Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

Finally, I am back from my vacation and continue blogging. I am continuing my discussion of the “7 habits of highly effective people”, the book that everyone should read at some point in their life. Today I will focus on habit 2: “Begin with the end in mind”. It took me awhile to think about this habit as it is the most challenging one for me at the moment.  Let’s have a look at the tips provided by Stephen Covey.

This habit is about having a clear goal of your life, understanding your own values and principles. Contemporary societies impose a variety of scripts on us: how to behave, what is success and what is important. We are bombarded with glossy advertisements telling us that pleasure is our ultimate goal. Yet, many people often find themselves achieving victories that are empty, meaningless and not valuable. Thus, creating your own script of life is important.

Covey suggests us to write a personal mission statement of our own life, formulating our most important objectives. These objectives may not always be in line with societal expectations and success targets. This mission statement will provide us with:

  • Security – our own sense of worth, identity and emotional anchorage
  • Guidance – source of direction in life, guiding internal frame of reference
  • Wisdom – perspective of life, sense of balance, judgment, holistic view of life
  • Power – capacity to act, the strength to accomplish something, cultivating higher habits

Instead of our own centre, too often we are mistakenly focusing on alternative centres, for instance experiencing money centredness or work centredness. These alternative centres shape the way we perceive reality around us, make important decisions and spend our energy. Why do we keep focusing on these alternative centres?

I believe that it takes courage to determine your own centre, your paradigm of life and be different from others in society. It is much easier to conform, to be like everyone else. For me, separating my own scripts from societal scripts is the most difficult. Let’s become leaders of our personal lives.

How do you find your true goal?

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Habit 1: Be proactive

Covey starts his discussion of habits with proactivity. I found that the discussion of proactivity as a habit is deep, very well argued and written. Covey introduces proactivity with the experience of Viktor Frankl in the Nazi concentration camps.  Frankl could survive the terrible experience of a concentration camp because he was proactive and had freedom to choose his response to the situation. Far too often we think in terms of our social mirrors, we focus too much on the outside instead of the inside. Thus, proactivity is our ability to be responsible for our lives. Covey argues that we have the power to choose our response to any situation in our lives.

Proactivity is about understanding how we spend our energy. We cannot directly influence outcomes within the circle of concern. Yet, within the circle of influence we can shape our reality and improve our wellbeing. The trick here is to be able to differentiate activities within the circle of concern and the circle of influence. Proactive people exercise initiative and focus on the circle of influence. Covey claims that proactive people are driven by values while reactive people are driven by feelings.

So, how can we change our mindset and become more proactive? Some ideas are to be a better listener, more loving marriage partner, a better student, more cooperative and dedicated employee. Another suggestion of Covey is to look at weaknesses of others with compassion and not accusation. We should also stop acting on scripts developed by our family, friends, school, employer and start to take responsibility for our own path: we are not determined by our social mirror. We should make and keep commitments and promises, in this way we can strengthen our spirits.

For me personally, proactivity is the hardest habit to develop and I need to develop a strategy of getting out of reactive thoughts, social pressures and societal stereotypes. The ideas of proactivity are very simple in theory, but are much harder to implement in practice. My conclusion is that you need to develop a very strong character to be able to practice proactivity daily. This is my aim.

Here are a few inspiring quotes from the book on proactivity (I need to come back to these ideas once in a while):

 “If you start to think that the problem is out there – stop yourself your thought is your problem”

“In choosing our response to circumstance, we powerfully affect our circumstance”

“The problem we face fall in one of three areas: direct control, indirect control or no control”

“The circle of concern is filled with have(s)”

“The circle of influence is filled with be(s)”

Do you practice proactivity? How do you do it?

Take care,

Alyona

“7 habits” Note 1: personality and character ethic

This is my first reflective note on reading the book “7 habits of highly effective people”. Stephen Covey starts his book with discussing the differences between the personality ethic and the character ethic. While personality ethic is a paradigm that centres around building an image of yourself in the community and quick fixes, character ethic is about fundamental human qualities such as integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, etc.

Both types of ethics are our paradigms, the ways we see the world, our angle on the world. Covey argues that paradigms are about perceiving, understanding and interpreting the world around us. So, personality paradigm is about prioritizing external reality while character ethic is about prioritizing our internal qualities and consciousness. Paradigms are about our values and attitudes. The start of the book made me reflect on my own paradigms and my own behaviour. Why do I always feel the victim of circumstances? Why do I notice a lot of negativity around me?

