The Best is Still to Come
Between 1993 and 1999 I lost count of the times I taught a three day workshop described as Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’; I taught it so often, several times with Ed Percival and sometimes with a learning partner, that I even began to become rather more effective in dealing with life than I had been before by subjecting myself to the model. I began to walk the talk and develop my juggling skills.
I only met Stephen Covey once fleetingly but he felt warm and the sort of real human-being I would not have minded being marooned on a desert island with. Now that he’s dead it certainly feels like the end of an era.
I am grateful to him for his robust model of effective human behaviour which certainly works well when you take the whole on board and mix it into your being so that it becomes something other-than-conscious; I am grateful to the universe for having it come my way just when it did to enable me to develop my own angle on it at the stage I’d got to in life to transmit the basics in a thoroughly experiential way to other people.
Since I arrived at the age of seventy I have taken the apophthegm Covey declared when he was that age—THE BEST IS STILL TO COME—even more seriously than I did before.
I came to Covey after arriving at the status of a Master Practitioner of NLP in 1993 and having been a self-tutored follower of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (The Fourth Way) for a good few years before that. Working on Teaching Seven Habits constituted part of my School for coming to terms with these three strands of Being in the world and I found myself bringing in exercises I had devised and saying things that came from the two other more deliberately unsystematic systems.
Seven Habits seemed to me to be robust but, at least in its original manner of presentation, running the risk of being applied in a rather mechanical sort of way: what Covey discovered by studying people who had been ‘successful’ in their careers, distilling the essence of how they had become ‘successful’ in their fields, was pretty well the same as the enlightenment that can derive from the far less mechanical serious practice of NLP; NLP is in itself an eclectic system and can easily be welded on to the teachings of the Fourth Way to provide a much needed practical experiential dimension. But it all has to enter the other-than-conscious mind, the base of the Figure of Eight, (see Post 05/02/2012 etc) to be of assistance in life; the mechanicality of it needs to disappear.
If I were to teach Seven Habits now it would be full of references to Multiple-I’s—I would restructure it completely to fit the learnings one can get from working with the Enneagram as I teach it. NLP would provide the practical exercises and the Fourth Way would offer a cosmic context.
Teaching Seven Habits—a Personal Account
What follows is a personal account of how I taught Seven Habits back in the 1990’s. It’s interesting to me that thirteen years away from quitting the teaching of it I can still smoothly reconstruct the process without recourse to books or teaching notes; I wonder idly how many of those who attended the courses could do the same! It would be nice to hear from them!
All my time as a teacher, briefly from 1956-58 in strange circumstances, and full-time from 1968 onwards I was obsessed by the idea that learners are rarely given insights into how to ‘make stuff stick’. Many teachers are too focussed on eloquently holding forth to have the time to bother about what learning is taking place. Since Knowledge in itself is pretty useless unless it melds with Being, the question always arises—how does one get on the inside of Understanding things? It seems to me that the key to this is the simple idea from early research on how people remember things best that Whackiness Works Wonders—for making things stick in the mind. Whackiness (within reason), provides the shock that makes you sit up and think.
And so it was, also having a penchant for acronyms, I began by getting groups to understand the concept of PEFWUSSS which I described, after Gurdjieff, as an old Turkish word for Effectiveness.
“PEFWUSSS,” I used to say, hanging on to the last three s’s, “is really all you need to know; if you go out of here in three days with PEFWUSSSsssss on the top of your brain, you’ll have cracked all seven habits…”
The way I taught Covey’s model, PEFWUSSS made up the structure of the three days and I’d refer to it from Habit to Habit, ticking the Habits off as we went.
Habit 1 P = Be Proactive
Habit 2 E = Work with an End in Mind
Habit 3 F = Put First things First
The first three habits are described in the Covey canon as ‘Private Victories’—only possible by being rigorous with yourself while the next three habits are ‘Public Victories’—those which, having mastered the first three, one can practise to be effective with other people.
Habit 4 W = Operate Win-win strategies in all situations
Habit 5 U = Seek first to Understand before ever trying to make yourself understood
Habit 6 S = Synergise—work cooperatively with other people for creative solutions
The final habit is again a Private Pursuit which can be practised with other people but is essential for systematically addressing the other six habits; it offers the possibility of being fit and sufficiently alert to make all the new habits work consistently together.
