Stephen R. Covey
Well-intentioned resolutions will fall flat in the face of stiff
restraining forces without character and social reinforcements.
Every organization and individual struggles to gain and maintain
alignment with core values, ethics and principles. Whatever our professed
personal and organizational beliefs, we all face restraining forces,
opposition and challenges, and these sometimes cause us to do things that
are contrary to our stated missions, intentions and resolutions. We may
think that we can change deeply imbedded habits and patterns simply by
making new resolutions or goals only to find that old habits die hard and
that in spite of good intentions and social promises, familiar patterns
carry over from year to year.
We often make two mistakes with regard to New Year's resolutions:
First, we don't have a clear knowledge of who we are. Hence, our habits
become our identity, and to resolve to change a habit is to threaten our
security. We fail to see that we are not our habits. We can make and break
our habits. We need not be a victim of conditions or conditioning. We can
write your own script, choose our course, and control our own destiny.
Second, we don't have a clear picture of where we want to go;
therefore, our resolves are easily uprooted, and we then get discouraged
and give up. Replacing a deeply imbedded bad habit with a good one
involves much more than being temporarily "psyched up" over some
simplistic success formula, such as "think positively" or
"try harder." It takes deep understanding of self and of the
principles and processes of growth and change. These include assessment,
commitment, feedback, follow-through.
We will soon break our resolutions if we don't regularly report our
progress to somebody and get objective feedback on our performance.
Accountability breeds response-ability. Commitment and involvement produce
change. In training executives, we use a step-by-step, natural,
progressive, sequential approach to change; in fact, we require executives
to set goals and make commitments up front; teach and apply the material
each month; and return and report their progress to each other.
If you want to overcome the pull of the past those powerful restraining
forces of habit, custom and culture to bring about desired change, count
the costs and rally the necessary resources. In the space program, we see
that tremendous thrust is needed to clear the powerful pull of the earth's
gravity. So it is with breaking old habits.
Breaking deeply imbedded habits such as procrastinating, criticizing,
overeating or oversleeping involves more than a little wishing and will
power. Often our own resolve is not enough. We need reinforcing
relationships people and programs that hold us accountable and
Remember: response-ability is the ability to choose our response to any
circumstance or condition. When we are response-able, our commitment
becomes more powerful than our moods or circumstances, and we keep the
promises and resolutions we make. For example, if we put mind over
mattress and arise early in the morning, we will earn our first victory of
the day the daily private victory and gain a certain sense of
self-mastery. We can then move on to more public victories. And as we deal
well with each new challenge, we unleash within ourselves a fresh capacity
to soar to new heights.
In each of our lives, there are powerful restraining forces at work to
pull down any new resolution or initiative. Among those forces are 1)
appetites and passions, 2) pride and pretension, and 3) aspiration and
We can overcome these restraining forces by making and keeping the
following three resolutions.
First, to overcome the restraining forces of appetites and passions, I
resolve to exercise self-discipline and self-denial. Whenever we
over-indulge physical appetites and passions, we impair our mental
processes and judgments as well as our social relationships. Our bodies
are ecosystems, and if our economic or physical side is off-balance, all
other systems are affected.
That's why the habit of sharpening the saw regularly is so basic. The
principles of temperance, consistency and self-discipline become
foundational to a person's whole life. Trust comes from trustworthiness
and that comes from competence and character. Intemperance adversely
affects our judgment and wisdom.
I realize that some people are intemperate and still show greatness,
even genius. But over time, it catches up with them. Many among the
"rich and famous" have lost fortunes and faith, success and
effectiveness, because of intemperance. Either we control our appetites
and passions, or they control us.
Many corporations and cities have aging inventories and
infrastructures; likewise, many executives have aging bodies, making it
harder to get away with intemperance. With age, the metabolism changes.
Maintaining health requires more wisdom. The older we become, the more we
are in the crosscurrents between the need for more self-discipline and
temperance, and the desire to let down and relax and indulge. We feel
we've paid our dues and are therefore entitled to it. But if we get
permissive and indulgent with ourselves overeating, staying up late or not
exercising the quality of our personal lives and our professional work
will be adversely affected.
If we become slaves to our stomachs, our stomachs soon control our mind
and will. Gluttony is a perversion of appetite, and to knowingly take
things into the body that are harmful or addicting is foolishness. More
people in America die of over-eating than of hunger. "I saw few die
of hunger of eating, a hundred thousand," observed Ben Franklin. When
I overeat or overindulge, I lose sensitivity to the needs of others. I
become angry with myself, and I tend to take that anger out on others at
the earliest provocation.
