scared man 2 by tom lin, creative commons, maggie mcreynolds blog

The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People

If you’re interested in self-improvement, you’ve probably read—or at least heard of—Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s premise is compelling and simple: that people who are productive, happy, engaged, and effective share what he calls “true north” character traits, habits that connect with their inner compasses and keep them aligned with their core, essential selves.

In other words, being happy and effective is a matter of changing your thoughts and behaviors. Even more importantly, you need to practice these new thoughts and behaviors until they’re as “hardwired” into your brain as the negative stuff you’ve been doing to shoot yourself in the foot.

Bringing the negative thoughts and behaviors to a screeching halt isn’t always easy—in part because some of those thoughts and behaviors have been with us for so long they’re practically reflexive; we’re not even aware we’re doing it. There are all kinds of insidiously creative ways we can undermine ourselves and keep ourselves stuck. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • Catastrophizing—going nuclear, predicting outrageously horrible consequences and exaggerated negative effects of any setback or disappointment. (“Oh, God, my kid just got a D in math. He’s probably gonna flunk out, never go to college, and live in my basement until he’s 40. What are we going to dooooooo????”)
  • Personalizing—seeing yourself as the cause of anything and everything that goes wrong. (“The book club disbanded. It’s probably because I missed a couple of meetings. And then there was that cheese dip I brought that gave everyone the runs. Oh, man, it was me and my stupid cheese dip—I just know it!”)
    Thinking in absolutes—all-or-nothing, black-or-white extremism. (“People who show up late to dinner parties are selfish and inconsiderate.”)
  • Overgeneralizing—seeing a single isolated disappointment as part of some overall pattern of inescapable loserdom. (“He didn’t answer my text message. He’s probably getting ready to break up with me. I’m going to end up alone on the streets filching stale cat food from other people’s garbage cans.”)
  • Focusing on the negatives while ignoring the upside. (“It’s so hot here in Mexico. There’s sand in my beach shoes. My sunburn itches. The ice melted in my margarita.”)
  • Isolating yourself in times of stress. (“I’m so depressed, I’d just bring everybody down. I think I’ll just stay home and eat an entire box of Girl Scout cookies.”)
  • Drilling a hole in your bucket—expending all your emotional energy caretaking for others without doing anything to “fill” yourself up. (“Everyone needs me right now. When the kids are in school full-time/when my spouse gets through with the PhD program/when my mom is out of the hospital/when I’m retired, I’ll get back to the gym and start eating more healthfully.”)

We can choose “good” thoughts (you’ll recognize them because just thinking them feels like a relief) that motivate us to take the actions that get the results we want. Or we can choose “bad” thoughts: unproductive, self-defeating thoughts that sabotage us. It all starts with awareness: what are you thinking? What actions are those thoughts creating? What results are you getting?

And the ultimate litmus test of effectiveness: how’s that working out for you?

Photo by Tom Lin, Creative Commons

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