#7| The Habit of Being Back to Basics

The way we see the problem, is the problem.

Stephen Covey

The title is so symbolic. Here is my 7th musing, and it coincided with the time I wanted to write a bit about how I am evolving as a person, while reading Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. The book is a timeless miracle. The book is essentially a step by step method for reconciliation with self. Everything you need to know is already inside you, there is just the need of shaping your perspective on the everyday matters you deal with.

Once, I was appalled at the prospect that one of my closest friends has left me out of the blue. I was devastated, soul-crushed. But how I was mistaken! Emotions should matter, yes, but not in place of your own dignity and core of values. With time I realised, the friendship ended because our core values didn’t match at all. We were not in sync, and the actions we took, or rather ‘re-actions’ had massive consequences in our lives. What we chose to do, hampered the very thing we were trying to protect. We let ourselves be governed by emotions when we should have been impartial and rational about the whole situation. Judging our friendship by values and principles would have been the right thing to do, but we didn’t. So no wonder it all broke apart. Nothing could stop that downfall.

It’s like that Behaviour change theory of “Stages of change model”.

We didn’t even know we had a problem: Pre-contemplation

We came to know there was a problem, but didn’t bother to do anything about it: Contemplation

We decided to do something about that problem: Intention

We reacted to the problem. It started falling apart: (Re)Action

We kept on reacting to each other: Maintenance

Until finally we broke the whole thing apart and moved forward with our lives. At least I never stopped once to think what exactly went wrong, to learn from it so that it does not repeat. This stage of ignorance is the most dangerous of all: Relapse. If I stay in this Relapse phase, most likely this will happen again. Hence, I went on a soul-searching adventure to find out what had gone wrong.

Turns out, that thing was me. I had turned from a rational ambitious and steady person to an emotional wreck. How did that happen? One day, I talked to my ex-HOD and he recommended the 7 Habits book. I was eager to try anything to set my life on track. For that, I needed to identify where exactly the problem lay in me.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Stephen Covey

In any moment, there should be proactivity. That is the first habit. Therefore by not having it, I had lost the battle. My decisions, my actions should have been towards something constructive. That’s how the book helped me in the first 20 pages itself.

Every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…the power to choose, to respond, to change.

Stephen Covey

The second habit was to begin with the end in mind. You should write your own mission, your own destiny, and not give the reins in someone else’s hands! That is the thing I had been missing my whole life. Never at any point of time in my life had I thought about one goal towards which I wanted some achievement in life. Things kind of happened, and I went with the flow.

I got Science as a stream for my higher secondary, cool. I took up science. I got medical, cool. I took it up although I never envisioned myself to be a doctor. But I assumed it would grow on me eventually. Boy, was I wrong! I couldn’t manage to love the subject, even though I tried very hard. I managed to become a doctor just barely, being a tough profession as it is already. On top of that, I was thinking about which post-graduation field I could opt for, where I wouldn’t have to go through the gruelling night duties again. That’s when I started some studying and secured a rank that was enough to get me into Community and Family Medicine. It was just the stream I had wanted and for the first time in 7 years, I was truly happy where I was.

Now I sometimes think, had I possessed a little more vision and courage to plot the way towards what I really wanted, I would have arrived at this place more easily and without any agony. Sometimes I think my rank would have been better, because I could have been actually studying and not ruminating on whether I had made the right decision in life. I could not change the past, but could have definitely planned for the future in baby steps.

The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

Stephen Covey

Finally, the third basic habit is to put first things first. Life will always throw you with urgent manifestations and that can derail you from your right track. The change you can bring in your habit is, saying No. Your rest is important, your family time is important, your day off is important and you should never throw those away for some urgency that will never be as important as the time you put in to build your life and your career. It will never be as good as creating something sustainable and high-yielding. Basically, this habit speaks about time management.

Before, I had a compulsion to say yes to everything that came across as an opportunity, even at the cost of my health. I was taking a lot of pressure on my shoulders. My sleep and peace went away. I was toiling in some bubble of mine, while the rest of the world impatiently waited for me to return to normal. The loss of balance led me to the scariest moment in my whole life, when I was diagnosed with a major vessel inflammation in my brain. It was scary, and slowly it took a massive toll on my body. If not for the correct timely interventions, I would have been paralysed for the rest of my life. That incident gave me a major revelation: Life was about putting those people and things first, not endlessly slaving away at work which didn’t matter in the long run. I needed to sort my priorities or else my body wouldn’t be able to take the strain.

Sometimes I feel I had found this book during the right time in my life. I know I thrive in a positive learning environment and hence I have decided to take myself forward in it. These were the three basics I learnt from the book: Proactivity, beginning with the end in mind and putting first things first. They helped me shape my perspective towards life, or what Covey likes to call, the change in paradigm. This has been life-changing. I would really like to thank Professor Neeraj Agarwal sir who suggested this book and always motivated me to be a better human and with that, a better professional. These lessons will always be a part of me.

There are three constants in life… change, choice and principles.

Stephen Covey

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