Book: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Author: Stephen Covey

I re-visited Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People (SHHEP) recently thanks to its availability on Prime Reading. I last read this book around 20 years ago, when it was part of my father’s bookshelf. I can’t recall what I took away from the book then. I certainly didn’t finish it. I don’t think it informed my life at all since then. Reading this book now is different. I now expect each book to potentially change my life, to either reinforce my thinking in someway or to challenge it. So when I read, I am interrogating the texts, and not being just a passive receptacle for ideas.

I found most of the ideas here passé, for the lack of a better word. The one thing I found appealing is the focus on personal mission statement. I have been encountering this in other places - Kamal Ravikant, Clayton Christensen, in therapy. All of them have been published in the last decade. None of them referred to Covey and it’s possible they encountered this idea in different ways. Clayton Christensen most definitely picked this idea from Covey, or from the Church of Latter Day Saints, of which both Covey and Christensen were part of.

I am quite sold on the idea that each one of us can determine our own principles and values. This process of picking and revising one’s values is the most important thing one can do, and trying to live a life in accordance with these self-chosen values imbues a life with meaning. Few other things can match the satisfaction of living a life in pursuit of your values. Covey says that his encounter with Victor Frankl was the impetus for the philosophy he presents in SHHEP. While admitting that picking ones values is hard, he presents a process that he claims worked for him and others he coached in surfacing these values. This is by introspecting on the duties each one has - towards family, towards oneself, to one’s friend, to one’s employees and so on. I find this appealing. I suspect that is because it maps nicely to my understanding of swadharma, the Hindu concept of individual duty, famously articulated in the Gita. While traditional commentators sometimes reduced that to the constraints on one’s behavior thanks to the varna one is born into, plenty of others re-interpret it in terms of duty to society and family (Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Gandhi etc). Both traditional and modern commentators assert that the values for those in the Hindu fold should be the purusharthas (literally, object of human pursuit). This is artha (wealth), kama (love), dharma (virtue) and moksha (enlightenment). Most of the Hindu texts, in Sanskrit and the vernacular (for example, Thirukural), approach life through the above lens.

Covey makes the claim that principles are universal, while values are personal. I will probably be pushing it if I were to compare this with the concept of Sāmānya-dharma (general values) versus Viśeṣa-dharma (literally, perculiar duty. eg. varnashradharma). Given all that, no wonder I am predisposed to find Covey’s personal mission statement strategy appealing. It is also probably effective, considering that similar strategies are used in therapy.