Habit 7 SS = Sharpen the Saw—take time out to make sure your machine is working OK
And there you have it… PEFWUSSS…
Plotted on the Enneagram Seven Habits might look like this:-
Having come across a group of people in the formal Covey organisation who completely failed to work with what’s called Habit 5, I quit it in 1999. But, to repeat myself, if I were to teach Seven Habits now with all the ideas that have welled up in me since, I would teach it via the Enneagram. That would have blown their minds right out of the water.
As it stands, Seven Habits is a mechanical model depicted for teaching purposes as a hierarchical system with numbered, ordered, building blocks; in practice it is a model that would benefit from being looked at as a dynamic whole, applying each of the ‘habits’ to each other in a cross-fertilising kind of way. I tried to explain this in a workshop but found that the Covey-leaders I was talking to did not wish to STOP (Habit One) to seek to understand (Habit Five) what I was talking about.
This is called using the model to test disciples’ apprehension of the model! Did they walk their talk? This particular group of disciples and Covey employees sadly failed miserably. I shrugged my shoulders.
I have often thought of designing a course that would set out to help people shrug their shoulders… It would lead into Habit One quite nicely…
P—HABIT ONE—Be Proactive!
Fundamental to being effective in life is the ability to stand back from whatever’s going on around you and take stock; to put a ‘Look Before You Leap’ GAP between whatever is within your circle of concern at any one moment and your own potential reaction to it; the GAP is a nothingness where you do not have to make a move in any direction. Gurdjieff’s STOP! exercise is a really useful way of getting into a place of stillness, a positive lack of action or reaction that gives you time to consider the best possible Next Step about which you can again be proactive.
The larger the conceptual GAP you can make the more effective your standing back will be.
As a simple example, consider the case of really having to get on with a person (because you are related in a team of some kind) whom you choose to let bug you considerably. You might decide to leave the team which would be one solution but it might not be possible or desirable to do this. Putting a virtual gap between you, shouting STOP! at yourself (as Gurdjieff recommends) at least provides opportunities to consider how to choose to get on with them better.
I often did a little visualisation to illustrate the possibilities of Habit One. I’d say, “Have in your mind somebody who really bugs you but with whom you have to work… See/hear/feel their presence… Now put a big conceptual banner over their head which says, ‘You never ever have to feel anything about anybody or anything unless you choose to…’ Got it? Hold it there?” The result was laughter and a determination to try this out next time they met the person concerned. Such an exercise can lead to the complete release from emotional responses at Fixation 6 on the Enneagram (see later…)
When we are too close to whatever causes us concern we lose our sense of self in the potential screw-up; we become identified with a state of enmity for example. The process of disidentification is another way of looking at Habit One.
For ‘homework’ course members were invited to make small changes to their habitual behaviour—drive home a different way, sit in a different chair to watch telly—simple things that would prove that they could already easily put a gap between the way they were and the way they could be. I remember one person who, every evening finding himself resentfully having to spend his time responding to the incessant demands of a teenage son—mend my car, help with projects and so on—went home on the night we addressed Habit One and said, departing completely from his habitual behaviour, “OK, son, what can I help you with tonight?” The son was so taken aback that they spent the rest of the evening talking over their relationship which then changed for the better.
Making small changes can produce big results…
Since I finished teaching Seven Habits I have adopted the Fourth Way language and practice of Multiple-I’s—we are not just one ‘I’ but a multiplicity: the ‘I’ that doesn’t get on with another person is not the only ‘I’ you have to confront them with; you could step into Meta-I, outside of your self and reconsider your relationship then step into a Making-things-easier-between-us-I, whatever you might discover that to be.
It requires a GAP of Nothingness to enable you to get into Higher Possibilities (Fixation One in the Enneagram)
E—HABIT TWO—Work with an End in Mind!
Once Habit One becomes part of Being it becomes possible to stand back from the fray, to disidentify, to shout STOP! at yourself and think dispassionately about what you want to achieve in any situation.
