Why the 7 Habits, though?

To understand why the 7 Habits was such a powerful book, you need some life context. I’ll share some of that in this post.

Side note: Happy to report that I finally finished the book!

I felt like the path ahead was very clear for most of my life, primarily through my early 30s. Maybe you had a similar experience. There’s never any question of what’s next. 1st grade is followed by 2nd grade, which is followed by 3rd grade, and so on. I was surrounded by friends who had the same paths and similar experiences. Once the involuntary and sometimes voluntary academic path was done (for me, after graduate school), things became less clear. 

Many of my peers, especially the straight ones, had children and were married. As a not-quite-closeted but not-quite-open gay man struggling with my sexual identity, I didn’t have examples to follow because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to become. Seemed like most gay guys were in and out of relationships, and I was squarely in the pack. After achieving critical personal and professional milestones: getting my graduate degree, moving to DC, finding another job in DC, and starting a relationship, I had a really crushing blow of depression.

Looking back, I believe this was brought on by the realization that I had everything I wanted, but I was still unhappy. This realization hurt my soul. I think it hurt my spirit so much that it hurt my body, as well. I thought something was wrong with me. I thought I was a flawed, ungrateful human. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was probably the best thing to happen to me in a while – especially if I’d known what to do with it. So instead, I trudged through life on a constant search for happiness through work, travel, friendships, socializing, shopping – but none of it – NONE OF IT – filled the hole I felt inside. 

What was I to have done with that feeling? Well, I guess that’s a tricky question to answer because, at the time, I didn’t know. I just have to have grace for the younger version of myself. But, to answer the question, I think I was supposed to turn towards that feeling instead of away from it. Leaning into the feeling (which ultimately meant addressing the meaning and purpose of my life) later was – and still is – incredibly painful at times. But I’ll discuss my version of “leaning in” not to be confused with Sandberg’s “Lean In” in another post, perhaps. 

Enter 7 Habits. 

I started learning about 7 Habits in the middle of this meltdown. I felt like my life didn’t have direction. It was becoming evident that all of my best and worst decisions led me to exactly where I was at that moment. I looked around and saw that the only problems left were big ones, and I was the common denominator among them. So I figured that at some point, I needed to change before I wasted my life away, floating through life directionless and purposeless. I’d read a lot of self-help over the years, but 7 Habits really penetrated in a way the other books hadn’t. It showed me that I could choose to take responsibility for my life. I could figure out what was important to me, the values I held, and most importantly, the principles I wanted to follow – even if I wasn’t following them. 

I started “Habit 1 – Be Proactive,” which basically says to the directionless, “you are the cartographer.” Next, “Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind,” says, “draw the map.” “Habit Three – Put First Things First” effectively instructs you to leave the house and start using your map. At the time, these three steps and a handful of other concepts in the book BLEW. MY. MIND. Simple to understand, but boooooooooy are they hard to implement. I started doing the exercises Covey recommended, and I lost interest when it got uncomfortable. Sometimes I lost interest because there was another shiny penny that had my interest. And then I’d be like, “oh yeah, the book said this would happen if I wasn’t principle-centered.” And then I’d pick it up again. And again. And again.  

All-in-all, what attracted me the book the most was that the first three habits focus on determining what you want your life to be. It focuses on building a principle-centered life. This is powerful because a principle-centered life is unchanging throughout the almost constant stream of changes we experience in life. I still have a hard time knowing what Bruce wants, what Bruce likes, and what makes Bruce happy. 

At different points in my people-pleasing life, I did whatever people wanted me to do, and I never got a confident voice of my own. As a child, mom was always right. In school, teachers were always right. Sometimes my friends were right. Sometimes my boyfriend was right. Sometimes, often, my boss was right. So I was running around looking for strength, validation, acceptance, assurance, and love from the people and things in my life. But they couldn’t provide what I needed because I had to go on my own journey – and I’m definitely more of a destination person. The first third of the book had planted a seed that would sprout whenever it sprouted. 

It’s sprouting now. 

My Journey through 7 Habits

So much has happened in the past seven days that I have a lot to choose from. That said, I’ll keep this brief. In addition to the items I listed last week, another idea I have for my blog is to write about how the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (7 Habits) by Stephen Covey planted seeds that are starting to germinate. 

I first learned about 7 Habits in 2013. I was working at a community college and my boss wanted me to become certified to teach the course to faculty members and staff. I wasn’t familiar with the concepts, though, so I thought it would be a good idea to read the book. Right away, the poignancy and clarity of the book cut through a lot of positive self-help texts I’d read before. I’m an avid reader and the more I read, the less I’m impressed or moved by a book – especially nonfiction. Even if it moves me in the moment, after I’ve finished the book it loses some of its draw. 

But I really wanted to finish this book. And I think I’ve started it at least half a dozen times. Sometimes I’ve done the exercises. But I normally put it down and don’t finish. Well, I wanted to do something different this time and actually finish, and listening to the audiobook seemed to do the trick. I’m about 90% done with the text and I’m very proud of myself for almost finishing. 

Fudge…it’s happening again

If I may quote myself from about a month ago…

“I did not want to start a blog and have random, unrelated posts. I certainly didn’t intend to talk about my feelings. I didn’t want a sappy, self-absorbed blog that flagrantly displayed my neurosis and emotional instability.”

(I’ll come back to this).

I wanted to mark my return to blogging by making one blog post a week. I would commit to one post a week but I had a desire to post twice or thrice weekly. I’ve been trying to develop a system that allows me to do this. I considered taking 1-2 days to write and one more day to post. But I haven’t been committed to taking the time during the week to write. My weekly deadline is Sunday evening, but last week I posted on Monday and this week I may not post this message until Thursday. I’m already slipping away from my goal and I JUST started blogging again. This makes me afraid I’m in danger of retreating back to not posting at all. 

