Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Covey’s 7 habits

with 6 comments

After Christopher Edwards, revised by author.

[Most recent update: 24 March 2023 — added a link to Eric Fromm’s six rules for listening.]

I recently understood one reason the system Stephen Covey describes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People works so well. Perhaps as a result of evolutionary pressures, we are highly sensitized to urgent situations (whether important, like that bear coming toward us, or unimportant, like an itch we can’t quite reach), whereas situations that lack urgency are easily postponed and ignored from one day to the next even when they are important (for example, making a will). 

Covey sets out a protocol that (among other things) ensures that you identify what is important (in terms of your own life and your own goals) and then has you put into your schedule each week steps toward goals that are important but not urgent, thus making sure important things are accomplished even when they lack urgency.

There’s more to the approach than that, but that is one key benefit: a way to overcome a blind spot in our daily routines. — One additional thought on the magic of the short-term (and thus immediate/urgent) time horizon of one week: I found it very difficult to stay within my monthly budget on groceries and the like, so I changed my routine to focus on staying within my weekly budget. That turned out to be relatively easy. And, I discovered, if I stay within budget each week, at the end of the month I am within budget for the month. (More info on my budget tracking.) 

It seems that a week is a chunk of time we can get a grip on, but a month? or a year? Those get away from us. Not so urgent, they pass by — at first gradually and then suddenly — so we drift easily from having lots of time to having not enough time. Perhaps that’s related to the capacity of our short-term memory (7 chunks of data, plus or minus 2). We can keep a week in mind because it’s 7 chunks of time, and that’s within our capacity. I think Covey’s method — to spend time on Sunday making a plan for the week ahead — is spot-on.

I initially found Covey’s method helpful at a time when I was suffering a terrific case of worker burnout. The cause, I eventually (and with some help) realized, was that I had started “owning” things over which I had no control—for example, decisions made by corporate, several levels above me. This led to the feeling of helplessness, which definitely leads to burnout. (See Martin Seligman’s excellent Learned Optimism for more on how that works.) In reading Covey’s book, I learned how to separate things that I could not influence from things that I could, and once I focused my attention and energy on the latter, I started feeling better as I regained locus of control. (In this connection, note this comment by Michel de Montaigne (b. 1533, d. 1592), essayist: “Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.”) Habit 1 specifically deals with locus of control, discussed in some detail in this article.

Covey’s book is based on talks he gave on 7 habits that he found were common to a variety of highly effective people. The ideas in the book are indeed valuable, but transcribing a talk given with charts and slides can make for occasional difficult reading. Download the brief synopsis (PDF) using the link at the bottom of this post and read the synopsis before or as you read the book. The synopsis is incomplete, but it helps clarify some parts of the book that are obscure. However, the synopsis is in no way a replacement for the book, and I strongly recommend that you read the book itself.

UPDATE: I just stumbled across The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Personal Workbook, and in looking at it, I think it would be helpful in applying and adapting the habits to your personal situation. The spiral-bound version is the most expensive, but probably the easiest to use since the exercises have you writing in the workbook. However, you could also get a blank bound book (like a composition book or a Moleskine notebook) and do the exercises in that rather than writing in the Workbook.

Also, Carl in the comments below notes that The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens is a better written book. That book also has associated workbooks. The “teen” books are by Sean Covey. /update

Franklin (of Franklin Planners) acquired the Covey organization some time back, with the name changed to FranklinCovey, but the site seems to be called Franklin Planner.

Since I’m going to start again, I wanted to get a good weekly planner. A new gig seems to have started at Franklin, 5 Choices, and their 5 Choices Weekly Planner looks like a reasonably good format for the weekly planning the Covey approach uses. (You identify some specific important but non-urgent tasks associated with your goals for your major roles, and then you make a specific appointment in the coming week to accomplish each task.) Three drawbacks, though: it’s $42 (the weekly planner covers a year in total), and the format really doesn’t accommodate Covey’s method so much as I’d like, and the current offering didn’t start for several months at the time I was wanting to start.