For a few years I taught the pure version of this habit as I understood it—that one should describe what one wanted to achieve and then use the description as a kind of template that could be worked towards. Listening carefully to what I was saying (Habit Five) I began to realise that this did not work: a pure goal is never achieved as it might be in a football match; it might be possible to define an aim or an intention but the steps towards achievement will inevitably lead to modification of the original ‘end’; acting on feedback from small steps already taken would lead to changes in whatever you first thought of.
It’s certainly useful to have a defined aim because it gives direction to current efforts; without a carefully stated aim there can be no direction but the final outcome will never be what you imagined it might turn out to be. I began to teach that one should always have an aim to work towards but also be mindful of feedback gained from the results of whatever happens along the way.
I also used to teach a quick NLP way of getting a simple end in mind to feed back into the present moment. Take something that you don’t enjoy doing very much; at the moment just thinking about it contaminates your time. Doing the washing up, for example. The exercise uses feedback from the future and goes like this: visualise the sparkling dishes back in their place, the cutlery in the drawer; bring the good feeling evoked by this back to the present moment and use it to just get on with the washing up. It also helps if you have your favourite film star standing by you saying in a promising tone of voice, “Come on, let’s do the washing up together…” In my case it’s always Marilyn Monroe.
When teaching Habit Seven I used an acronym to help people think about the various ways in which they might consider getting themselves into trim by deliberately taking time out; it comes back to me now! MEPS… This was intended to get course members from various shop floors and offices who had probably never thought about such issues before to consider four (overlapping) ways in which they might draw together the things they already did in the way of relaxation and then determine to be more focussed in each: Mental, Emotional, Physical and Spiritual. Such a regime would cover what Gurdjieff calls the Centres, more or less cognate with the way the brain as a whole operates, to keep us going: neo-cortical functioning, limbic activity, the operation of the reptile brain and whatever else there might be in the way of something larger than ourselves.
In relation to Habit Two, the definition of aims could usefully relate to MEPS. In the case of really having to get on with a person (because you are related in a team of some kind) who bugs you considerably, thinking, internal rabbiting, your inner voiceitself might be part of the problem; modifying what you do physically might help to change things; seeing the other person as a valuable part of the human race—a spiritual approach—would no doubt have an effect on your emotional responses; only then you might think about things differently.
Thinking [M] about an aim for a new project, for example, would likewise benefit from tracking possible emotional responses [E], from considering new ways of doing things [P] and from looking at things from a more cosmic point of view [S]—‘What does this matter sub specie aeternitatis?’ is always a good question to ask.
In general, caring about outcomes is a characteristic of Enneagram Fixation Two. While we’re ‘in the thick of thin things’ (as Covey used to say) we don’t always give attention to outcomes, or to the effects of our behaviour. Deliberately considering desirable outcomes will affect current behaviour.
F—HABIT THREE—Put First Things First
When you possess some kind of intention to achieve an aim, it’s totally clear that nothing happens just by the waving of a magic wand or by some kind of osmosis; big Aims have to be broken down into small chunk aims: for example, you have to be in time for an appointment; you must check your diary, arrange to be in a certain place on a certain date, at a certain time, check the car or train timetable, look up a weather forecast—all these constitute sub-aims of the sort which, in relation to the delivery of a project, say, could be made into a flow-chart.
With larger projects, it will be a case of deciding what to do first. The habit of being able to put first things first is, about making sound decisions about what’s Important/Urgent as compared with what’s not Important or Urgent.
I had course members walk around a large grid marked out on the floor. As a group moved systematically round the four ways of thinking about time and action they discussed what things in their jobs constituted ‘Importance’ and ‘Urgency, two things that it’s not always easy to strike a balance between.
It was after lunch. I was working in Grimsby with a group from the oil refinery which could be seen from the hotel window. One of them looked up from what she was discussing to see flames leaping from the refinery. Panic! This seemed to deserve the description of a ‘Quadrant One’ situation—Urgent and Important—which dictated that they immediately phone the refinery. All their training—Quadrant Two, Important but not Urgent though much time had been spent on it—put them into the mode of using their training to assess whether they were needed back at the plant; they quickly totted up all the what-ifs to arrive at a balance between U and I.