I definitely need to work on my paradigm and on the way I see the world around me. Covey suggests focusing on inside out thinking: to change yourself first before focusing and judging the world around yourself. This means that instead of focusing on weaknesses of other people, I have to fix and address my own emotional problems and insecurities.

Another powerful tip from Covey is to maintain P (production) and PC (production capability) balance. Covey explains this as the balance between the golden egg (production) and the health and welfare of the goose (production capability). This means that we need to invest in ourselves, in our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, in our professional development, in our growth. The idea is simple, but we tend to forget about it as we are lost in daily routines, pressing deadlines and work pressures. This requires us to save time to reflect and think about planning our future, thinking strategically and then leaving some time each day in our calendar for production capability activities: going to the gym, doing breathing exercises, doing professional development courses, learning a foreign language, etc.

Take care!

Next time we’ll discuss habit 1: be proactive.

Book review: “7 habits of highly effective people” by Stephen R. Covey

I believe in signs and when I’ve heard from a couple of people about the fascinating book “7 habits of highly effective people”, I thought I would give this book a second chance. I initially read this book around 12 years ago and do not remember much about its contents. I am also not a big fan of non-fiction self help books that claim to teach you how to write a book in 12 weeks or become a leader in 3 months. I just don’t believe in these superficially imposed claims and slack language. Anyways, “7 habits of highly effective people” is a different type of self-help book that is actually useful and deeply provocative. It is also written as a manual with some exercises to complete after each chapter. This time, I am planning to do the exercises and spend my time on reflection of my daily routines and activities.

A businessman, educator, researcher and writer, Stephen Covey shared with us a deep personal reflection on human effectiveness. Instead of focusing on the quick fix approaches, he uncovers the seven habits that transform our lives and change our perception of the world. I think the power of the book is in our personal reflection on each habit and our unique perspective on these habits. I also believe that the strength of the book is in addressing all aspects of our lives all together rather than superficially separating work, family life, friendship, community service and religious service. Covey argues that all aspects of our lives are interconnected as we pursue our unique mission and goals in life. Similar to a psychologist, Covey asks us to reflect on our past, present and future. What are our values and beliefs? Where are we heading?

So, the seven habits are:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win-win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

Revealing, honest and intimate examples from Stephen Covey personal life are very helpful in clarifying the habits and solutions. Stephen is honest that it took him a long time to become aware and embrace his personal problems with his family. The solutions took some effort and determination. The results were heart warming and promising. I believe that everyone should read and re-read this book as a personal development exercise. I recommend this book to my university students. Over the upcoming weeks, I will share some reflections on the exercises relating to each habit.

Stay tuned!

Book review: “Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity” by David Lynch

Do you like movies by David Lynch? I do. They are ground-breaking, strange, surrealist and somewhat similar to the books of Haruki Murakami. David Lynch is one of my favorite movie directors because he dares to be different and breaks the boundaries and conventions of contemporary cinema. It takes courage and confidence to be different and present your own view of the world. So, in this short book David Lynch discusses his creative process and how it is influenced by his meditation practices.  

David has been practicing Transcendental Meditation for several decades and he is very devoted to it. Lynch uses the metaphor of catching a big fish talking about ideas and creativity. He claims that you can only catch a big fish by getting deeper into your consciousness. David talks about the creative process as an ability to see magic in everyday life. David never comments on the contents and meanings of his works. His movies are about atmosphere, music, time, space, worlds within worlds.

I can’t believe that I have so much in common with Lynch. I love to meditate, I lived in Montana state in the US, I love art house movies and I also seem to have a unique perspective on the world around me. Some of the feelings he describes in the book are very familiar to me: the unified field of ideas, deep concentration, search for purpose, appeal to intuition and feelings of absurdity of everyday life.

For me, cinema could be either boring and dull or artistic and creative. Movies of David Lynch are certainly artistic and creative. Artistic movies create new feelings, new ideas, new worlds. I so much crave for the complexity and meanings that you cannot grasp easily. It is strange, but after watching movies by Lynch, you go out and see the world somewhat differently. Isn’t it the ultimate purpose of art?

You can visit David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace at http://www.DavidLynchFoundation.org

Book review: “Blind willow, sleeping woman” by Haruki Murakami

To put it in the simplest possible terms, I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy. Haruki Murakami

Murakami readers are typically divided into 2 camps: those who love Murakami and those who do not understand Murakami. I belong to the first camp and I’ve been reading his novels for more than a decade. In the COVID-19 times, it is a good idea to come back to the amazing work of Murakami. Since I’ve already read most of his work, it was a challenge to find a book I haven’t read yet. So, this time it is “Blind willow, sleeping woman” – a collection of 26 short stories. I was reading one story before going to bed and every day I had a great sleep. Most of you already know that Murakami is not a mainstream writer, his books are mysterious, haunting, melancholic and thought provoking.

