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Revisiting the habits of success

Do you remember “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?”

A few decades ago, that book was everywhere. It grounded me in the approaches I used to succeed in positions of responsibility I held at the time. I used it as a reference in dealing with the unrelenting challenges of parenting and step-parenting. I had all the seven habits emblazoned on a T-shirt — that last statement is not true, but reflecting back, I wish I had. I may seek out a T-shirt maker this week.

I recall attending a seminar (seven sessions, of course) taught by a disciple of the book’s author, Stephen Covey. I was utterly and completely smitten. I think it’s fair to say it was life-changing for me. Recently I felt the need for a refresher and found the book is available at no cost on my Kindle — still gets a nearly five-star rating.

Scratch the T-shirt idea. I’ll just carry my Kindle around and be at the ready if anyone asks for a consult or I feel the need to self-evaluate.

The principles and values embedded in this book have been on my mind all week. Maybe I could call what follows the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Aging.” I’m just offering a few habits and not in their original order.

When it comes to aging, “First Things First” seems like the initial consideration. The recommendation is to divide what needs doing into four quadrants. The first quadrant is “urgent and important.” For the aging retiree, that might involve prioritizing a visit to your health provider to discuss an increasingly persistent cough. The second quadrant is “not urgent, but important” (accent on “important”). It’s all about “planning well” so that the two remaining quadrants (“urgent but not important” and “not urgent and not important”) do not consume you in ways that make you a highly ineffective ager. Distractions, particularly frivolous distractions, can totally redirect the aging psyche.

I think the next important habit for the aging person to consider thoughtfully is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” That is hard at any age, but as we age we lose control of things like vision or hearing, and can feel misunderstood and adrift as a result. Maybe we seek to exert control in a new situation and jump into it without listening well first. Covey talks about empathetic and reciprocal listening that creates “an atmosphere of caring and positive problem-solving.”

“Begin with the end in mind” is the final habit of the seven that I am putting out there for your consideration today. Up front clarity on your end game is another way of putting it. I think it involves being specific, such as asking yourself, “How do I want to be remembered?” Or maybe it’s more, “Am I, right now, who I want to be?”

Stephen Covey reminds us, I paraphrase a little, “Do not just act, think first — Is this how I want it to go, and are these the correct consequences along the way?” Another way of putting it is: “Grow and stay humble.”

Sharon Johnson is a retired associate professor emeritus with Oregon State University. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.