Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Habit 7 recognizes that you are your greatest asset. Thus, it is important to constantly invest in yourself and renew your dimensions- physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. As we work in modern corporations, we get exhausted, overworked and emotionally drained. Unfortunately, many organizations do not invest in their employee wellbeing. In fact, some organizations consider employees as single use cutlery that once used could be simply thrown away.

In the physical dimension we need to make sure that we develop good habits in relation to sleep, diet and exercise. Everyone knows about these dimensions, yet not many people invest in their own health and wellbeing believing that perfect health doesn’t require any effort. Physical exercises should focus on different aspects of activity – endurance, flexibility and strength to preserve your capacity to work, adapt and enjoy.

The spiritual dimension is easy to overlook as it is more subtle. To develop your spiritual dimension, we need to spend time in meditation and prayer. Another way to enhance your spiritual dimension is to spend time in nature. Listen to great music and read great literature.

In terms of mental dimension, it is important to train our brain activity. It is extremely valuable to train the mind to stand apart and examine its own program. Covey suggests that liberal education is the ability to examine the programs of life against larger questions and purposes and other paradigms. Training without such education narrows and closes the mind so that the assumptions underlying the training are never examined. That’s why it is so valuable to read broadly and to expose yourself to great minds. To develop mental dimension, we need to read classical literature and practice writing.

In terms of social and environmental dimension, we need to rethink how we affect other people. We need to affirm the proactive nature of other people and treat them as responsible people. We can help other people by scripting them as principle-centred, value-based, independent and worthwhile individuals.

Why should you read Anna Karenina?

Soon Netflix will release new TV series on “Anna Karenina” novel by Tolstoy, so it is perfect time to read this magnificent masterpiece. Fortunately, it is not Keira Knightley who is going to star as Karenina this time. Oh, well… Here are a few other reasons to read this book now:

  1. Mastery of human psychology – Leo Tolstoy knows about heroes more than they know about themselves. His prose is psychological and deep.
  2. Ethics and morale of Tolstoy – the novel is written to express Tolstoy’s evolving views on ethics, morale and meaning of life.
  3. Exploration of existential questions. Tolstoy explores the questions of love, death and spirituality. He demonstrates a true love of Levin and Kitty and fake passionate love between Karenina and Vronsky. True love according to Tolstoy is based on sacrifice and spirituality.
  4. Historical precision and life in 19th century Russia. The novel portrays the vanity of noble class life in Russia.
  5. Autobiographical elements. Levin is in fact an alter ego of Tolstoy; thus, we can learn more about the legendary writer by reading the novel.
  6. Stream of consciousness. Tolstoy is the first writer to use the so-called stream of consciousness writing method to depict complex thoughts and feelings of heroes.
  7. Beautiful language of the novel. The author uses stunning metaphors, epithets and symbolism.
  8. A perfect novel. Nabokov in his book “Lessons on Russian Literature” calls Tolstoy the first and best Russian writer of all time.

“Journey into Dreamtime” by Munya Andrews



“The truth is that we are more connected than we realise – that we are not alone in this world, but part of one big family.”

This is a fairly short and comprehensive presentation of Australian Aboriginal culture. It is well written and beautifully argued. Munya has clearly succeeded in presenting Aboriginal values and ideals to a western reader. It is the first time that I read about Aboriginal Dreamtime as a religion or spirituality of Aboriginal Australians. Munya calls it a philosophy, cosmology, a worldview that shows connections between everything in the world. Munya skilfully compares Aboriginal Dreamtime with the works of Carl Jung and shows crossovers between Dreamtime and perspectives of other religions and philosophies across the world. Her references are very useful, and I am planning to read some of them soon.

The author shows us the beauty, power and wisdom of Dreaming and Totems. They are not just abstract concepts, but a philosophy of living and a perspective on the world. Munya says that her Totems enable her to see the world from a different perspective, to think outside the box. She argues that Dreaming and Totems can help you discover your purpose in life and cope with challenges we face every day.

