The 7 Habits of Highly Healthy People

March 23rd, 2009

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen CoveyThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is an extremely popular book that has inspired many people’s lives. While it’s primarily about personal development and productivity, the fundamental concepts also apply extremely well to improving your health and well being.

Much of what we appreciate most in life we produce ourselves. As such, our capability to produce is a key factor in the value we experience from life. By improving our capability to produce what we appreciate most, we increase the satisfaction and fulfillment that we experience. This is the nature of being highly effective and is the focus of the 7 habits.

An Inside-Out Approach

Most of our accomplishments originate from within. While our interaction with others plays a significant role, it’s our own mentality that is the foundation and driving force of what we create. To effectively interact with others in a way that brings us closer to our aspirations, it’s absolutely essential to be effective with ourselves first. As such, the first three habits are about mastering yourself, and the following three habits build on this mastery to develop more productive interaction with others.

The following is an overview of each habit and it’s importance in helping you achieve better health.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Following each stimulus that we’re exposed to, there’s a brief moment where we have the unique human ability to choose our response. Unfortunately, we’ve all been conditioned throughout our lives to react in certain ways to certain stimuli, and by doing so, we give up our precious ability to choose the outcome.

For example, most of us are conditioned to get angry when responded to in an inflammatory manner. Instead of succumbing to this conditioned reaction, we can choose to not let it bother us, or even better, we can choose to understand and alleviate the tension. Wisely chosen responses bring us closer to our goals and have the power to increase the boundaries of what we can control. In contrast, poorly chosen responses, or responses that are merely thoughtless reactions, are likely to bring negative consequences and shrink our scope of influence.

Being Proactive with Your Health

Poor health and disease are at an all time high and many of us have become conditioned to accept this as a normal part of aging. As I did for many years, many people accept the burden of their poor health and the compromised quality of life that comes along with it. This is an unfortunate example of a conditioned reaction.

Instead of accepting poor health as your fate, be proactive by challenging the notion that you’re a helpless victim and by doing everything you can to take responsibility for your health and implement a healthier lifestyle.

I spent over a decade pushing through life exhausted and frustrated. Once I finally stopped considering this to be normal, I became determined to improve my health rather than feeling sorry for myself and embracing a victim mentality. I’m now living a significantly better life as a result.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Whether it’s about the experiences and fulfillment of life on a grand scale, or something small that you want to accomplish in the next month, few people take the time to reflect in detail on what it is that they’re looking to achieve. Without a thorough vision of what you’re after, it will be very difficult to make it happen.

Your achievements are the culmination of the many small decisions you make every day. Having a clear understanding of your goals allows you to make smarter decisions that are more supportive of achieving them.

Beginning with Your Health in Mind

The level of heath you experience in your old age will be a direct result of your daily habits up until that point. If you want to enjoy optimal health in your old age and be physically active, mentally sharp and full of energy, then the decisions you make today and every day after must be heavily influenced by this. Even those who live long lives despite many years of unhealthy habits often admit to wishing that they took better care of themselves.

The development of disease and poor health is a slow and gradual process. While you may not feel as if your health is compromised, your daily habits may still be promoting disease, and if they are, they’ll eventually catch up with you. It can be extremely difficult to reverse the damage caused by many years of unhealthy habits, and this is why the lifestyle you live today should be strongly influenced by the health you hope to enjoy many years from now.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

There’s only so much time in a single day and if you don’t manage it wisely, many of the things you hope to accomplish will never get done. Once you’ve mastered the first two habits by committing yourself to action and acknowledging your goals, you must then have the understanding and discipline to identify and prioritize the actions that will help you achieve them. Without this, you’ll end up wasting time on frivolous activities and your goals will become much harder to achieve.

Putting Your Health First

Certain aspects of living a healthy lifestyle can be restrictive, time consuming, and just plain difficult. If you try to follow a lifestyle that is too restrictive and complicated, you’ll become burnt out and frustrated, and you’ll probably return to your old unhealthy habits. To prevent this, it’s important to invest your time and effort wisely by focusing on the aspects of a healthier lifestyle that have the most potential to improve your particular scenario. While excellent health often requires strong dedication, the last thing you want is to burn yourself out by taking on too much and end up doing nothing.

Although the human body has a limited capacity for unhealthy activities, we all need to embrace them on occasion to maintain our happiness. As such, it’s important to make smart choices and only choose the activities that provide enough emotional value to justify the impact they have on our health. For example, occasionally staying up late to socialize with friends can lift your spirits and keep you motivated to stay healthy, but staying up late to watch television simply because you don’t have work the next day is nothing but a waste of time that will undermine your efforts for better health.

Growing Outward

While the first three habits inspire development from within, the next three build effectiveness through interaction with others. Once you’ve become independently effective at progressing towards your goals, being able to keep your interactions productive and positive can add a new dimension to your progress and fulfillment.

Our relationships with others provide some of the most significant and meaningful experiences in life. Trust is generally what keeps such relationships strong and is built from commitment and good character. The analogy of an emotional bank account represents the balance of trust that we maintain with someone based on the positive and negative interactions we have with them. The next three habits are about building and maintaining a positive trust balance in your emotional bank account with deposits of trustworthy and thoughtful actions.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

We’re all naturally motivated by personal gain. As such, a problem or challenge that affects others is best resolved through a solution that benefits everyone involved.