So I looked around — you can really use any weekly planner, but it’s nice if the design fits the planning protocol Covey describes in his book — and I found The Simple Elephant: good design and you can start it at any point since you provide the date information. Despite the Amazon entry saying that it’s a day planner, it is in fact a weekly planner, and it includes the kind of goal tracking that Covey’s method requires, though its format doesn’t match exactly the 7 Habits planning categories. (At the link you can see the various page layouts.)

Weekly planning using individual weekly planning worksheets (instead of a book format) is another approach. I don’t know a weekly planning pad of worksheets, so I recommend printing weekly planning sheets using one of the PDFs you can download at the bottom of this post. Take a look at both and see which you like.

In fact, if you try Covey’s method to see whether it will work for you, use weekly planning worksheets that you print yourself. The layout is good, they’re free, and for the 9-week (or 6-week) test described below, they seem the best approach.

There’s also, specifically designed around Covey’s book, but I found the online format awkward to use. Handwriting seems to me the most effective approach for this kind of planning, but for some the on-line format might work better. It’s free, so you can give it a try if you want. The developer has a good introductory video, in which he explains that the point is not the total number of tasks you complete, but rather completing tasks that align with your priorities — thus the importance of the mission statement, which helps you prioritize goals and tasks.

The mission statement is briefly described in the synopsis, but (as already noted) the synopsis is definitely no substitute for the book itself. The idea is to read the synopsis along with (or prior to) reading the book.

Update: The book Atomic Habits, by James Clear, would seem, from the description in a detailed review, to work well in conjunction with Covey’s method. From the review:

[Chapter 2] Based on a 3-layer concentric circle behavior change model—divided into outcome change, process change, and identity change—James explains that we should pay attention to our inner identity by focusing on beliefs, assumptions, and values. “Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.” The strongest changes, then, happen from inside out, starting from our identity, passing through the process, and ultimately changing the outcome.

The sounds exactly like Covey’s mission statement and setting goals by role. (It also sounds a lot like something Covey discusses in Habit 1: perception drives behavior.) Based on that review of Clear’s book, along with other reviews, I think it could be a good companion to implementing Covey’s 7 habits.

I didn’t have my old copy of the book—victim of a book purge—but you can find inexpensive secondhand copies—quite inexpensive, in fact. To replace the purged copy, I ordered a hardbound copy of the book in “Very Good” condition for $3.65 including postage. (I recommend getting a book in “Good” or “Very Good” condition; “Fair” is generally pretty bad, and “Acceptable” usually is not.)

If you do try Covey’s method, I’d be interested in reading a comment about your experience. I think the method has quite a few strong points—for example, the weekly plan, with scheduled appointments to work on items that are important but not urgent, so that you make progress on those every week. A month’s plan would be too long—it would lack urgency, so it would be too easy to put stuff off early in the month so that later in the month you have too much to do in the time remaining. A week, in practice, seems about right: some urgency, but also time enough for a make-up if you miss an appointment..

Two ideas from Robert Wright

A recent article in the Nonzero Newsletter has two valuable ideas. One is the attribution fallacy: that we tend to attribute to character or personality things that may well be better attributed to situation and circumstance — and we do that to avoid revising our opinion of a person’s character or personality. If someone we like or see as an ally does something bad, we attribute that to circumstances rather than as a sign of their character; and if someone we see as unfriendly or an enemy does something good, again we attribute that to circumstances rather than as a sign that our judgment of their character might be incomplete or even wrong. (These examples illustrate how we might resist a paradigm shift — in this case, a paradigm shift in how we view a person. It’s easier to stick with the opinion we already formed than to reconsider that opinion in the light of new information.)

The article also discusses the useful tool of “cognitive empathy.” It’s similar to emotional empathy, in which you put yourself in another’s place to understand their feelings, but with cognitive empathy you put yourself in another’s place to see from their point of view how they think about and understand some issue or event. Read the article. It fits with some of what Covey describes — for example, Habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” 

The Eisenhower Matrix and the Baller To-Do List

In discussing Habit 3, Covey uses a quadrant system to classify tasks. (I describe this in the synopsis you can download from a link below.) The four quadrants are:

Quadrant I: Important and Urgent
Quadrant II: Important and Not Urgent
Quadrant III: Unimportant and Urgent
Quadrant IV: Unimportant and Not Urgent

This quadrant system was developed and used by Dwight D. Eisenhower, so that it is sometimes referred to as the “Eisenhower Matrix.”