We are one with nature and the universe. The Dreamtime teaches us that we are all intimately connected, we are family with all living beings in the world. Thus, we need to be mindful and respectful to the gifts of nature and we should be kind to each other. This attitude will enable us to feel a sense of community and connection. Dreamtime teaches us the importance of deep listening, deep observations and respect towards all living beings on our planet and mother earth.

I really enjoyed reading about bush medicine and Aboriginal approach to healing. I somehow always believed in a holistic approach to medicine and was delighted to read about bush doctors and bush medicines in Aboriginal culture. This approach includes herbs, plants, smoking, dance, meditation, breathing techniques, chants, songs. Cultural immersion plays a great role in healing. Diseases are not seen as a battle to be fought but as a friend that brings you important spiritual message.

I believe that given all the stress, loneliness and anxiety that many people face these days, we need to learn more from Aboriginal culture. Capitalistic approach to nature is harmful from my point of view. It is heartbreaking to see how the Great Barrier Reef is being destroyed and some plants and animals become extinct due to human greed.

Overall, it is such an insightful and thought-provoking book. Highly recommend.

“Cream” by Haruki Murakami

I am doing a creative writing course and thinking now of an idea for a short story. Looking for inspiration, tips and writing style ideas I decided to re-read the short story “Cream” from the latest collection of stories by Haruki Murakami “First person singular”. It is my favourite story from this short story collection. My intention of reading the story for a second time was to read as a writer (not as a reader) and notice minor details and Murakami’s secrets of magic prose.

I guess, the reason that I like Murakami’s writing in the first place is that he assumes a smart reader, a reader who is knowledgeable and willing to go an extra step. The meanings of the story emerge on multiple layers, and we (readers) need to peel these layers in order to get to the juicy revelations.

I love the beautiful symbolism of the story. References to travel, trains, buses are not novel for Murakami and here again Murakami uses the metaphor of a road to represent the journey of life. Symbolic references to trains, roads and cars have been used by writers previously, for instance by Leo Tolstoy in “Anna Karenina” and by Vladimir Nabokov (in several of his works). The Japanese town Kobe symbolises the identity of the hero of the story. The hero travels to the top of the mountain in search of a concert hall. He asks:

“Why in the world am I here?” I asked myself, as I sat hunched over in my seat, cooling my flushed cheeks with my palms

Of course, we understand that the question symbolises a search for meaning of life. Here again, we can see a reference to the “Castle” by Kafka, where the mountain symbolises spiritual growth. Murakami is skilful in demonstrating how geography and landscape represent the inner feelings of the hero. The idea of loneliness is not novel for Murakami and once again it is presented beautifully.

Further development of the story confirms the idea of spiritual search. The hero sits on a bench in the park and listens to the Christian message from the loudspeaker of an invisible car:

“But all those who seek salvation in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins will have their sins forgiven by the Lord. They will escape the fires of Hell. Believe in God, for only those who believe in Him will reach salvation after death and receive eternal life.”

The loudspeaker seems to be answering the question posed by the hero of the story. The question was answered in an unexpected and somewhat magical way. In one of his interviews, Murakami outlined the importance of asking the right questions in life. This story shows that once you ask the right question, you will get an answer back in some unexpected way. The next hint is the conversation with the old man:

“Listen, you’ve got to imagine it with your own power. Use all the wisdom you have and picture it. A circle that has many centers but no circumference. If you put in such an intense effort that it’s as if you were sweating blood—that’s when it gradually becomes clear what the circle is”

This discussion relates to the search for meaning beyond our normal logic and reason. To find meaning, we have to open up, expand our thinking beyond conventional ideas. Spirituality is something that you can’t explain like circles that have many centres with no circumference. It is a constant process of searching for truth and answers within yourself. I appreciate the boldness of Murakami discussing the unexplainable or ephemeral. Usually, writers do not dare to talk about something that they cannot clearly explain and argue for.

The beauty of the story is that there could be multiple interpretations. How did you understand this story?

Habit 6: synergize TM

Today I will discuss habit 6 – synergize TM from the book “7 habits of highly effective people”. This principle is about synergy as the cooperation that produces the combined effects greater than the sum of the individual contributions. According to Covey, synergy is the essence of the universe: the nature is truly synergetic. In human life, synergy is the essence of principle-centred leadership and parenting.

