, seek and gain power and money to abuse others to get what you want and need.


This book proposes the exact opposite, that by following principles of honor and integrity to the best of your abilities, it can help solve painful problems, bringing you joy and contentment, as it aligns with universal truths.


Instead of using and abusing others, Covey calls for having utmost respect, listening and understanding others deeply, without judgment. By doing this, you move toward empowering not just the person, but yourself.


INSIDE-OUT AND OVERVIEW

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People focuses on Character Ethic as a way to be an effective person. You must start first with your self, with your paradigms, your character and your motives.

For Covey, Character Ethic is the foundation of success - you can only experience enduring happiness when you integrate these principles.


The major principles are:

  • Fairness
  • Integrity and Honesty
  • Human Dignity
  • Service
  • Quality or Excellence
  • Potential/Growth
  • Patience, Nurturance and Encouragement
By following these principles, you're following the correct roadmap. You may falter, but you can always consult the map and find your way back - there's always opportunities to do so to exercise these principles!

Following is a great description of a person who fell off the map and got lost, not using principles as a guide post, in the words of Erich Fromm:
Today, we come across an individual who behaves like an automaton, who does not know or understand himself, and the only person that he knows is the person that he is supposed to be, whose meaningless chatter has replaced communicative speech, whose synthetic smile has replaced genuine laughter, and whose sense of dull despair has taken the place of genuine pain. Two statements may be said concerning this individual. One is that he suffers from defects of spontaneity and individuality which may seem to be incurable. At the same time, it may be said of him he does not differ essentially from the millions of the rest of us who walk upon this earth.
I appreciate this quote, because this is what we all go through, and suffer, being a universal condition. However, we can change course by steering ourselves toward universal principles.

Do these principles make sense? They do, if we look at the negative of these timeless principles.

Being unfair, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative, not wanting to "git gud" (gamer terminology), being nasty and impatient to others - this doesn't lead to success in the truest sense.

Malignant narcissists, who have those negative qualities, can be extremely successful financially, often ending up as CEOs. Because they'd do anything to get ahead, they can cut corners and make quick gains, pushing their way to the glass ceiling. But they're very miserable, having no meaningful, loving relationships or connections with anyone.

Please be advised that human beings and all mammals are hard-wired to have connection with one another. We're social animals. When we're cut off or don't have a sense of belonging, that brings about true suffering.

But being fair, open, honest, improving upon yourself, encouraging and helping others - these things make people happy and able to connect with others in a fulfilling way.

Some of the negative habits to combat:
  • procrastination
  • impatience
  • criticalness
  • selfishness
Procrastination definitely makes you less effective. What's interesting is that the last 3 negative habits lead to disconnect from others. What this book is steering us toward is to have positive connections with others to be successful.

The book explains how you can achieve principled habits, but of course, have self-compassion if you go back to bad habits. Covey admits that having good habits involve tremendous process and commitment.

Covey notes that habits are the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire:

Knowledge is the theory and paradigms of what to do.
Skill is how to do it.
Desire is you want to do it.

The 7 Habits are incremental and integrated approach to developing personal and interpersonal effectiveness. As you go through the habits, you move from dependence to independence, and finally to interdependence.

When we reach interdependence, we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together, compared to independently, achieving more success and becoming more effective together. Two heads are better than one.

When you share yourself deeply, meaningfully with others, you may have access to the vast resources and potential of other human beings.

Habits 1 to 3 help you move from dependence to independence. This is your Private Victory.

Habits 4 to 7 help you move from independence to interdependence. This is your Public Victory.

Although you need to achieve independence before you gain interdependence - you have to learn how to crawl before you walk - it may take many years, even a lifetime to "master" habits 1 to 3. However, you can also work on habits 4 to 7 concurrently!

HABIT 1 - BE PRO-ACTIVE

Being proactive means that you take responsibility for your own life. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.

Reactive people are often effected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If the weather is bad, they feel bad.


However, a proactive person carries their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shine, doesn't matter, because proactive people are value driven, and their value is to produce good quality work, being kind to others, and so forth, regardless of what's going on.


Covey mentions the proactivity of Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, who founded Logotherapy, and author of Man's Search For Meaning, which I wrote about here.


