Concepts taken from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Steve Covey
Written By: Krista Keil
"Things which matter most, must never be at the mercy of things which matter least." -Goethe
Every morning- nearly without fail- the first thing I do upon waking, is hit the snooze button. The darn snooze button is one of my greatest rivals- it’s definitely a love-hate relationship. Although a rather miniscule daily event, it plays the largest role in the flow and outcome of my day. It is one of my most frequent reminders of the importance of discipline in daily life. So simple, and yet so difficult! Although it can be easy to overlook, discipline is one of the most essential ‘tools’ in our toolbox.
Discipline is similar to a muscle: it needs regular practice and training to maintain and build strength, and thus is vital in habit formation. Research tells us that consistency and repetition are important determinants in building habits, and thus, require the practice of discipline to maintain. Discipline itself is a habit, and it helps us to create structure and boundaries within our daily life. When we neglect to engage this 'muscle,' the framework of our daily lives begins to erode. Just like I choose to hit the snooze button, I also have the freedom to choose discipline- which is exactly what can make it so challenging. Discipline is a matter of exercising our free will and is a completely internal disposition: our will is the place where motivation or lack of it, first takes root. The older we get, the stronger our 'discipline muscle' needs to be. When we’re young, discipline is enforced upon us, but as we age, discipline demands personal responsibility- free of constraints- a sole product of our own will. Our level of discipline is often the key-holder to determining many outcomes in our lives, such as whether or not we accomplish our short term and long term goals, our deepest aspirations, and even small daily tasks, such as getting enough sleep. Cultivating the ‘muscle’ of discipline in our daily lives teaches us that we need to prioritize what’s important, and put ‘first things first,’ as Steve Covey says.
Steve Covey’s habit of, “putting first thing first,” emphasizes that distinguishing and categorizing tasks by importance versus urgency is a critical step. For example, differentiating the level of importance between answering the email you just received or spending time in conversation over dinner with your loved ones- which is more important? Covey drives home the point that there are many tasks that might be urgent (especially given the fast paced technology driven-age) but there are fewer things that are actually important. Just because your phone alerts you of a text, does not mean that it’s important and should take precedence over other tasks, even though it may feel urgent. While it may not sound difficult, I think most of us can agree that the practice of consistently placing the most important tasks first, rather than allowing distractions to supersede, is easier said than done. In brief, Covey posits that harnessing our time effectively is an important aspect of putting first things first. Understanding that we organizing our time around priorities rather than urgencies can provide the paradigm shift needed to motivate ourselves to change.
To further this perspective shift, it’s vital that we begin to reframe discipline not merely as an action, but rather, an attitude or disposition- one that primarily impacts the person looking back at us in the mirror. Too many times, the only thing holding us back is ourselves.I’m of the belief that we are our own greatest advocates and inhibitors- it comes down to how we choose to implement our ‘discipline muscle, among other things. The reality is, discipline actually frees us to accomplish our deepest hopes and desires- because it aligns us with what's most important, and helps us to distinguish between what's essential and what's not. Covey’s approach provides a clear depiction of how the practice of discipline is necessary in the implementation of effective personal management: we must harness our will power to achieve optimal performance and maximum efficiency, which enhances our ability to enjoy the important things in life. This is the recipe that makes effective self-management possible. Which is why putting first things first, can enable each of us to live a life of fulfillment and flourishing. So I leave you to ponder- what is one of your current ‘rivals’ in daily life? How will you put first things first and harness the muscle of discipline to overcome the obstacle?