You must spend time doing Quadrant I tasks, but you can reduce Quadrant I tasks by spending time doing Quadrant II tasks. So, where do you you get time to do Quadrant II tasks? You can’t drop Quadrant I tasks (both important and urgent), so the time must be found by (a) eliminating Quadrant IV tasks and (b) clamping down on Quadrant III tasks. There’s more about this in the outline (and, of course, much more in the book).

The web-based Baller To-Do List offers a free and easy way to sort your to-dos by quadrant. The nomenclature is different, but the idea is the same. You enter each to-do into one of four quadrants:

High Impact, Low Urgency (Quadrant II: Important and Not Urgent)
High Impact, High Urgency (Quadrant I: Important and Urgent)
Low Impact, Low Urgency (Quadrant IV: Unimportant and Not Urgent)
Low Impact, High Urgency (Quadrant III: Unimportant and Urgent)

The web app is easy to use and could help with Covey’s method. Indeed, it seems directly derived from Covey, but doubtless Covey derived his own quadrant categories from others — perhaps from Eisenhower.

Crisis addicts

It should be noted that not everyone is especially interested in reducing the urgent and important crises that populate Quadrant I. Some people seem addicted to the adrenalin rush of encountering urgent and important situations. That can be a good thing (cf. emergency-room staff), but in a corporate environment a crisis — urgent and important — more often signifies inadequate foresight and poor planning (though it does offer some the chance to be a hero).

Compare the practice of medicine — frequently an urgent intervention to cure an illness or treat an injury — and public health — programs and practices that prevent disease and injuries and thus preserve health. Public health’s public-relations problem is that, if they do their job well and their programs work, nothing happens: there is no disease outbreak and people don’t suffer illness from tainted water or contaminated food or get injured from unsafe machines and working conditions. While a physician is often seen as a savior, those in public health generally go unrecognized if their programs work — though they are quickly condemned if a program fails (perhaps because of budget cutbacks over which they have no control).

Thus you may find that putting practices into place that will reduce Quadrant I crises will encounter some surprising resistance within a corporation. 

Slow and steady wins the race

Most understand the power of compounding when applied to money, as compounded interest — small gains repeatedly made that in time produce a significant amount. But the same process — consistent effort, daily or weekly, that makes a small gain each time — also results in a big gain over time. This post discusses how compounding can be applied in a variety of contexts.  

The weekly planning method suggested by Covey — where each week you make some small gain toward an important but non-urgent goal — also will in time produce impressive results. The key is consistency — and in part that is because consistency leads to habits, and habits are a big part of our actions: about 40% of what we do each day is done by habit. Building habits that help us is a big step toward the life we want. (This article has more on that. It talks specifically about financial habits, but the ideas are easily generalized to any kind of habit.)

Weekly planning worksheet

In looking for a planner, I was searching for one with a format similar to the two worksheets shown below. What I wanted is the column at the left whose focus is specifically Quadrant II — important things that are not urgent. In that column, you list for the coming week (a) actions to Sharpen the Saw and also (b) your current goal for each of your various roles. You complete the worksheet in a clockwise sequence:

1st  – Sharpening the Saw
2nd – Roles/Goals
3rd – Today’s Priority Actions
4th – Appointments/Commitments

First: Sharpening the Saw

First, in each category list actions for the coming week — actions that will improve a) your fitness and physical well-being, b) your knowledge and skills, c) your social relationships, and d) your spiritual strength and purpose. Don’t overdo it. You’re in this for the long haul, and the benefits will accumulate over time if you work steadily at it. One or at most two actions in each category is enough (though an action might involve repetition — for example, under Physical, you might enter “run 4 mornings for a total of 35 Cooper points.”

In any single week you will not see much progress, but try the method for 9 weeks and you’ll surprise yourself with the gains you will have made.