When you communicate synergistically, you are simply opening your mind and heart and expressions to new possibilities, new alternatives, new options. Many people haven’t experienced synergistic communications as they have been trained and scripted into defensive and protective communications or into believing that life or other people can’t be trusted.

To engage in creative and complex tasks, we need to embrace uncertainty. To experience ambiguity with confidence, we need to have inner values that guide us. In many bureaucratic organizations the opposite is happening: administrators set up more and more stringent rules limiting freedom and creative possibilities for employees. These rules along with legalistic and mechanical language of managers kill the whole spirit of creativity and enterprise.

Synergy should be based on trust and not fixed rules.

Here are a few inspirational quotes:

“The essence of synergy is to value the differences”

“When a person has access to both the intuitive, creative, and visual right brain, and the analytical, logical, verbal left brain, then the whole brain is working”

“Your own internal synergy is completely within your circle. You can respect both sides of your own nature – the analytical side and the creative side. You can value the difference between them and use that difference to catalyze creativity”

“Insecure people think that all reality should be amenable to their paradigms”

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

The next habit from the book “7 habits of highly effective people” is seeking first to understand. This sounds so simple and even banal, but it is actually a difficult habit to develop. We as humans are filled with our own perceptions of life, opinions, scripts, values and we want to be understood. Thus, our natural instinct is to seek acceptance and understanding and along the way we may forget about the lives of others. Let’s try to think from the perspective of other people. They also have a deep need to be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated. Yet, in many cases we disregard other people viewpoints and positions.

The one most common mistake in communication is probing. When we probe, we ask questions from our frame of reference. When we probe, we impose our perspective on other people. Another mistake is to evaluate other person’s perspective – to agree or disagree with it. Sometimes we advise, we give counsel based on our own perspective and worldview. Other times we interpret – we try to explain people’s behaviour based on our own frame of reference. These predetermined responses prevent us from understanding other people and their personal worlds.

Instead of these unproductive habits, we need to develop empathic listening habit. Empathic listening has a deep intent to understand, listen from your heart. Covey suggests several stages of empathic listening. First, repeat back the content (do not advise or probe). Second, rephrase the content. Third, reflect feeling (try to understand emotions). Fourth, rephrase the content and reflect the feeling. All these stages require consideration and courage. Remember, people resent any attempt to be manipulated. You need to be sincere and honest. With time, the more you listen empathically, the more you appreciate other people and love them.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win – principles of interpersonal leadership

Let’s continue our discussion of the “7 habits of highly effective people” written by Stephen Covey.

Win-win is another habit suggested by Stephen Covey in his famous book “7 habits of highly effective people”. Covey describes this paradigm as constantly seeking mutual benefit in interactions. Covey argues that most people think in terms of win-lose paradigm: “I win, you lose”. When you are dealing with people with win-lose paradigm, you need to listen more, try to understand and focus on the Circle of Influence. You make deposits into Emotional Bank Account through genuine courtesy, respect and appreciation. In most cases, this should help in establishing a mutually beneficial long-lasting relationship. Yet, occasionally this can mean that you never reach an agreement with another person and this is totally fine.

Win-win is the paradigm of successful people, people who are trusted, people who have good friends and good relationships with colleagues. This paradigm requires a strong character that is shaped by values and not external stimuli. Win-win paradigm allows for synergies when value is created for everyone and everyone benefits from cooperation. Character traits of win-win paradigm are integrity, maturity and abundance mentality. Integrity is about living according to our values and making and keeping commitments. Maturity is the balance between courage and consideration, increasing the long-term welfare of all stakeholders. A mature person expresses her own feelings while considering feelings of others. Abundance mentality is the idea that there is plenty of staff for everybody out there. We need to be genuinely happy for successes of other people. We also need to be generous in sharing recognition, profit and successes with our colleagues.

