Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The 7 Habits: Paradigms and Principles

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the late Stephen R. Covey says that, rather than concern ourselves with becoming more productive with our time, we should concern ourselves with being more effective as people; and in order to be more effective, there are seven basic habits we must practice. These seven habits were a culmination of his graduate research. He studied the most successful people in history, and came to see a pattern emerge in how they lived their lives - seven basic habits that they all practiced. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will present here, The 7 Habits - an overview for those recovering from mental illness. Keep in mind I will only scratch the surface, and I highly recommend you read the book! 

May I present the first post in the series: The 7 Habits: Paradigms and Principles

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

                                                                                      - Stephen R. Covey

Before we even begin to discuss Covey's 7 Habits, and how it can be applied to those who are dealing with mental illness, we need to understand two concepts: paradigms and principles.


Paradigms are the mental lens through which we view ourselves and our world. They are formed by  our upbringing, personal experiences, and personality. When the lens is correct, it gives an accurate lay of the land; but when it is off, it can be like looking into the fun house mirror at a carnival - what we see is distorted.

In his book, Covey shares a personal story to illustrate. I paraphrase here:

Once on a trip to New York, Covey was riding the subway. At one stop, a man and his children boarded the car. The man slumped down in a chair apathetically while his children proceeded to run up and down the car disrupting the passengers. After a few minutes of watching this and getting more and more upset, he finally said something to the man, "Do you think you can control your kids? They're disrupting everyone on the train!"

The man looked up at him and said, "Oh yeah, sorry. I guess they don't know how to handle it. We just left the hospital where their mother died an hour ago."

Covey immediately saw the situation in a different light and proceeded to console the man for the remainder of the ride.

That shift in Covey, and in us as we read the story, is an example of a paradigm shift - a change in the lens through which we analyze a situation or perceive the world.

Okay, so how do we know if our paradigms are correct or if they need shifting? We continually strive to improve and learn from our experience. We study the wisdom literature and thinking of the great leaders / thinkers throughout history and from our own spiritual path / religion and align our paradigms with the principles that emerge.


Keep in mind, principles are not the same as values. Values may be things we cherish like health, money, and close relationships. Principles, on the other hand, are deeper and universal. They are changeless laws of character that exist whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. To illustrate this point, here is an excerpt from the 7 Habits in which Covey shares a story by Frank Koch, originally published in the Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine:

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”

“Is it steady or moving astern?”, the captain called out.

Lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.”

Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”

The captain said, “Send, I’m a captain. Change course 20 degrees.”

“I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.”

By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, “I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees!”

Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

We changed course.

According to Covey, “principles are like lighthouses." They are natural laws that are permanent and steady. We cannot break them, "we can only break ourselves against them."  

You see, we can do whatever we damn well please, but we cannot control the outcome which is ultimately determined by principles.  If we work with principles, we find that we become happier, more effective people. If we work against them, eventually things fall apart.

Okay, so now you have two basic concepts: paradigms and principles. In the next post in this series, I will discuss Habit 1: Be Proactive and see how we can apply this habit, even if we are dealing with mental illness.

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