Despite the atrocities, Frankl chose how he acts, and found meaning in the suffering, and helped others to find their own meaning.


We all can't be Frankl. Indeed, if one of my hair strands is out of place, I feel that I can't stream as well. However, we can start slowly and have minor victories when we act positively rather than reacting. 


Suppose it's raining outside, and as a result your arthritis is really acting up. You can chose to stay at home and be in pain and miserable. Or you can have compassion and acknowledge your pain. Then you may problem-solve, give a middle finger to the crappy weather, and go out with your friends. 



Covey uses the model of circle of influence - those are the things you have control over, such as being patient, kind and understanding. Around the circle of influence, you have circle of concern, which you don't have control over such as the weather, politics and such. 

When you're proactive, you use your energy in working on your circle of influence, instead of reacting negatively to things you can't control, and then blaming others for your problems.


You have direct control by working on your habits, such as the Private Victories of Habits 1, 2, 3. Indirect control problems are solved by changing our methods of influence - Public Victories of Habits 4, 5, 6. No control problems can be dealt with accepting the way things are, even though we don't like it.


Here's an example on how you can expand your circle of influence, by working on yourself and how you respond.


Your boss tends to be critical of others, but doesn't have a verifiable DSM-V personality disorder, so you can work with her. Instead of complaining about yet another mistake she pointed out, you start trying to understand her and what she's looking for. 


Instead of avoiding her at all costs, or just saying "yes" to whatever she says to "get her off my back", you instead truly listen to what she wants and expects. Actually, she may be taken aback if she sees you actively searching out her advice when you have a question about the project, since she notices that people avoid her like the plague.


Because you truly understand what her vision is and you're able to implement it as a result, she will be impressed, and come to you for more of the "plum" projects.


You're clearly proactive in this situation. Instead of blaming her for being "bitchy" and saying, "if only she were more understanding, my work would be better", you decide to understand exactly what she wants, getting all the specifics so you can easily implement.


However, your other coworkers start getting jealous, one actually calls you a "brown noser" to your face. Instead of reacting, you have the wherewithal to tell him that you're not brown nosing, you're just following these particular steps that she finds useful and that's how you can "get ahead". By giving him these valuable tips, he can take it or leave it.


If he's "not convinced", you continue to make positive overtures toward him. Seeing that you're actually genuine and authentic, he starts using your tips, noticing that they actually work, and you gained an ally. 


The other coworkers eventually follow suit. You turned an unpleasant work experience into a positive one.


Now the issue here is if your boss actually has a verifiable personality disorder. She completely belittles and insults others, lies about her employees to cover herself, fires employees indiscriminately, and creates a truly toxic environment. 


You have a family to feed, so you can't quit your job, even though your wife and children are begging you to leave for your health.


However, even in this dire situation, you can be proactive. Take notes whenever she says something demeaning to you or another person. Make sure you write down the exact day and time this occurs. If you have good reflexes, you can also record the toxicity on your smartphone.


On the weekends, you and your wife scour the internet for job opportunities. If you get fired, you can hire a lawyer, armed with scores of exceptionally detailed notes, which is every lawyer's wet dream for a lawsuit.


If you manage to not get fired, once you find another job, you can put in your 2 weeks notice.


How can you tell if you're proactive or not? If you're reactive you use "have" statements. If you're proactive, you use "be" statements.


Reactive statements examples:

  • I'll be happy when I have my house paid off...
  • If only had a boss who wasn't such a dictator (use the techniques above instead)...
  • If I had more obedient kids...
  • If I had my degree...
  • If I could just have more time to myself...
Proactive statements examples:
  • I can be more patient
  • I can be more wise
  • I can be more understanding
  • I can be more resourceful
  • I can be more diligent
The Application Suggestions are:
  1. For a full day, listen to your language and to the language of the people around you. How often do you use and hear reactive phrases such as "If only," "I can't", or "I have to".
  2. Identify an experience that have behaved reactively. How could you respond proactively. Create this experience vividly in you mind, picturing yourself responding in a proactive manner. 
  3. Select a problem from work or personal life that is frustrating to you. Determine whether it's direct, indirect, or no control problem. Identify the first step you can take in your Circle of Influence to solve it and then take that step.
  4. Try the 30-day test of proactivity. Be aware of the change in your Circle of Influence.
HABIT 2: BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND

The following exercise will help define what you find truly valuable in your life.