CNN has a useful article on techniques that help habits take hold. Those techniques will be helpful particularly for Sharpening the Saw (and for the habit of making a weekly plan).

Second: Roles/Goals

List your various roles — spouse, parent, student, manager, employee, volunteer, and so on. Then, for each role, list a particular goal that will be your focus during the coming week.

Third: Today’s Priority Actions

At this point, you have a list of actions under Sharpen the Saw and a list of goals under Roles/Goals. This step is where you decide on which days you’ll take various actions. First, take actions listed under “Sharpen the Saw” and decide on which day(s) you will take each action. Enter the actions in “Today’s Priority Actions” for the appropriate day(s). 

Then consider each of the entries under Roles/Goals and decide on one or perhaps two actions you will take toward achieving each goal. List each such action under a particular day in the “Today’s Priority Actions” section. 

It’s important not to overload any one day. If you assign too many actions to any one day, you will find you cannot complete them all, and that’s disheartening. For any week, one or perhaps two actions per role and one action for each category of Sharpening the Saw is probably enough to keep you advancing toward your goals. Slow and steady wins the race.

It may take some time to work out how to organize and distribute the various actions in this section so that no day is too heavily loaded (and that’s one reason I suggest a 9-week trial period: to allow time for learning through experience).

Favor assigning actions to days early in the week. By doing that, when something comes up that prevents you from accomplishing an action on its assigned day, you can reschedule it for later in the week and still get it done within the week. Tom Gilb, in Software Engineering Management, offered the one-word (and excellent) advice: “Early!” (See “Best One-Word Rule I’ve Found.”)

It’s worth noting that every action in this section will be a Quadrant II action: important but not urgent. These actions will shrink Quadrant I.

Fourth: Appointments/Commitments

Once “Today’s Priority Actions” is arranged to your satisfaction — and it includes all the actions you plan to accomplish in the coming week for your roles and for Sharpening the Saw — make specific daily appointments to accomplish those actions. Assign each to the specific time when you will accomplish the action. Doing that represents making a commitment to yourself, and part of the overall method is to develop the habit of keeping your commitments.

Favor setting appointments early in the day so that if something interferes with the appointment, you might have time to do it later that day — or, worst case, you reschedule the appointment for later the same week.

You’ll notice that this process is very like making a budget: defining your priorities and setting out how you’ll meet them, only in this case you are budgeting time and not money. (See this post on making a plan for money.) In either case, you generally have to rework things a bit so that your plan satisfies the constraints (the amount of time or money you have to work with).

I never found a weekly planner book with the exact format of the worksheets below, but you can print a copy of one of these PDFs each week and use it for your Sunday planning session. Download the format you prefer and print copies as needed. 

One approach to learning/testing this method

How long a trial is needed to evaluate the method?

If this method is new to you and you want to give it a try, I highly recommend that you commit to using the method for 9 weeks — just over a couple of months. Read the book (and also the synopsis linked below), accept Habit 1, adopt Habit 2 by writing a draft of your mission statement (something you will often revisit to modify and refine), and get ready to practice Habit 3 by printing out 9 copies of one of the weekly planning worksheets linked below. (You should, of course, practice Habit 0 every week.)

Two things about the trial run

First, You can undertake Habits 1, 2, and 3 on your own, at your own initiative. These three habits do not require any sort of permission (or contribution) from others; they are purely up to you, awaiting your decision to act. Those three habits are the foundation you must acquire to achieve Habits 4, 5, and 6. 

Second, the reason for a 9-week trial period is that (a) it provides enough time to learn from experience how best to use the method; and (b) it takes about that much time is required to establish a habit. The whole idea is to develop new habits that will help you achieve your life goals — those things you include in your mission statement. Even though your goals and values will almost certainly evolve over time, the habits you establish during the 9-week trial will continue to serve you well even as your goals change.

Prepare for the trial run

The first step is to write a draft of your mission statement. When you begin to work on your mission statement (described in Habit 2), an earlier post will be interesting and, I think, helpful. That post includes a video of a TEDx talk on designing one’s own life. (The talk is by a Stanford professor who teaches design courses.) The ideas in the talk will be useful to consider as you work on your mission statement, a design statement for your life. 