Many of us succumb to the longing for extra sleep, rest and leisure.
How many times do you set the alarm or your mind to get up early, knowing
all of the things you have to do in the morning, anxious to get the day
organized right, to have a calm and orderly breakfast, to have an
unhurried and peaceful preparation before leaving for work? But when the
alarm goes off, your good resolves dissolve. It's a battle of mind versus
mattress! Often the mattress wins. You find yourself getting up late, then
beginning a frantic rush to get dressed, organized, fed and be off. In the
rush, you grow impatient and insensitive to others. Nerves get frayed,
tempers short. And all because of sleeping in.
A chain of unhappy events and sorry consequences follows not keeping
the first resolution of the day to get up at a certain time. That day may
begin and end in defeat. The extra sleep is hardly ever worth it. In fact,
considering the above, such sleep is terribly tiring and exhausting.
What a difference if you organize an arrange your affairs the night
before to get to bed at a reasonable time. I find that the last hour
before retiring is the best time to plan and prepare for the next day.
Then when the alarm goes off, you get up and prepare properly for the day.
Such an early-morning private victory gives you a sense of conquering,
overcoming mastering and this sense propels you to conquer more public
challenges during the day. Success begets success. Starting a day with an
early victory over self leads to more victories. Second, to overcome the
restraining forces of pride and pretension, I resolve to work on character
Socrates said: The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to
be what we pretend to be.
To be, in reality, what we want other to think we are. Much of the
world is image-conscious, and the social mirror is powerful in creating
our sense of who we are. The pressure to appear powerful, successful and
fashionable causes some people to become manipulative. When you are living
in harmony with your core values and principles, you can be
straight-forward, honest and up-front. And nothing is more disturbing to a
person who is full of trickery and duplicity than straight-forward honesty
that's the one thing they can't deal with.
I've been on an extended media tour with my book, The 7 Habits of
Highly Effective People, and I've become aware of how everyone is very
anxious about the entertainment value of the program. Recently, I was in
San Francisco, and I thought I would make my interview more controversial
by getting into the political arena. But my comments threw the whole
conversation off on a tangent. All the call-ins commented on political
points. I lost the power to present my own theme and represent my own
Whenever we indulge appetites and passions, we are rather easily
seduced by pride and pretension. We then start making appearances, playing
roles and mastering manipulative techniques. If our definition or concept
of ourselves comes from what others think of us from the social mirror we
will gear our lives to their wants and their expectations; and the more we
live to meet the expectations of others, the more weak, shallow and
insecure we become. A junior executive, for example, may desire to please
his superiors, colleagues and subordinates, but he discovers that these
groups demand different things of him. He feels that if he is true to one,
he may offend the other. So he begins to play games and put on appearances
to get along or to get by, to please or appease. In the long run, he
discovers that by trying to become "all things to all people,"
he eventually becomes nothing to everyone. He is found out for who and
what he is. He then loses self-respect and the respect of others.
Effective people lead their lives and manage their relationships around
principles; ineffective people attempt to manage their time around
priorities and their tasks around goals. Think effectiveness with people;
efficiency with things.
When we examine anger, hatred, envy, jealousy, pride and prejudice or
any other negative emotion or passion we often discover that at their root
lies the desire to be accepted, approved and esteemed of others. We then
seek a shortcut to the top. But the bottom line is that there is no
shortcut to lasting success. The law of the harvest still applies, in
spite of all the talk of "how to beat the system."
Several years ago, a student visited me in my office when I was a
faculty member at the Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young
University. He asked me how he was doing in my class. After developing
some rapport, I confronted him directly: "You didn't really come in
to find out how you are doing in the class. You came in to find out how I
think you are doing. You know how you are doing in the class far better
than I do, don't you?"
He said that he did, and so I asked him, "How are you doing?"
He admitted that he was just trying to get by. He had a host of reasons
and excuses for not studying as he ought, for cramming and for taking
shortcuts. He came in to see if it was working.
If people play roles and pretend long enough, giving in to their vanity
and pride, they will gradually deceive themselves. They will be buffeted
by conditions, threatened by circumstances and other people. They will
then fight to maintain their false front. But if they come to accept the
truth about themselves, following the laws and principles of the harvest,
they will gradually develop a more accurate concept of themselves.
The effort to be fashionable puts one on a treadmill that seems to go
faster and faster, almost like chasing a shadow. Appearances alone will
never satisfy; therefore, to build our security on fashions, possessions
or status symbols may prove to be our undoing. Edwin Hubbell Chapin said:
"Fashion is the science of appearances, and it inspires one with the
desire to seem rather than to be."