Imagine yourself at a funeral, the whole procession. What would you want your loved ones (family and friends) and coworkers to say about you during your eulogy?


Those will be your values and what you consider important.


When I tried that exercise, I wanted people to say some positive things that I'm not. One is "she's someone who honors commitments" but I tend to cancel social engagements.


Therefore, through this funeral exercise, I know I need to work on only making promises that I can truly keep and really following through, as one of my core principles.


The other interesting thing is that nowhere in the eulogy did I want someone to say that "she valued her freedom" because that sounds "bad". However, when I really looked deep into myself, choosing only three things I value most, they are: 

  1. Freedom
  2. Love
  3. Growth
The last two showed up in the eulogy, but my most valued, Freedom, did not. Even so, I find that I can't be authentic if I don't have freedom.

Therefore, do the eulogy, which is crucial, but in a separate list, find three things that make you happy.

A lot of us, in the happiness list, would put down being wealthy. As studies show, materialism doesn't lead to happiness, so being wealthy isn't your value.

Instead, write down why you want to be wealthy. What comes up mostly is you want money so you can travel, eat amazing foods, go to concerts and experience other unique activities and events.

Therefore, I would say that you value rich experiences, and that could be something you can work toward. 

It's important to come up with your unique mission statement. It will change as you consider things more, as you get older, as you go through different milestones in life, and such. But at least you have a blue print as to what you're aiming for.

Do the funeral exercise - it can be rather eye-opening to see where your values really lie.

Next, with this "End in Mind", you want to focus on what you want to be (character), and to do (contributions and achievements), and put that in your life mission statement.

Since this funeral exercise is so open-ended, as well as mission statements being equally open-ended, and I struggle in pinning things down, the Franklin Covey mission statement builder was quite helpful. 

I would do the funeral exercise, and then the mission statement builder.

Once armed with this knowledge, you have your own blueprint as to how you want to live your life, not how others perceive you.

You want to make sure that you follow your vision and values, which is your Circle of Influence, and the more you work, the more your Circle of Influence expands. That's where you want to focus your attention on.

You want a Principled Center. By focusing our lives on correct principles, we create a solid foundation, that doesn't fluctuate based on people or things that constantly change, and are quite fickle. 

Alternative Centers
Covey next lists alternative centers that we tend to have, rather than a Principled Center. These are spouse, family, money, work, possession, pleasure, friend/enemy, church/institution and self-centeredness.

Let's take work-centeredness as an example of why not having a Principled Center is problematic. When you're work-centered, your personal worth is determined by your occupation. You're only comfortable when you're working. You make your decisions based on the needs and expectations of work. You tend to be limited by your work role. You see your work as your life. 

The other alternative centers are equally problematic. But having a principled center, you aren't being acted upon by other people or circumstances, rather you make your decision based on looking at the whole picture, factoring in work, family and other needs to come up with the best solution.

Covey gives a good example of an alternative center versus principled center approach. Your husband was looking forward to this concert for the past month or so. But at the night of the concert, your employer calls you to do some prep work for tomorrow's 9 AM meeting.

If you're spouse-centered, you go to the concert with your husband. Or you may feel you have to work instead, but very anxious about his response, justifying your decision and protecting yourself from his disappointment,

If you're money-centered, you'd call your husband to cancel the concert b/c this could lead to a potential raise. 

Covey goes down the other alternative-centered options which we won't outline here, but the principled-centered option makes the most sense.

A possible outcome using the principle-centered approach is to communicate to your husband and boss, whom you both have a strong connection. You genuinely want to prepare for this meeting because you value your boss's effectiveness and you want to contribute to the team (proactive) rather than staying at work to get the edge on someone else (reactive).

You want to go to the concert with your husband because you both were committed to this for the past month or so, and this is your husband's favorite band growing up. 