My own sense of U/I was that I had been told that if the refinery blew up it would leave a hole in the ground that would go way beyond the hotel where we were working!
A quick telephone call reassured them that everything was under control and that they would not be needed. They were in Quadrant Three: the situation was Urgent but Not Important to them; somebody else was dealing with the importance of quenching the fire. So often we find ourselves hi-jacked by what somebody else thinks of as important; this can prevent us from operating effectively in Quadrants Two (planning for proactivity and action) and One (taking proactive action). One of the key tasks in being effective is to work out strategies for avoiding finding oneself in Quadrant Three—reacting to somebody else’s notion of importance.
My students relaxed immediately into Quadrant Four—laughing and joking, letting off steam and going off for a cuppa. If one spent all one’s time in Quadrant Four nothing would ever get done; it’s a place for escapist behaviour but it’s also useful periodically as a way of releasing tension.
How much time should be spent in each of the quadrants? Most importantly, how can one make sure that one is spending sufficient time in Quadrant Two where questions of this kind can properly be entertained?
The Matrix is a model that could get you to ask during the course of a day whether you’re in the right quadrant for whatever you happen to be doing.
It can help us to be creative with the notion of Time: Fixation Four on the Enneagram.
‘Private Victories’ and ‘Public Victories’
Conquering the implications of these three habits would constitute what Covey called ‘Private Victories’—victories over one’s own habitual inclinations. The next three habits take us into the realm of ‘Public Victories’.
You are in control of your own behaviour; more of a challenge is to notice how changing the way you do things can have a positive effect on those you relate to. What do you have to do to help the outside world make a difference?
Many years before Covey Gurdjieff said: ‘There are two struggles—an Inner-world struggle and an Outer-world struggle. But [in ordinary life] these two worlds can never make contact with each other, to make data for a Third World; even God cannot give the possibility for contact between Inner-world and Outer-world struggle; neither can your heredity give it. Only one thing can give it: you must make intentional contact between two worlds; then you can make data which crystallize for the Third World of man, called by ancients the World of the Soul…’
W—HABIT FOUR—Work for Win-win Outcomes
Things appear to be separate whereas in fact everything is dependent on everything else, everything is connected, nothing is separate… (PDOuspensky: In Search of the Miraculous). That being the case, it’s important that we work on behalf of everything and everybody; when we work for one thing at the expense of another there is an all-round loss.
The course member quoted under Habit One who asked his son, “OK, son, what can I help you with tonight?” will have recognised here that he was working for a win-win outcome: he achieved a better relationship and no doubt felt better about himself while his son got the assistance he wanted.
When you learn to put first things first, you make fewer demands on other people’s time; everybody benefits.
Sharing with others your aims and intentions will give other people an idea about how they fit with your plans; it’s a ripple effect.
Trying to get the better of another person and do them down pre-supposes that personal success is all—whenever part of the system loses the whole is affected adversely.
Fixation Five in the Enneagram is about the ability to think creatively about patterns & connections; to step outside separateness and keep joining the dots.
U—HABIT FIVE—Seek First to Understand Before Ever Trying to Make Yourself Understood
This habit is essentially about training yourself to listen to what somebody is saying rather than spending the time listening to your own internal monologue, your internal commentary on what they are saying, with the intention to have your say before they’ve even finished. It requires a great deal of honesty to be able to admit to yourself that you’re usually more interested in designing the response you’re going to make than truly listening to what the person is saying.
To test this out I had people get together in groups to discuss a work issue; they were to listen carefully to what was being said but at the same time they were to notice how their inner voice got in the way of listening. (What is your own inner voice doing right now as you read these words? Is it presenting a distraction from going for understanding?)
At the end of the three days, many people said that their greatest learning from the course was to realise that they had this inner voice which often got in the way of really listening (or, as it might be, reading) for understanding.