Another thing that might help in working on your mission statement is Scott Jeffrey’s step-by-step guide to defining your core values. 

Also helpful: an article by a death doula that describes the main regrets people have expressed at the end of their lives. You might want your mission statement to include goals whose achievement will minimize end-of-life regrets. This additional article on exercises suggested by a death doula (aka end-of-life doula) might also be helpful in determining your true life priorities.

It takes time to work out a good mission statement, and you will find yourself frequently redrafting and refining your mission statement as you gain experience and as circumstances change. That means that what you write today will often revised, so get the process started now. The sooner you start, the more time you have for revisions.

Try this: Take 15 minutes to write a short paragraph right now that describes your view of your mission. Then sleep on it and revise it the following day. Do not postpone writing until you’re sure of what you want to say — you discover what you want to say by writing and revising. (See Writing Without Teachers, by Peter Elbow.) Over the coming weeks you’ll revise and extend your mission statement as you get more experience with it (through the planning process) and think about it.

Then, with Habits 1 and 2 established — and with your current draft of a mission statement and a list of your roles and goals — begin to practice Habit 3 by spending some time each Sunday making a plan for the coming week. (Covey’s book includes various exercises. You should do those as well.)

Set up the post-trial evaluation

Before you begin the 9-week trial run, take some time to think about your goals and expectations for this experiment. Then I strongly recommend that you use to write an email to yourself to be delivered 9 weeks later, immediately after your trial run. (’s default delivery date is a year from the date the letter is written, so when you change the default delivery date, you might have to change the year as well as the month and day.)

In that email, describe what you hope to learn and to accomplish from the experience, and also list difficulties and problems you think you might encounter. Basically, write down your hopes and fears regarding your effort to learn and use the method.

The email will be interesting and informative, particularly if you keep a journal of your efforts during the trial period. Using a journal to record your experience and what you are learning from it can be invaluable. In particular, in your journal take stock of your progress after each of three phases:

  1. beginning — first 3 weeks: learning. This period will be awkward and confusing, and you will frequently find yourself reverting to old habits and forgetting to apply the method, so expect to experience some frustration. (See my post “Finding pleasure in the discomfort of learning new skills” for how to minimize such feelings of frustration.)
  2. middle — second 3 weeks: hitting your stride. This period will go better because you’ll start to get the hang of the weekly effort — first the planning, and then the doing. The new approach will start to become familiar and on its way to being a habit — an effective habit.
  3. end — final 3 weeks: accomplishment. In this period you will solidify your gains and habits, so that you really know what you’re doing and how to do it. Moreover, at this point you will have observed some actual accomplishments and achievements from your weekly appointments to do important but non-urgent tasks. And I’m sure the Futureme letter you get at the end will be illuminating. There’s often a big gap between expectations and experience.

If a commitment of 9 weeks seems too daunting, you could instead commit yourself to a 6-week trial period, with three 2-week phases. I recommend not doing anything shorter because it takes some amount of time and experience to learn to use the method effectively and to see what it can deliver. We’re talking about a way to achieve your life goals; surely that deserves some serious commitment and a fair trial. A 9-week trial is much better than a 6-week trial, but a 6-week trial is better than nothing.

In the initial stages of any new venture, one encounters a lot of “noise” — on the negative side, from mistakes one hasn’t learned to avoid, from missteps made in ignorance (which provide the benefit of greater knowledge, which is why experience is so valuable), from a sense of awkwardness and not knowing how to do things, and so on; and on the positive side from the halo effect of a new venture (as in the rosy glow of new love, before any problems are encountered, or in the enthusiastic energy we often feel about a new interest).

It’s a good idea to continue the effort until the noise subsides, so that you get a sense of the real character of the experience over time (thus the common suggestion for a longer rather than shorter courtship: “marry in haste, repent at leisure”), and that’s another benefit of the 9-week trial: it’s long enough to learn how to use the method and to get a sense of what it requires and delivers, day to day.

This article also might be of help as you learn a new approach. And see also my post on finding pleasure in the discomfort of learning new skills.