What is the connection between the stories in the book? For me, it is a lot about feeling, the strange enlightenment that the world is different from what it seems. While reading Murakami, it is important to relax and switch off your logical mind. Otherwise, your mind will be constantly telling you that the book doesn’t make sense. Your mind constantly demands logical arguments, clear story endings and solid plots. When you switch off your common sense, reading Murakami becomes a journey to the new realities. I certainly enjoy this feeling when my common sense world is being turned upside down (How about a talking monkey or the Ice Man?).

I must admit, that I love Murakami novels more than his short stories. Yet, this beautiful book has done its job. I feel that the world is way more interesting and colourful than it seems (it is so hard to stay at home all the time due to COVID lockdown). Murakami’s stories are great at leaving space for imagination and creativity. I especially like the surrealist details. What was so unique about the bus in “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”? “What was the present in the “Birthday girl” story? What has happened to the man in “Where I’m likely to find it?” What is the business of “Dabchik?” Why did Miss Matsunaka kill herself in “The Shinagawa Monkey?”

Once again Murakami helps me to come back home. Murakami reading is a form of meditation. It is so weird, I am not Japanese but these stories seem so familiar to me. Maybe because we both like Dostoyevsky and Kafka?

How do I choose books to read?

I like to read books, but my time is limited. Depending on the size of the book, I usually read around 3 books a month. Over time I figured out that it is very important to read books of different genres and styles to diversify my reading patterns and not to bore myself too much. So, here are the categories of books I prefer to read and the reasons for choosing these books:

Social science literature: I am a researcher and I am doing interdisciplinary research using sociology and linguistics studies. Thus, I read a lot of social science books. I love reading Weber, Bourdieu, Barthes, Foucault, Chomsky, Lakoff and many others.

Classics: While I am mostly familiar with the Russian classics, English-language classics is still an unchartered territory for me. I am even thinking of following the book lists used by Australian schools. It is never too late to catch up.

Contemporary fiction and magical realism books: It is a broad category for the books I really enjoy to read at the state of despair and sadness. Somehow, I find that magical realism style of fiction allows me to fully immerse in the story and thus relax and let go of my personal troubles. I will write a separate post about reading fiction in the next weeks!

Art books: I’ve recently got interested in art history and lives of artists. Some time ago I was following a lecture on expressionist art and Wassily Kandinsky. To my surprise, I discovered that Kandinsky wrote a few books about art. I should definitely read his books!

Non-fiction and personal development books: This is not my personal favourite category. Bookstores offer a wide range of non-fiction self-help books that are very shallow to my taste. Yet, occasionally there are interesting reads and I am happy.

Spiritual books: These books are important to me to understand myself and find my place in the world. I do not follow any particular religion or spiritual practice, instead I am interested in variety of perspectives and worldviews.

Australian literature and Aboriginal literature: I must admit, I haven’t read a lot of books by Australian authors and that’s a shame. My goal is to understand my new home, Australia, and its diverse culture and worldviews. I am enchanted by Aboriginal art and Aboriginal history and will read more books on these topics (please send me your recommendations).

Biographies: I just love reading biographies. They are so reflexive and thought provoking. I noticed that many people are quite frank and open in their biographies, take for example Michelle Obama. It seems, people open up much more in writing than they would otherwise in an interview setting.

What books do you read? How do you choose them?

What is true love?

This question is very important for all of us as the meaning of love is being depreciated and narrowed down by media, corporations and popular culture. I have just finished reading a short book by Thich Nhat Hanh called “True love: a practice of awakening the heart”. Written by a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, this book is a true masterpiece. It is also a book to keep by your bedside and read at times when you need some emotional support. The author discusses the four aspects of love according to Buddhism: maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha. Maitri refers to loving-kindness or benevolence, karuna refers to compassion, mudita is joy and upeksha refers to freedom. All the four concepts are about the focus on the loved one, not on yourself: the focus on understanding as the essence of love.

These are very important ideas especially for people who meditate regularly. Many meditations require us to focus on love, yet not many of us truly understand this concept.  Thich Nhat Hanh uncovers the essence of true love and provides some useful examples of mindfulness practices we can do every day. When we meditate, we bring our body and mind to the present moment and thus we can look into the essence of things. Human-made concepts and categories create fear and anxiety while meditation helps us to touch reality within ourselves. Love is about recognizing the presence of the other, being there when your loved one is suffering, deep listening, overcoming pride and practicing loving speech. Meditation is one of the ways how we can experience true love and freedom.