Remember Gurdjieff’s dictum: ‘There are two struggles—an Inner-world struggle and an Outer-world struggle…’ Related to this in the Fourth Way there’s the difference in attention described as ‘Internal Considering’ and ‘External Considering’: ‘Internal Considering’ is the constant mechanical babble that goes on in our untutored heads, “It’s not fair..” “I’m better than they are…” “I’m not as good as they are…” “I’ll get my own back…” “If she says that again I’ll scream…” “I need to put this right…” “This is rubbish…” “My way’s much better…” “I can’t let this go…” “I’ve got my reputation to think of…”; on the other hand, ‘External Considering’ describes the state of being able to stand back dispassionately (Habit One) and notice exactly what’s going on outside of you, carefully setting aside all thought and feeling.
I suddenly find the inner voice belonging to one of my own ‘I’s muttering: “That’s just not possible—everything comes under the subjective hammer and you can’t stop that…” Another of my ‘I’s steps up and says, “What will it be like when you can look at things as they really are?” Meta-I asks, “Which ‘I’ would you rather chum up with?”
It is possible to cultivate an inner stillness; this is the Gap of Nothingness referred to under Habit One. Inner stillness is a wide open space in which any movement does not affect what’s outside; it’s a place of calm celestial peace. ‘Mindfulness…’ The best place to test this out is when you’re in the middle of some great argument: the voices recede and you hear them as though through tiny little pipes. Well, that’s what it’s like for me! Others on the course were always able, when challenged, to develop some different metaphor which worked for them and to which they felt they could resort when the going got tough.
Stephen Covey used to say that while we’re listening to somebody else we’re all the time consulting our own autobiography. This often comes out as statements, deriving from the inner voice, like, “I know just what you mean…” or “Yes, that’s just like when I…” The fact is that we can never ever know just what another person means; ‘we live as we dream—alone’ as Joseph Conrad wrote.
What we are expert at though is projecting our own view of the world on to other people: “Everybody knows that…” or “It stands to reason that…” or “Anybody in their right mind [me, that is] would know that…”
Gurdjieff has this very useful check: whenever you hear yourself saying something about another person, it’s worth noting what an accurate description it is of yourself—it can only come from your autobiography—that’s where we develop all our thinking, all our consciousness . Of course, whenever you observe somebody talking about another person you can be totally dispassionate in working out whether what they are saying is more relevant to themselves than the other person.
NLP has the concept of eye-accessing cues that adds considerably to the act of listening. I added practice at this to my stock of Habit Five exercises.
When listening to another person talking it’s possible to figure out the background structure of the thinking (not the content) by watching how they shift from visualising what they’re talking about, to feeling something about it, to going into internal dialogue or even hearing another voice commenting on what they’re saying. When you notice that they are visualising something, you’ll be able immediately to establish rapport by asking, “How do you see that?” rather than “How do you feel about that?” The fact is that they aren’t feeling anything when they’re looking upwards; the latter question would be more appropriate when they’re looking down to the left.
The habit of listening carefully requires that we be secure and comfortable in our own beings and take in whole grand perspectives, mirroring & matching another’s being, entering into it while remaining deliberately separate. This is a characteristic typical of Top Form Fixation Seven on the Enneagram.
What’s the best way to get a group of people to work together for creative solutions to problems? Focussing on a problem only produces a bigger, more robust problem.
These are the kinds of questions that will help to make a problem even better than it was before:-
What exactly is the problem?
How did we get into this mess?
Who’s to blame?
What did we do wrong?
What preventative rules should we have made?
Whose heads should roll?
Synergising literally means ‘working together’ to come up with a different set of possibilities; it entails stepping outside the limitations of the past and into a new frame of reference, one that depicts new behaviours.
The kinds of questions that come from shouting STOP! (Habit One), from acting out of thinking about outcomes (Habit Two), from putting First Things First (Habit Three), from wanting everybody to feel necessary to outcomes (Habit Four) and from listening for understanding (Habit Five) are these:-
What happens when we stand back for a moment?
What do we want to achieve?
What process do we need to put in place to get there?
How can we be inclusive of all perspectives?
How can we use all contributions and abilities?
What has everybody got to offer?
How well are we listening?
Fixation Eight on the Enneagram is about the qualities of leadership—helping others to set their own interests or focus of concern aside and to work for something larger than themselves. Ideally, by personal adoption of the Seven Habits, everybody learns to lead themselves from their own secret sources. The ideal leader is one who leads from behind.