I think part of the problem is that the Sunday deadline looms over my head. Throughout the week, I think about the topic I want to land on and I try to plan when I’ll have time to write. But as the week progresses and the content doesn’t materialize, I start to get worried that I won’t make the deadline. I have thoughts like:

  • I don’t have enough content for a blog post
  • I didn’t complete the research I needed for this post
  • I should post what I have on Twitter
  • I don’t have enough time to really do a good post

I start procrastinating and worrying and getting stressed out – which is not an ideal place for me to be if I need to write. 

In addition to the procrastination factor, I also struggle with settling on a topic. Some of the things I’d like to write about include:

  • An analysis of the 48 Laws of Power
  • Lessons from my sleep Master Class
  • Analysis of Harvard Business Review Articles
  • Usage of short stories to cover ideas and concepts I’m interested in 

My principal reason for starting a blog, and a podcast, and another blog, and another podcast, and now another blog, is so that I can share the lessons I learned with the world. Not because the lessons are profound, but because I need a place to document them and if I can help someone else in the process it’s a win-win. I want to write in a way that is compelling and that helps me connect with other human beings. But as much as I want to write about what happens during non-REM sleep, there are other, bigger issues that I struggle with everyday, right now. Things like: 

  • I have a problem with picking my skin – mostly my feet, but I pick my cuticles, too. It’s a self-soothing behavior that has gone wild. 
  • How to approach sexuality as an adult – I’m about 70% sure I’m not going to hell because I’m gay (took me a long time to get to 70%), but what does that actually mean for sex? Every type of sex I’ve had – straight premarital sex, gay sex, anonymous sex – or even sex I’ve wanted to have I feel like God or society tells me it’s wrong
  • Debt – I’ve had it for all of my adult life and I’m at a point now that I think I’ll die with it. I’ve accepted it because it doesn’t seem like I can do anything about it. And that seems depressing when I say it out loud. 
  • How to handle friendships that might not be healthy but that I’m afraid to let them go because I’m afraid I’ll be lonely and I won’t be able to find new friends. 

There’s an aspirational part of me that wants to share “smart” stuff but I feel like I need to write about the stuff that’s really bothering me. It’s definitely easier to connect when I’m being authentic. 

To facilitate this, I decided to explore the art of storytelling to better share my concepts with all of you. I think there’s a way to tie in concepts I’ve learned in a book to something I’m experiencing in my life. Instead of focusing on creating the perfect content that’s interesting, I want to tell my story. I want to find a way to integrate the content into a larger narrative about my life and how I manage it. I have to crawl before I can walk but I want to start practicing. 

I am disgusted by the thought of giving this up again. It’ll feel like I’m giving up on myself, and I don’t want to do that. It’s time to get back on the horse. 

Becoming a Sleep Evangelist

I have struggled with maintaining a consistent sleep schedule for at least the last 10 years, maybe more. My biggest problem is that I don’t want to go to bed when it’s time for bed. Sometimes I’m not sleepy, but other times I just don’t want to go to bed. I want to “relax”, e.g. watch YouTube videos, plan workouts, make to-do lists. It’s especially difficult when I live alone. I don’t have anyone to suggest I go to sleep and I don’t have a model to follow. 

Why is this important to me? I notice that when I sleep well, my mood is better, I have a brighter outlook on life, I seem to have more discipline and self-control, I think I have better ideas, and I rebound from negative and/or unpleasant experiences faster than if I was sleepy. When I’m sleepy, I’m moody, constantly hungry, lawless, and mopey. It’s amazing that there can be such stark contrasts between a good night sleep and a bad night of sleep.

In my most recent attempt at trying to improve my sleep, I enrolled in a Master Class held by Matthew Walker, author of “Why We Sleep” and Professor of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley. There’s probably some research to support this, but anecdotally I feel that I retain concepts better when I write about them. Because I really want to get this sleep thing down, I figure I should write about it.

I can become a Sleep Evangelist. 

My main takeaway so far (I’m about a third of way through the course) is that sleep runs on a cycle, and the cycle runs on a 24-hour clock. This clock runs irrespective of our own adherence to a sleep schedule. It is baked into our bodies; it is very literally in our DNA.  There are really some cool (and important!) things happening if we let our bodies do what they crave, which is to sleep soundly every night.

No one’s able to do anything perfectly, so this isn’t about obsessing over sleep. I’m sharing this info purely to gain a new appreciation of the role sleep plays in our health. After I (and you) learn about sleep, it’s up to us how much we apply what we’ve learned. I’m committed to sticking with it this time around. I want the health benefits that accumulate after consistent nights of good sleep. 

Almost One Year Later…

A couple days ago, I received a notification that my mail would no longer be forwarded, as the year-long forwarding service was ending. I was sort of surprised that a whole year [almost] has gone by, a year which had so many changes. I broke up with my partner after one month shy of 7 years last October. That same week, I started a new job and I moved to my own apartment. It was an incredible amount of change all at once and I was very disoriented because of it. 

Almost one year later, I’m dating someone new, my job continues to evolve, and I’m preparing to move again. My life has moved so fast that it feels like I didn’t have time to process and learn from everything that has happened. It’s as if I keep starting new chapters without ending the previous one. I end up with several chapters progressing simultaneously. Is this a normal part of life? 

One of the things that’s bothered me the most is the guilt and remorse I feel from my last relationship. As I have more time to reflect on it, I don’t feel like I was a good boyfriend. And I feel like my new boyfriend is meeting a much better version of me that I didn’t give to my ex. I think I should acknowledge that I brought some good things to my last relationship but it’s the bad things that I remember the most.