Certainly, we should be interested in the opinions and perceptions of
others so that we might be more effective with them, but we should refuse
to accept their opinion as a fact and then act or react accordingly.
Third, to overcome the restraining forces of unbridled aspiration and
ambition, I resolve to dedicate my talents and resources to noble purposes
and to provide service to others.
If people are "looking out for number one" and "what's
in it for me," they will have no sense of stewardship no sense of
being an agent for worthy principles, purposes and causes. They become a
law unto themselves, a principal.
They may talk the language of stewardship, but they will always figure
out a way to promote their own agenda. They're may be dedicated and hard
working, but they are not focused on stewardship the idea that you don't
own anything, that you give your life to higher principles, causes,
purposes. Rather, they are focused on power, wealth, fame, position,
dominion and possessions.
The ethical person looks at every economic transaction as a test of his
or her moral stewardship. That's why humility is the mother of all other
virtues because it promotes stewardship. Then everything else that is good
will work through you. But if you get into pride into "my will, my
agenda, my wants" then you must rely totally upon your own strengths.
You're not in touch with what Jung calls "the collective
unconscious" the power of the larger ethos which unleashes energy
through your work.
Aspiring people seek their own glory and are deeply concerned with
their own agenda. They may even regard their own spouse or children as
possessions and try to wrest from them the kind of behavior that will win
them more popularity and esteem in the eyes of others. Such possessive
love is destructive. Instead of being an agent or steward, they interpret
everything in life in terms of "what it will do for me."
Everybody then becomes either a competitor or conspirator. Their
relationships, even intimate ones, tend to be competitive rather than
cooperative. They use various methods of manipulation such as threat,
fear, bribery, pressure, deceit, and charm to achieve their ends.
Until people have the spirit of service, they might say they loves a
companion, company or cause, but they often despise the demands these make
on their lives. Double-mindedness, having two conflicting motives or
interests, inevitably sets a man at war within himself and an internal
civil war often breaks out into war with others. The opposite of
double-mindedness is self-unity or integrity. We achieve integrity through
the dedication of ourselves to selfless service of others.
Implications for Personal
Unless we control of our appetites, we will not be in control of our
passions and emotions. We will, instead, becomes victims of our passions,
seeking or aspiring our own wealth, dominion, prestige and power.
I once tried to counsel a junior executive to be more committed to
higher principles. It appeared futile. Then I began to realize that I was
asking him to conquer the third temptation before he had conquered the
first. It was like expecting a child to walk before crawl. So I changed
the approach and encouraged him to first discipline his body. We then got
If we conquer some basic appetites first, we will have the power to
make good on higher level resolutions later. For example, many people
would experience a major transformation if they would maintain normal
weight through a healthy diet and exercise program. They would not only
look better, but they would also feel better, treat others better, and
increase their capacity to do the important but not necessarily urgent
things they long to do.
Until you can say "I am my master," you cannot say "I am
your servant." In other words, we might profess a service ethic, but
under pressure or stress we might be controlled by a particular passion or
appetite. We lose our temper. We become jealous, envious, lustful or
slothful. Then we feel guilty. We make promises and break them; make
resolutions and break them. We gradually lose faith in our own capacity to
keep any promises. Despite our ethic to be the "servant of the
people," we become the servant or slave of whatever masters us.
This reminds me of the plea of Richard Rich to Thomas More in the
movie, A Man For All Seasons. Richard Rich admired More's honesty and
integrity and wanted to be employed by him. He pleaded, "Employ
me." More answered, "No." Again Rich pleaded, "Employ
me," and again the answer was no. Then Rich made this pitiful yet
endearing promise: "Sir Thomas, employ me. I would be faithful to
Sir Thomas, knowing what mastered Richard Rich, answered,
"Richard, you can't even so much as answer for yourself
tonight," meaning "You might profess to be faithful now, but all
it will take is a different circumstance, the right bribe or pressure, and
you will be so controlled by your ambition and pride that you could not be
faithful to me." Sir Thomas More's prognosis came to pass that very
night, for Richard Rich betrayed him!
The key to growth is to learn to make promises and to keep them.
Self-denial is an essential element in overcoming all three temptations.
"One secret act of self-denial, one sacrifice of inclination to duty
is worth all the mere good thoughts, warm feelings, passionate prayers, in
which idle men indulge themselves," said John Henry Newman. "The
worst education which teaches self-denial is better than the best which
teaches everything else and not that," said Sterling.
Making and keeping these three universal resolutions will accelerate
our self-development and, potentially, increase our influence with others.
© 1996, 1998 Covey Leadership
Center and Franklin Covey. All rights reserved.