SS—HABIT SEVEN—Sharpen the Saw
To illustrate this Habit, the story was told of a guy found in the forest sweating & cursing, puffing & blowing, and hacking away at a tree with a large saw. The person who discovers him asks why he’s making such a meal of cutting the tree down.
He answers, “My sodding saw’s blunt…”
“Why don’t you stop and sharpen it then? You’d get on much better if you did…”
“I haven’t got time to Sharpen the Saw…” He gets on, cursing & swearing.
The moral is obvious: the guy will get on much better when he takes time out to sharpen the saw.
And so will we! But for us it’s not just a matter of attending to the teeth. We need MEPS.
I provided another grid for delegates to complete on their own, thinking about how they already engage in re-creational activities. They’d typically write down:-
Under M, reading, doing crossword puzzles, going to a reading circle, etc
Under E, talking to the family, watching films, being close to somebody, etc
Under P, walking, running, cycling, etc
Under S, going to church, standing on the top of a hill and surveying the landscape
It was important to write these things down in separate boxes, because when they came to compare notes it became clear that what were initially defined as separate Mental/Emotional/Physical & Spiritual activities overlapped considerably in ways that individuals might not at first have thought of. In discussion, they reminded themselves of other things they already did or they got ideas about other things they might do.
The next stage was to challenge them in small groups to come up with an activity that would combine MEPS in one.
All kinds of creative ideas came up. I remember one person who said that there and then they had determined to take up playing the clarinet again: it was a physical activity, it demanded attention to thinking out a lot of small details, it would provide an emotional drive as they conquered the sounds and when they took it and played it on top of a high hill it would provide them with what could be called a spiritual experience.
Fixation Nine on the Enneagram refers to a person who can gain peace and calm and offer it up to others if they choose it.
How to Turn Seven into Nine
The Enneagram consists of nine points; there are only seven habits in Covey’s system. I always thought that more was needed.
Gurdjieff said that anything could be plotted on the Enneagram: if you were stranded in the middle of the desert you could scratch the Enneagram in the sand and depict the whole of human experience on it by walking round its internal dynamic. It’s a thoroughly creative & practical model as JGBennett brilliantly illustrates.
So I thought—the main triangle which seems to be on a separate system from the other Fixations is always a key structure, providing the main ingredients of any system.
Habit Seven fits well with Fixation Nine, both being about ways of gaining equanimity.
Then the question arises: how might you get to a state of equanimity? An answer could be that it comes via the practice known in the Fourth Way as self-remembering—a more profound version of, or even a prerequisite for, Habit One—‘this is me here now being me here now’—that which gets you into a more lively kind of consciousness than the one we imagine we are in all the time, akin to foveal, focussed vision rather than peripheral vision. Without such a focus on essential Being, Habit One won’t work. This helps gain the ground for ‘inner direction’ which is a quality associated with Enneagram Fixation Three when the person fixated there is on what I call Top Form.
Before we can really listen to another person, entering into the spirit of what they’re saying, before we can help others to find the qualities to lead themselves towards synergy, we need to be really secure and comfortable in ourselves; we need to go way beyond emotion and into a place where everything is just as it is. This is Top Form Six on the Enneagram.
So 3 (Self-remembering) and 6 (Going Beyond Emotion) contribute to getting to equanimity. That’s the construction of the triangle.
Going round the Enneagram 1 – 9 in sequence gives you the temporal building-block framework of Covey’s original schema. I always felt that other things were necessary, so the inclusion of Self-remembering at 3 is useful because it gives an added shock, providing the standing back necessary for being your essential self at a point where it is needed to emphasise that the Private Victories are critically for Self. Then it’s only possible to proceed towards Habits 5&6 when you are secure and comfortable in yourself. Covey’s mechanical system is more complex than the way it is presented; it requires a good deal more of inner work to be done.
The internal dynamic of the Enneagram suggests ways in which one might usefully link the habits one with another to make a whole system.
It has been really interesting to revisit all this after so many years spent doing other things. The other things all seem to fit somehow & in an other-than-Procrustean way.
How different would my teaching of Seven Habits be now; how much just the same?