You chose what is ultimately most valuable to you in your mission statement, which happens to be your relationship with your husband, when you did your eulogy.

Therefore, you tell your boss that you'll come in early in the morning to prepare for the meeting because you care about the welfare of the team, and go to the concert with hubby.

Application suggestions:
  1. Record funeral impressions.
  2. Write down your roles.
  3. Begin work on your personal statement, this tool can help.
  4. Circle all the alternate centers that you tend to follow
  5. Start a collection of notes, quotes and ideas you may want to use as resource material for your mission statement
  6. Identify a project you'll face, and envision how to solve this using a principled center approach.
  7. Share the principles of Habit 2 to loved ones and/or work group, and suggest that together, being the process of a family and/or group mission statement.
HABIT 3: PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST
The answers to these questions will direct you during Habit 3.

Question 1: What one thing could you do (something you aren’t doing now) that, if you did it regularly, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?

Question 2: What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

For the first question, I came up with 3: going to bed and getting up at the same time, exercising, and eating more fruits and vegetables. For the second question, being more organized by using to-do lists.

Covey poses that Habit 3 is the practical fulfillment of Habits 1 and 2.

Habit 1 says, “You’re in charge”. It challenges you to realize, “that’s an unhealthy program I’ve been given from my childhood, from my social mirror. I don’t like that wrong script, I can change it”.

Habit 2 shows us what’s most important to us.

Habit 3 is the exercise that you do to become principle-centered, and how you carry out what’s most important to you. Covey describes a time management matrix.


Quadrant 1 are important and urgent such as crises, pressing problems, deadlines.

Quadrant 2 is important but not urgent.

Quadrant 3 are non-important but urgent such as interruptions, some calls, some mail, some meetings.

Quadrant 4 are not important and not urgent such as trivia, time-wasters.

Write down all of your roles, such as personal, parent, spouse, employee and for each one, write down the essentials such for each of these roles - that will most likely be Quadrant 1, 2 and 3 concerns. Exercise would fall under your personal role, Quadrant 2.

If you, like most families, work multiple jobs, and you find that you don't have time to have dinner with your children (I would say this is a very basic Quadrant 2 issue), look again at your roles list. Delegate any Quadrant 3. 

If still pinched for time, look at your roles again, weeding out the unimportant positions. If you see one as being PTA member, then I'd quit, since your values are with your children (Habit 2).

If work is getting in the way, then cut unnecessary expenses to reduce work hours. I often see families struggling to make ends meet (leading to multiple jobs). Come to find out I see their children (as young as 5-years old) with the latest, largest iPhone ($1,500), when all they really need is clamshell for emergencies ($30). 

In other words, resist the urge to keep up with the Joneses. It's not worth working multiple jobs for all these unnecessary luxury items.

Here's an example that often comes up:

A mother brings in her daughter ("Jill") as she's severely depressed. Jill is concerned about her mother because she works too many hours, and her health is declining as a result. Further, they can't spend time together, which Jill says also makes her depressed. She spends her time alone in her room while her mother works. If that's not depressing, I don't know what is.

It was obvious that their relationship is their most-valued principle (Habit 2), so Quadrant II is working on their relationship.

When I asked the mother why she's working full-time and then Uber after work and on weekends, she reports that she has to pay bills (Quadrant 1 Urgent) and buy things for Jill to make her happy (allegedly Quadrant 2).

Jill then mentions that she doesn't even want these things, which include the mother paying for Jill and her friends to go out to eat, hair extensions, fancy manicures, smartphones, and so forth. We calculated that it comes to $1000/month. Uber = $8/hr, so that's 31.5 hours/week.

Since Jill convinced the mother that she'd rather spend the time with her, foregoing the luxuries, the mother agreed to quit Uber altogether and keep the full-time job. 

Jill went even further and agreed to do almost all the chores (Quadrant III), so that they both can spend even more time together, which is their Quadrant II, most important values.


I saw them 2 weeks later and Jill was beaming with joy - so not only did her depression go away completely, but she's very happy having all these special moments with her mother.

In other words, cut out the crap and focus on what's meaningful to you.

Click here for Part II - Public Victories.

The How of Happiness Review

Why Self-Compassion?

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