Do you practice mediation? Please share your meditation experience in the comments.

My 3 favorite short story writers and why I love them

Julio Cortázar, – Julio Cortázar is an Argentine novelist representing magical realism and surrealism styles of fiction. I read my first Cortázar’s short story for my class of the Spanish language literature almost a decade ago and I still remember how fascinated I was then with this author. We had a discussion in class about our interpretation of the story and almost all the students understood the short story differently. This is why I love Cortazar: his stories are open to the reader’s imagination and interpretation. Reality is not solid in Cortázar’s writing, it is always controversial, multifaceted and surreal. Cortázar’s writing shows the absurdity and nonsense of our lives and bizarre personalities. Cortázar’s stories do not deliver concrete conclusions instead they make you think about existential issues. What is the meaning of life? What is love?

Anton Chekhov – Anton Chekhov is a 19th-century Russian writer famous for short stories and plays. Chekhov’s writing is eloquent and ironic. Chekhov’s characters are inconsistent, controversial and lively. Chekhov’s stories make you laugh, cry, worry and contemplate. Chekhov’s stories will never lose relevance because they touch upon deep layers of human consciousness. His style and language are so Russian and authentic. When I miss Russia, I tend to read a short story of Chekhov as a way to remind myself of the culture, language and traditions. Chekhov’s use of idioms, colloquial terms, and metaphors is simply stunning.

Haruki Murakami – Haruki Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer representing magical realism and the surrealism style of fiction. His short stories are always about the inner lives of characters. It is almost as if the whole story is about consciousness and self-reflexivity of the main hero. Haruki Murakami always manages to present somewhat whimsy introverted main heroes. I love Murakami’s stories because they make me feel that I am not alone in my self-reflexivity and non-mainstream conception of the world. Surprisingly, I frequently relate to some of the characters in Murakami’s stories and these stories make me question my beliefs and habits. Murakami novels show that he is a great listener and observer of the world around him. His stories always leave a piece of tasty cake to the reader to contemplate and figure out. What is the birthday wish of a woman in the “Birthday girl” story? Is it to become happy or to find meaning in life? What do you think?

“Role of literature at the time of social crisis” – Melbourne Writers Festival 2020

Last week I have attended several insightful online sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival. One of the sessions focused on the role of literature at the time of social crisis, climate change and the roles of literature in the education system in Australia. From this session I have learned that the literature serves an important role in society, it helps us to negotiate and understand societal problems and understand stories of “the other”. For kids, literature serves as a way to understand their identity and their country.

Australian literary landscape includes colonial writings, yet other less prominent streams focus on indigenous writings and writings of recent immigrants. In secondary schools, for example, Australian literature remains a fragile and fragmented area. It is only recently (since 2007) that the Australian literature was mandated within curriculum in schools. Australian schools place way more focus on the world literature as opposed to the Australian literature. This tendency could be explained by the dominant legacies of colonialism and historical traditions.

Literary education within Australian schools is also influenced by the political matters. The neo-liberal government places strong focus on the exams and students scores. It is the content of these exams that drives the curriculum choices and sharpens students’ focus. While teachers get increasingly high workloads and administrative burdens, they should be the cheerleaders of the Australian literature. Australian teachers should balance the need for global education and local knowledge.

After all, our training and education determine how we read and understand books. “You don’t read a text, but a text reads you”. Indeed, I notice myself that my international background shapes my interpretations of Australian books. It is very surprising that Australian schools don’t include much of Australian literature (I haven’t studied myself in Australia). I have to still familiarize myself with Australian literary landscape. My next blog posts will outline this interesting journey.

Alyona

Habit 1: Be proactive

Covey starts his discussion of habits with proactivity. I found that the discussion of proactivity as a habit is deep, very well argued and written. Covey introduces proactivity with the experience of Viktor Frankl in the Nazi concentration camps.  Frankl could survive the terrible experience of a concentration camp because he was proactive and had … Continue reading “Habit 1: Be proactive”

“7 habits” Note 1: personality and character ethic

This is my first reflective note on reading the book “7 habits of highly effective people”. Stephen Covey starts his book with discussing the differences between the personality ethic and the character ethic. While personality ethic is a paradigm that centres around building an image of yourself in the community and quick fixes, character ethic … Continue reading ““7 habits” Note 1: personality and character ethic”