The effort involved in an extended trial can pay off handsomely, so it’s worth investing enough time to see what the method’s really like, after the noise has gone and what was novel has become familiar.

The two planning templates above are basically the same, with minor differences in format. Pick the one you prefer. 

Also download and read the synopsis at the link below, along with reading Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The synopsis is insufficient by itself; it leaves out too many important ideas that the book includes.

Automated reminders

As I used Covey’s method, I increasingly found Reminder, an app that comes with a Mac operating system (iOS or macOS), to be extremely useful. Reminder enabled me to park a task outside my memory and feel secure that it will be brought to my attention on the appropriate day and time. I use it for repeating tasks and reminders (birthdays, anniversaries, quarterly blood draws) because it has an easy “repeat” function (like Calendar), but I also use it for one-off tasks to do at some future time. If you starting using it, you’ll find many ways in which it can help.

Similar reminder functions are available in Google Calendar, which offers “Tasks,” one-time or repeating reminders I find I’m now using Google Calendar tasks more than macOS Reminders. Windows also offers a reminder function. These reminders are worth using. See also this list of productivity software, which includes a variety of free or low-cost reminder apps.

Five Books has a good discussion of five time management/productivity books that might be of interest in the context of Covey’s method. 

Some related posts:

Hiring a Star
The Yessable Proposition
12 Pointers    
What you can and cannot control

Example outcome of implementing Covey’s method

This post has an excellent case study of one person’s results from implementing Covey’s method. Worth reading. Clearly this person acquired Habit 1, implemented Habit 2, and is now regularly using Habit 3.

Habit 0 (formerly known as Habit 7)

Covey’s Habit 7 (Sharpening the Saw) should actually have been called Habit 0. Covey was not a programmer, or he would probably have numbered the habits beginning with number 0 rather than 1, especially since this habit is the actual starting point and foundation for all that follows. Your study of Covey’s method is this habit in action — sharpening the saw by improving your knowledge and skills — that’s why the book discusses this habit first and not last. Without Habit 7, you would not be reading the book because studying of Covey’s method is Habit 7 in action. You don’t end with Habit 7, as a final step; rather, you begin with Habit 7, the basic foundational step. Habit 7 comes first, not last.

Some math textbooks begin with a Chapter 0, which sets out the basic knowledge that the reader is presumed to have — the knowledge that Chapter 1 assumes and on which it builds. Similarly, Habit 0, the habit of study and self-renewal, is a habit that one must have in place before starting to work on Habit 1.

Habit 0 is the right name, and Habit 0 is the ultimate Quadrant II activity: taking care of things whose urgency is very low and importance is very high. 

The power of habits

This post is relevant and worth reading. And see also this post and the video in it — and in particular, it contains a link to a PDF on how to change habits/behavior for good. That one is worth reading.

An article by Teri Goetz in Psychology Today focuses on changing one’s habits — as when wants to extinguish a bad habit and replace it with a good habit. Some of the ideas and tactics the article describes will be useful in the Covey context.

The art of listening: Habit 5

I just blogged about M M Owen’s article in Aeon “The Art of Listening,” an article directly relevant to Habit 5 (“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”). Take a look at that. Kat Boogaard has another useful article on active listening that describes some effective techniques to improve your listening skills. See also Eric Fromm’s six rules of listening from his book The Art of Listening.

Using rituals to establish and reinforce habits

In my view, a ritual and a routine can both be habits, but whereas a routine’s primary focus is efficiency without full consciousness and is generally neutral in terms of pleasure, a ritual is pleasurable in itself while also encouraging a focused awareness (cf. flow, as defined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and the subject of various posts on this blog; Csíkszentmihályi is among the authors included in the list of books I find myself repeatedly recommending). For an example of a (brief) ritual, consider the way Shakespeare (in the movie Shakespeare in Love) begins a writing session: twirling the quill pen between his palms, then spitting over his shoulder. A routine is a ritual that has lost its soul or has yet to find it.