Some people only care about their own gain and pay little attention to the effects that their decisions have on others. These people are unknowingly limiting themselves because it’s far more difficult to achieve goals without the help and support of others. In some cases, it can even be impossible. The inevitable time will come when they need assistance, but because they impose on the people around them and fail to acknowledge the need for mutually beneficial conditions, they’ll be unlikely to get it.

In contrast, some people pay too much attention to the welfare of others by sacrificing their own wants and needs to provide benefit to the people around them. While this may cultivate plenty of support from others, it’s a major distraction from the actions that are required to meet their goals.

Rather than compromising on your own values or those of the people around you, the best solution is to make an additional effort to identify a creative course of action that will benefit everyone involved.

Making Your Health a Win/Win Situation

With the many distracting and negative influences of modern society, it often requires a lot of discipline and motivation to achieve and maintain excellent health. Having the support of the people around you makes it significantly easier. In the same regard, if you allow your healthy lifestyle to impose on the lives of others, you’ll likely run into resistance that makes your pursuit of health more difficult.

As your family members tend to be your most important relationships and have the most significant potential for providing support, this concept especially applies at home. Better health is an obvious win for yourself, but your effort to achieve it may be a burden on your family. However, if you handle the situation intelligently, your ambition for better health has the potential to be a big win for your family as well.

For example, your healthy lifestyle may be adding to your spouse’s cooking responsibility and will make you less likely to participate in some unhealthy activities that your family may enjoy. However, by increasing your energy and improving your mood, better health will make you more enjoyable to be around and perhaps more motivated to assist your family members with their own challenges. If you help them realize how they’ll benefit from your healthier lifestyle, they’ll be more likely to support it instead of resisting it.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Stubbornness is one of the quickest ways to frustrate other people and deteriorate a relationship, and it certainly isn’t conducive to earning support. I know this first hand because stubbornness is sometimes a weakness for me and this is the habit I’ve had to put the most work into.

When someone opposes an opinion that you hold strongly, it’s often a natural reaction to push your opinion harder. This is often met with further opposition and can cause a downward spiral that leads to an ugly argument or even a damaged relationship. The only way to avoid this situation and turn it into a productive conversation is to make an emphatic effort to understand the opposing point of view before arguing against it. In many cases, you’ll either find that the opposition was based on a misunderstanding, or you’ll learn something new.

The fact that we all can have differing opinions helps to advance society and make life more interesting. However, it also means that there will always be some opinions that we’ll always disagree with. This is completely acceptable as long as you make an earnest effort to understand and relate to the opposing opinion and come to civil and respectful agreement to disagree.

Seeking First to Understand Better Health

In pursuit of better health, you’ll come across many contradictory opinions and suggestions, even from the doctors and health professionals that you may be working with. There’s still a great deal of understanding we have yet to gain about the amazingly complex function of the human body. This uncertainty is what allows for the many conflicting opinions, and the profit based motivations of big business tend to make it even worse. Because of these factors, health related opinions tend to be held with great passion, and as such, it greatly increases the need for effective and considerate communication.

To acquire the knowledge you’ll need to improve your health, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to learn from others. To get the most out of these learning opportunities, and to maintain your welcome to continue learning from the same people, it’s essential that you make a strong effort to understand the information given to you before questioning it.

As I mentioned earlier, living a healthy lifestyle can be a burden on the people around you. It’s important that you give your family and the rest of your support network the opportunity to be understood. If something you’re doing to improve your health is imposing on the people around you, it’s best to fully understand the problem from their perspective rather than forcefully declaring your needs. You may learn that you’re imposing on them more than you realized, and you may also gain the insight for a better solution that will benefit everyone involved.

Habit 6: Synergize

Synergy is often a result of the previous two habits. When all parties are focused on a solution that will benefit everyone involved, and when they’re all dedicated to thoroughly understanding various opinions, the result is usually a series of creative possibilities and opportunities that would have never been conceived independently.

Synergizing Your Health

Given the complexity of the human body and the vast amount of knowledge we still have yet to learn, many health conditions are seemingly impossible to resolve. The answers to such difficult challenges usually comes from the incredible amount of creativity that results from synergy. By keeping the motives, interests and opinions of others in mind, conversations about your health ambitions will be more likely to generate new ideas and opportunities to further improve your well being.

While it’s important to promote synergy with the health care professionals that you seek advice from, it’s equally important to promote it with your family and friends as well. By effectively communicating your ambition for better health, you may inspire them to improve their health along with you. Once your family and friends share your goals, you’ll all be able to help solve each other’s problems, and from this process, learn more about achieving good health. If the resulting synergy is put to good use, you’ll experience further improvements to your health, and so will everyone else involved.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Being effective is being able to make intentional progress towards an established objective. The previous six habits provide the tools you need to promote balance and development within the physical, spiritual, mental and social aspects of your life, and in turn, become a more complete and effective person. Sharpening the saw is about continuing your growth by maintaining this balance.

By their inherent nature, these 4 aspects of life are already an integral part of excellent health and well being. Keeping the physical function of our body in optimal condition is the foundation of what allows us to experience life. Being spiritually at ease by having a firm grasp on our values and inspirations allows us to guide our lives in the direction of what we wish to experience. Staying mentally sharp and expanding our knowledge increases our ability to understand and recognize our spirituality and to keep our lives on track with the direction it provides. Finally, social interaction is one of the most satisfying aspects of life, and in conjunction with the other 3 aspects, completes our existence, provides fulfillment, and in turn, promotes better health.

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