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The Habits of Highly Effective People

We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

~ ARISTOTLE

OUR CHARACTER, BASICALLY, is a composite of our habits. "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny," the maxim goes.

Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness ... or ineffectiveness.

As Horace Mann, the great educator, once said, "Habits are like a cable. We weave a strand of it everyday and soon it cannot be broken." I personally do not agree with the last part of his expression. I know they can be broken. Habits can be learned and unlearned. But I also know it isn't a quick fix. It involves a process and a tremendous commitment.

Those of us who watched the lunar voyage of Apollo 11 were transfixed as we saw the first men walk on the moon and return to earth. Superlatives such as "fantastic" and "incredible" were inadequate to describe those eventful days. But to get there, those astronauts literally had to break out of the tremendous gravity pull of the earth. More energy was spent in the first few minutes of lift-off, in the first few miles of travel, than was used over the next several days to travel half a million miles.

Habits, too, have tremendous gravity pull—more than most people realize or would admit. Breaking deeply imbedded habitual tendencies such as procrastination, impatience, criticalness, or selfishness that violate basic principles of human effectiveness involves more than a little willpower and a few minor changes in our lives. "Lift off" takes a tremendous effort, but once we break out of the gravity pull, our freedom takes on a whole new dimension.

Like any natural force, gravity pull can work with us or against us. The gravity pull of some of our habits may currently be keeping us from going where we want to go. But it is also gravity pull that keeps our world together, that keeps the planets in their orbits and our universe in order. It is a powerful force, and if we use it effectively, we can use the gravity pull of habit to create the cohesiveness and order necessary to establish effectiveness in our lives.

"HABITS" DEFINED

For our purposes, we will define a habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.

Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three.

You may be ineffective in your interactions with your work associates, your spouse, or your children because you constantly tell them what you think, but you never really listen to them. Unless you search out correct principles of human interaction, you may not even know you need to listen.

Even if I do know that in order to interact effectively with others I really need to listen to them, I may not have the skill. I may not know how to really listen deeply to another human being.

But knowing I need to listen and knowing how to listen is not enough. Unless I want to listen, unless I have the desire, it won't be a habit in my life. Creating a habit requires work in all three dimensions.

The being/seeing change is an upward process—being changing seeing, which in turn changes being, and so forth, as we move in an upward spiral of growth. By working on knowledge, skill, and desire, we can break through to new levels of personal and
interpersonal effectiveness as we break with old paradigms that may have been a source of pseudo-security for years.

It's sometimes a painful process. It's a change that has to be motivated by a higher purpose, by willingness to subordinate what you think youw ant now for what you want later. But this process produces happiness,"the object and design of our existence." Happiness can be defined, in part at least, as the fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually. Are you willing?

Be Encouraged.

>> Letter # 29 (31. 8. 2003)

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