Examples of common rituals include a traditional morning shave, or the careful preparation of a pot of coffee, or a formal and conscious shared meal. Religion, of course, has a plethora of rituals. Many rituals seem intended to act as an on-ramp to a certain state of mind — the focused awareness mentioned above — which is, in Stephen Wolinsky’s view, a kind of trance, in this case deliberately evoked and accepted. (See, in my booklist, the entry for Trances People Live.) Steve Kotler has a video in which he discusses flow and how to enter it. Writer’s rituals are a good example of this, since writing does seem to be done in a creative and trance-like state — specifically, “flow,” mentioned above, a productive kind of trance.

Wolinsky points out that we can live in a trance, for a shorter or longer while, without deliberately deciding to enter a trance. One example he offers is a brief trance triggered by encountering some puppies and stopping to play with them, which results in a “playing with puppies” trance, and then when you abruptly emerge from that trance, you might realize that you’re now running late. You “lost track of time,” a characteristic of being in a trance.

An example of living in a longer trance is when a person falls under the sway of a cult, in which they might spend months or years. When they emerge from that trance (if they do), they have to readjust to normal life and often wonder what they were thinking.

As those examples indicate, trances can be malignant (losing oneself in a cult) or benign (playing with puppies) and even extremely positive (Csíkszentmihályi’s flow state). One can enter a trance either accidentally or deliberately — or the trance can be induced by another (cf. various religious ceremonies, or hypnosis, which can create a deep trance).

It seems to me that rituals can (in a sense) be embodied in objects — for example, a writing table or desk, perhaps situated in a particular room with a specific view. Another example is the common recommendation of a special study corner, so that when you sit down you quickly enter a study trance. An exercise room might trigger an exercise trance.

The idea is that the immediate environment can over time become imbued with one’s experience in it, so that entering that environment induces the trance — entering the environment becomes a brief ritual.

See this post for more on ritual.

An example of how a change in perception can change our experience

For many men, the morning shave, done with an electric razor or with canned foam and cartridge razor, is a routine — something they do without much conscious thought, their idea being to finish it quickly. (Interestingly, many men who view shaving as this sort of routine also hate shaving.) 

But the morning shave can also be perceived as a ritual, a meditative exercise. Many who make that change in perception find that their shave experience also changes. The shave shifts from a chore to a pleasure, from something they feel they have to do, to something they look forward to doing. When performed as a ritual, with the right tools and attitude, the morning shave becomes a great way to start the day.

In the Guide, I note how a traditional shave — using a shaving brush and shaving soap and hot water to create a true lather, and a comfortable and efficient double-edge safety razor — compares to another ritual, the traditional Zen tea ceremony:

Take a look at the similarities:

• Special room – check
• Special mode of dress – check
• Contemplative, unrushed mindset – check
• Cleanliness and order – check
• Practice of technique requires focused attention (aka flow) – check
• Use of special tools, often old – check
• Tools both functional and aesthetically pleasing – check
• Suspension of mind chatter, critical judgments – check
• Senses—sight, hearing, touch, smell—fully engaged – check
• Physical enjoyment of sources of warmth – check
• Awareness & enjoyment of aromas arising from hot water – check
• Reassuring familiarity of quiet, soft sounds – check
• Definite sequence of steps – check
• Structure of the entire experience repeated each time – check
• Feeling of pleasure, fulfillment, and satisfaction at end – check

And as I write this, it occurs to me how getting dressed can be a routine, or a ritual. I have treated it as a routine. It will be interesting to try approaching it as a ritual.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2017 at 10:16 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

6 Responses

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  1. I am a big fan of the 7 Habits books. Actually, I found The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens to be a better written book and give it to each of my patients. I wanted to find other books which expand on each of the 7 Habits such as Awaken the Giant Within (extremely fluffy but motivating) by Tony Robins for Habit 1 and Getting Things Done by David Allen for Habits 2 and 3. I was wondering if you had recommendations of such books for each Habit? Thanks! Carl

    PS: Your wet shaving blog years ago was my Shaving Bible as I began my journey! Thanks for that too!



