I initially read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People during the first few months of my first year of incarceration. My motivation for reading the book then was my desire to remain effective in my habits of thinking, and in my daily actions and interactions with others during my time of incarceration. I had heard that doing time in prison causes some people to become despondent, complacent, and ultimately institutionalized. I desperately wanted to avoid either of these realities becoming my state of mind. Due to the book’s popularity, I was vaguely familiar with the transformational power attributed to the principle-centered frameworks that are the hallmark of this classical work. As I was just beginning my journey of redemption, I realized that I needed a roadmap to guide me. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and it powerful lessons in personal change gave me a blueprint for the personal transformation I needed and wanted to experience. To begin the process, I memorized the 7 Habits and would repeat them daily as part of my system of self-development.
I have since re-read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In fact, I just completed reading the 25th Anniversary Edition. Roughly one thousand – five hundred days have passed since I initially read the 7 Habits during the first year of my prison bid. Today, I am a different man with a markedly changed perspective. What I learned from reading the book “Again for the first time” is even more profound. Each of the 7 Habits took on a much deeper meaning as I am seeking to integrate them into my character. I understand why “Habit 1: Be Proactive” is more than simply taking initiative. To be proactive means to accept responsibility for my own behavior and make decisions based on principles and values. It means to develop my four unique human gifts – self-awareness, consciousness, imagination, and independent will. Being proactive means that I resolve to be the creative force in my own life. I now see the significance of “Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind”. This habit is characterized by first “seeing mentally” what I want to “create physically”. Practicing this habit requires me to shape my future by creating a mental vision and purpose for every project. I mentally identify the principles, values, relationships, and purposes that are most important to me and outline them in my personal vision statement to guide my decisions and choices. “Habit 3: Put First Things First” embodies the physical creation. Practicing this habit enables me to organize and execute around the mental creation – my purpose, vision, values, and most important priorities. “Habit 4: Think Win-Win” encourages me to adopt a frame of mind and heart that seeks mutual benefit for all parties involved in any interaction or transaction that I am party to. I remind myself on a daily basis that “no wealth or position can long endure unless built upon truth and justice. Therefore, I will engage in no transaction that does not benefit all whom it affects. I will succeed by attracting to myself the forces I wish to use and the cooperation of other people.” “Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” admonishes me to incorporate empathic listening into my communication process. Much effort and education is directed towards teaching us three of the four primary means of communicating; to speak, to read, and to write. But very little training is directed at developing our ability to really listen so that others feel affirmed and valued. Doing so facilitates true communication and relationship building. In studying “Habit 6: Synergize”, I learned how to create a third alternative – an option or outcome that is superior to my way or your way. Synergy produces a better way than either of us could have envisioned. One that is the fruit of mutual understanding and respect. I have gained a greater appreciation for “Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw”. I learned that I must seek renewal in the four basic areas of life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Sharpening the saw increases my capacity to live all the other habits. As part of my daily routine, I audibly remind myself that the 7 Habits are not a set of separate or piecemeal psych-up formulas. In harmony with the natural laws of growth, they provide an incremental, sequential, highly integrated approach to the development of personal and interpersonal effectiveness. They move us progressively on a maturity continuum from dependence, to independence to interdependence. Habits can be learned and unlearned, but it isn’t a quick fix. It involves a process and requires a tremendous commitment.
This brief overview of what I learned from reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is just a snapshot of the various frameworks that I discovered or rediscovered. However, since this snippet reflects aspects that I have incorporated into my daily routine, I believe it is an appropriate summary as it has had such a profound impact on my daily life. I believe that internalizing these principles and building them into the systems that govern my life will help to ensure my success as a returning citizen. Practicing the principles that are at the core of the 7 Habits will make me a better man in every area of my life. I am already a more effective communicator as a result of what I’ve learned from the book. This fact has and will continue to improve all of my relationships. The ability to communicate effectively is arguably the most important human relations skill I can develop to help ensure my successful reintegration into society. Practicing The 7 Habits will also enable me to make a greater contribution to my community. I believe the decisions that led me to be indicted, convicted, and sentenced to 160 months in federal prison were born out of flaws in my character. Practicing the 7 Habits is helping me rebuild my character and integrity. The principle-based character that I have adopted will prevent me from returning to prison or faltering on my promises, commitments, and obligations in the future. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People played no small part in inspiring me to a new level, a deeper level of thinking, understanding, and principle-centered actions. My paradigm – the way I see the world – is forever changed for the better. I am better equipped to make positive contributions to the emotional bank accounts of everyone in my Circle of Influence. This will allow me to build trusting relationships based on truth and transparency. Guiding my life by the 7 Habits will produce the maximum long-term beneficial results for me and all relevant stakeholders including my family, friends, church, community, business associates, and society at large.