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One of the most interesting concepts in self-help books (or, as some have termed it, "success literature") is the question of principle vs. behavior. There are some who argue that outside behavior eventually determines inside beliefs. However, Stephen R. Covey takes the opposite approach in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Farms vs. School Covey argues that the difference between behavior-based advice and principle-based advice is similar to that of what is needed for success in a farm and what is needed for success in school. He argues that the genre of self-help/success literature took a turn when society became more industrialized and school took a larger importance. Because farms required nurturing and delayed gratification, this instilled patience in those who worked on farms, and this is why they are much more willing to look at changing their attitudes and outlook on life in order to achieve success. However, while teachers and professors repeatedly argue against it, the common method of learning for school is the cram session. I admit that I am also sometimes guilty of that. (However, at the grad school level, there aren't many tests any more, so I admit to hammering out major papers in a matter of a few days unless the professor structures the assignment so that there are checkpoints to go through along the way.) Often, this works for us, because we really only need the knowledge for one day in order to succeed on a test. Of course, this does not work for crops, which need daily attention. Looking at the Habits I think that there is a lot to be said for the seven habits that Covey mentions. I have known people who have an automatic reaction every time someone's name is mentioned or some event happens, much like Marty McFly in Back to the Future when someone calls him a chicken. While I probably wouldn't have used the example of someone going through the Holocaust to demonstrate why someone should be pro-active rather than reactive, I can understand his intention. For me, the most important habit to learn (and one that I am, if I am honest with myself and you, the reader, still learning) was the second habit on time management. (I am currently reading a book on time management that will be the subject of an upcoming installment of Steve's Book Club.) I know that there are times when I tend to go from one crisis or deadline to another. However, the idea that it is the second quadrant (non-urgent and important) and not the first (urgent and important) that should constitute the bulk of my time. Covey's argument is that people who spend most of their time in the first quadrant spend a lot of down time doing unimportant things that aren't urgent, and I know that when I am in crisis mode, and the crisis is over, I just want to sit in front of the TV watching the most light thing I can find. However, if I would focus on the skills of the second quadrant, I could have more time to but things into a better balance.


The seventh habit is one that Covey calls "rounding the saw." This means that these are principles that must always be examined and refined as necessary. This is something that I think is important to realize for all of us. We cannot look at times of triumph and think that we have everything down. We can, and should, always work to become better, and that is why I think this book has stood the test of time.

This is the place where I write about my thoughts on life, business, and so much more. I have sections for (in no particular order) business, faith, books, culture, and married life. Feel free to stop by and see what you think. If you like what you see, please go to http://www.stevetheowl.com for more updates.

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