Advice Blog

11 Ways To Become Highly Effective [Part I]

1. In order to change, you have to address your character and not your behavior.

Generally speaking there are two routes to self-improvement and to changing your own life.

One way is addressing the skills necessary for a certain desired behavior; i.e., by studying communication skills or time-management techniques.

Alternatively, you can take the long way round by digging a bit deeper and working on your own character: the fundamental habits and belief systems which form your view of the world.

The first approach is effectively an attempt to take a shortcut to success: becoming rich without working for your money, or achieving personal growth without undergoing any real development.

Yet real personal growth cannot be reached via shortcuts. On the road to true effectiveness, you cannot afford to skip a single step.

This is true for accomplishments such as playing tennis or the piano, and just as true for the emotional development of a person as well as the development of their character.

If you really want to change, you need to work "from the inside out." Only once you’ve drastically changed yourself can you start to change the world around you. If, for example, you would like to have a happy marriage, you must first become a more positive person yourself.

If you want to be seen as a trustworthy person, it is no good working on your communication skills – you have to work instead on actually becoming a more trustworthy person.

Instead of scratching the surface, you have to really address your inner character.

2. Working on character involves aligning personal paradigms with universal principles.

Paradigms are the building blocks of our character. They are our fundamental principles – the glasses through which we see the world.

Our perception is not an objective reality, but rather a subjective interpretation tinted by the paradigm-glasses we wear.

The habits which form a large part of our actions are direct results of those paradigms.

Since they are the core of our character, paradigms are the key to making any change. If we want to change ourselves, we have to change our fundamental principles first. Only in this way can we change our subjective reality, and with it our behavior.

You also need to be conscious of your own paradigms. If you want to overcome ingrained habits, such as procrastination, self-centeredness or impatience, you first have to recognize the fundamental principle which forms this habit.

If you want to achieve true effectiveness, it is useful to align your personal paradigms with larger, universal principles – values such as fairness, honesty and integrity.

Since the majority of people agree upon these principles, we can see them as natural laws of lasting validity, almost as a yardstick by which we can measure our own values.

It is possible to measure all human behavior against these universal principles. The more we are able to align our behavior with them, the more effectively we will be able to integrate into the world around us.

And since our behavior is directly formed by our personal fundamental principles, we can say:

3. “Sharpen the Saw” if you want to keep sawing.

If you spend the whole day sawing away and yet never find time to actually sharpen your saw, you are doing something fundamentally wrong.

Taking care of your most vital resources is crucial if you want to be lastingly effective: these resources are your own workforce.

It is essential to be proactive in this regard, and this applies to all areas of life.

To stay physically fit, you need to take regular exercise, eat healthily and avoid undue stress.

To stay mentally healthy, you should, as far as possible, read plenty of good books, make time for your own writing in some form – be it letters or a diary – and actively plan your future according to your long-term goals.

It is also important to take care of your social/emotional health by forming as many positive relationships as possible and never neglecting your social needs.

Spiritual health also contributes greatly to lasting effectiveness: this can mean praying or meditating, but it can also mean regularly confronting your own norms and values and reflecting actively upon them.

Most importantly, you should consciously make time to recuperate and recharge. Most people claim they could never find time to do this. In the long-term, however, time spent in this way will produce numerous rewards with regard to productivity and well-being.

This way of thinking applies to all those areas of life in which productivity has a role to play: businesses should also think not only of the product they want to produce but also of the well-being of its producers (in this case, their staff).

4. “Be Proactive” and take control of your own fate.

Within each of us exists the basic human need to try to influence the world around us, or, in other words, to be proactive.

This is what distinguishes us from animals: an animal simply acts according to the way it is programmed. An external stimulus triggers a particular reaction. Humans, by contrast, "program" themselves. We are able to reflect in the time between receiving a stimulus and reacting. The ability to "externally" observe ourselves and our actions allows us to actively decide how we react to outside influences.

An extreme example of true proactivity was Viktor Frankl, who was able to maintain control over his own feelings during his time in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He simply decided that he was not going to allow his tormentors to control his innermost feelings.

Many people, by contrast, are not proactive in life, but rather reactive. They react to external circumstances and their behavior and emotions are dependent on what goes on around them. Hence, for example, they can be in a good mood only if the weather is also good.

People who are proactive, on the other hand, determine their own weather. They are propelled by their inner values and they assume responsibility for their own lives. Their personal decisions determine their behavior, and they do not allow it to be affected by external conditions.

This manifests itself most clearly in their use of language: people who are reactive place the responsibility for their fate on external circumstances. They say things like "It wasn’t my fault," or "It’s out of my hands."

Proactive people take control of their own fate: the decisions they took yesterday have made them what they are today. They say things like "I’ve decided to…" or "Let’s try and find a solution to this problem."

5. “Begin with the End in Mind” – if you want to achieve something, you need long-term goals and a mission statement.

Many people work towards meaningless goals. They worry about being efficient rather than effective.

Being efficient, i.e., getting the maximum amount done in the shortest amount of time, is pointless if you don’t know why you’re doing it. Not knowing what’s really important to you and what you’re working towards is like climbing a ladder which is set against the wrong wall.

To avoid this, it is important to first be clear about your long-term goals. To this end, it can be useful to ask yourself the Funeral Questions:

  • What do I want people to say about me at my funeral?
  • As what sort of person do I want to be remembered?
  • For what do I want to be remembered?

A person who is clear about what their major, long-term goals are will be able to align them with everything they do.

It can therefore be useful to come up with a personal mission statement and write it down. In this mission statement, you set down your personal creed: the basic values and principles you believe in, and the larger goals you want to achieve in your life.

The mission statement is your personal constitution, an established standard by which everything else can be measured and valued. Having such a compass gives you a sense of direction and security.

6. In order to attain your goals, you need to visualize the outcome of every action as clearly as possible before doing it.

All actions are in fact carried out twice: firstly when we visualize the action as a mental picture, and then when we actually do it.

The more exact and realistic the mental picture of the action is, the better its execution will be – and, hence, the better the results.

It is therefore important to keep two things in mind at all times:

Firstly, you should always be conscious of your long-term goals, your values and norms, so that you can align all your actions with them. You should always know for exactly which target you’re aiming.

Because if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, you simply become the passive pawn in another person’s game.

Secondly, you should form as concrete a mental picture of what you’re about to do as possible: one which sets out exactly what should be achieved. You should visualize how you’re going to aim your bow so that you hit the bullseye.

This kind of visual anticipation works in all possible situations. Most competitive sportsmen, for example, are well practiced in visualizing how they will leave the starting block, complete a perfect stretch and finish in first place.

The same principle is true for an office. First, you need a clear mental picture, which can then be translated into concrete actions.

And as the saying goes, "Better to ask twice than to lose your way once." It’s much more productive to devote time to anticipating an action and visualizing the desired outcome than just plowing on too hastily.

[To be continued]