    25 November 2021 at 9:40 am

  2. Thank you for your kind words. I had not heard of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, but I will take a look. Thanks for pointing that out. My immediate thought is that it was probably deliberately written as a book to be read rather than an adaptation of presentations to be seen (which makes for some rough reading).

    It’s unfortunate that Tony Robins has such a toxic personal reputation. I have not gone near his books. I am familiar with David Allen, and I agree he’s just the ticket for Habit 3. Covey contributes by ensuring that Habit 3 is pointed in the right direction, as it were, and also extends the focus to the interpersonal/interdependence with Habits 4-6. And I really do wish he had called Habit 7 the more appropriate name of Habit 0. The fact that he begins the book with Habit 7 should have clued him in to the foundational aspect of that habit, which places it prior to Habit 1, a position Habit 0 neatly occupies.

    Your idea of some reading suggestions per habit is intriguing. I had not thought of that, and I love the idea. One problem I foreseen is that many books are not so Habit-specific but relate to several of the Habits — GTD is an exception in that regard. But I definitely will be thinking about it.

    I’m proud that for a good number of men I was able to introduce them to the idea of enjoying their shave and help in their achieving that. It makes such a difference when one can make a daily chore a pleasurable interlude. I continued to pound that particular drum with a couple of articles in Medium: “Learning a New Skill Is a Struggle — Find Pleasure in It” and “Make Repeated Tasks Enjoyable,” both of which are firmly rooted in Epicurus (and in the preface to the 7th edition of the Guide, I formally recognize my debt to him).



    25 November 2021 at 10:28 am

  3. Thanks!



    26 November 2021 at 2:11 pm

  4. Thank You. Very Helpful



    8 August 2022 at 1:05 am

  5. Hello!

    I adore what you have done here… so many tremendous insights, wonderful links and terrific easy-to-follow applications. A real labor of love. Thank you!

    I wanted to share with you a thought about why H7 isn’t H0… I agree, it doesn’t sit well at H7. In the early days of his writings, there were only 4 habits and his work evolved. There is a reason why H7 is not the first habit or habit 1. Habit 1 – Be Proactive is the first habit because, without Being Proactive, the rest of the habits 2-7 are at risk of being reactive or at least placed in our circle of concern. Effective people ‘proactively’ practice habit 7 (and the other habits as well). So it is a little bit of what comes first, the chicken or the egg! But Stephen was very committed to the principle that proactivity is the fuel of choice for all other habits.

    And that’s why he placed Be Proactive as H1.

    Your work is inspiring and I look forward to continuing to enjoy and learn from it.

    Be well,



    Brad Waldron

    9 November 2022 at 1:55 am

  6. I can see that. I put “Sharpening the Saw” first, as Habit 0, because just reading the book and learning and applying the method is an example of sharpening the saw — but, as you see, grasping that you have a choice to sharpen the saw is Habit 1 in action. As you say, until a person understands that they do have a choice, they cannot deliberately and with aforethought make choices.

    So I agree with you that Habit 1 underlies everything. And Habit 2 follows close behind since Habit directs the choices to be made, and then Habit 3 sets up the mechanism to implement the choices — to translate choices (made in the light of Habit 2) into action.

    I suppose the true home of Habit 7 is as Habit 2a: As you set out your mission statement, it should include a mission of being ready, prepared, and generally able to fulfill one’s choices. That is, Habit 2a will include in the mission taking some time to work on PC, and that is the focus of Habit 7. And once maintaining PC is part of the mission statement, then it is implemented in Habit 3, so that Habit 7 is also, in a sense, a part of Habit 3: regular and routine attention to PC.

    So Habit 7 really doesn’t belong at the end, after Habit 6; nor does it belong before Habit 1, since it requires Habit 1. Habit 7 is part of Habit 2 (choosing which aspects of production capability will be in the design) and Habit 3 (then acting on those choices by making them part of the weekly plan).

    Good point. Thanks for commenting. I don’t think I will put it back at Habit 7, and I understand it doesn’t quite fit at Habit 0, but since those 4 areas of PC are so basic and foundational, I think I’ll leave it as Habit 0 rather than breaking it up into Habits 2 and 3.



    9 November 2022 at 6:06 am

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