“Snow” by Orhan Pamuk

Orhan is a Nobel Prize winner in literature in 2006. Orhan Pamuk’s novel “Snow” is both challenging to read, melancholic and deep. I like reading difficult literature as it allows for some space to fill the gaps and requires you to think about the implicit meanings. The first challenge for me was to understand the historical context of Turkey. The novel relates to several historical events and key figures in Turkish history such as Ataturk. I must admit, I was not very familiar with the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, so I had to do my internet search to fully understand the context. The city where the main action takes place is called Kars located in northeast Turkey. This city has experienced major transformations during World War I previously part of Armenia, Kars was transferred to Turkey. I think this town was deliberately chosen to be the center place of the novel. It is a town where history is still visible in old Armenian and Soviet buildings.

The main hero of the novel is Ka – a Turkish expat living in Germany. He is a poet and came to Kars to write about an increasing number of girls’ suicides happening in Kars. He spends three days in Kars, yet the time seems to be very slow in the novel and it feels like he’s been there much longer. Ka’s challenge is to find his identity: he feels that he is not German yet, but he is also considered a foreigner in Turkey. Ka grew up in an intelligentsia family in Istanbul and seems to embrace pro-western views and lifestyles. As he spends his time in Kars, Ka seems to rethink his identity.


The narrative of the story is reminiscent of “The Castle” by Kafka with references to spiritual search and spiritual awakening. When Ka walks in Kars and meditatively observes the fall of snowflakes, these moments in the book are so beautiful and deep and remind me of importance of finding meaning in simple things around us instead of searching for external pleasures. The dialogues in the story revolve around issues of faith versus secularism and east versus west. What is unique about this novel, though, is that arguments of both sides are well presented. We learn more about misperceptions of each side and the absurdity of dividing people into eastern and western. The idea of pride of headscarf girls is so deep and fundamental. I am not sure if we in the West really understand the Turkish notion of pride. Pamuk talks about topics that are taboo in modern culture and I love this.

It is also interesting how Pamuk describes the creative process of poem writing. It is sporadic, illogical and almost transcendental.

Habit 3 – First things first – principles of personal management

Image By Davidjcmorris – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74528894

It’s been a while since I last wrote on “7 habits of highly effective people”. Today I will discuss habit 3 -first things first. Habit 3 is about prioritization, about prioritizing to you what is most important. As such, to be able to prioritize, you need to have developed your personal mission statement. We all know that we tend to spend time on things that are not important to us, so to say procrastinate. But why? Why do we not spend time on development of skills, professional growth and relationship building?

Covey says that we need to have discipline to focus on what is important. Discipline has to come from within, you cannot truly enforce it. Covey is sceptical about time management tools such as checklists and calendars. Because if you do not have internal willpower, you will not be able to follow your checklists. Once you fully understand and embrace your sense of purpose, you tend to have more passion and will power to complete important tasks.

Covey suggests us to look at the time management from the perspective of urgency/importance (see picture above). Quadrant 1 is urgent and important tasks. Covey argues that this quadrant grows exponentially, and we need to reduce the number of tasks in this quadrant. Quadrant 2 is not urgent but important tasks: we need to plan for these tasks and purposefully include them in our calendars every day. Quadrant 3 is urgent but not important: these tasks ideally should be delegated. Or we need to be really efficient with completing these tasks. Quadrant 4 is not urgent and not important, and these activities have to be eliminated completely.

Covey argues that the best way to prioritize our tasks is to think about our roles. What are your roles and what goals are associated with them? For instance, for me I identify my roles as:

  1. Personal development
  2. Partner
  3. Educator
  4. Friend
  5. Yogi
  6. Author

For me, the biggest challenge is that I tend to put forward my work-related roles as an educator and tend to forget about my other roles that are actually very important for my well being and a sense of purpose. Do you have the same problem? These days I am learning how to say no to the opportunities with less priority to me.

A few inspirational quotes from Covey:

“Effective management is about putting first things first. While leadership “decides” what “first things” are, it is management that puts them first. Management is discipline, carrying it out”

“The challenge is not to manage time but to manage ourselves”

“The way you spend your time is a result of the way you see your time and the way you really see your priorities”

“What one thing you could do on a regular basis that will make a tremendous positive influence on your life?”

Stay tuned,

Alyona

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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