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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guess What Stephen Covey Suggests?
Okay, I hate to beat a point home, but I've gotta take this one on. Last week, I wrote about visualizing your funeral, one of the first excercises to develop Stephen Covey's Habit #2 of Highly Effective People.

After you do that, he's got another "little" exercise -writing a mission statement for your life. For your life, people. Or for your corporation, if you're a honcho. Or for your family. A mission statement is something like a personal constitution, laying out your ground rules for a PC life. (Remember, that's principle-centered, not politically correct.) It's a bit challenging, to say the least, which is why I'm on page 144 of the book, and I've only gotten through two habits.

There's a lot of humdededumdee and howdydo in this chapter about proper principles and so on, and many examples of fine mission statements written by people who have a lot of time and ability to think deep thoughts. (This book came out in the mid-nineties, by the way, when we apparently were able to think a little more deeply and a little more linearly than we are now, in these multi-tasking days.)

I won't bore you with the mission statement details. At least not today. Because my attention was caught by this subsection: Visualization and Affirmation.

Yes, my tens of readers, affirmation and visualization.  As in using positive language and imagery to imagnine attaining your goals. Where have I read this before?  Where have I not read this in my exhaustive scan of the success literature?

Now, Mr. Covey is clear that there's a big difference between his use of affirmations and its use by  other self-helpers. They buy into the "Personality Ethic" of transformation, while he espouses the "Character Ethic."

Personality Ethic types are "outside in" believers, like Dale Carnegie.* You act like you wanna feel, and soon you get yourself into the habit.

Character Ethic types are--well, Mr. Covey puts himself into a different class than everyone else. Of course he does, because he's deeply invested in his point of view--and he has some books to sell and speeches to make for which he wants some compensation.  But anyhoo, his idea is to change yourself from the inside-out.  Working from your principles.

And here we run into our little overlap. So he suggests engaging your creativity in figuring out your deepest principles and how to put them into words.

And he suggests using affirmations. His are different--of course they are (!)  But they are still affirmations. A good affirmation contains 5 components: it's personal; it's positive; it's present tense; it's visual; and it's emotional.

So here's the thing. While Covey says that affirmations are a very strong and useful tool for transformation when used to "become more congruent with my deeper values in my daily life," and while he suggests than anyone who uses affirmations for the crude and valueless purpose of attaining riches is misusing them, he doesn't say it doesn't work to use affirmations and visualization to do so. He just suggests his readers would be above using positive visualization and affirmations to accrue said riches.
A nod to my former stompin' grounds via

And then I checked my Twitter feed and found this article from It's about research "testing the mettle of self-help platitudes." Apparently positive visualization can actually trick your brain into thinking you've succeeded, causing you to relax, and your ambition to abate.  Which is a bummer,  because it says right out that "the more pressing the need to succeed, the more deflating positive visualization becomes." Not only that, but it makes you less energetic, at a time when you need energy to fuel your ambition. You'd in fact be just as well off daydreaming.

But fear not, my tens of readers! There is a plus side here. Positive visualization works wonders for relaxing you and calming you down. So you don't have to feel so sucky about your failures.

There is also a caveat. Yes, really! The researchers says that "critical evaluation" may do the trick. Instead of visualizing the moment you win the Noble Prize, for example, visualize problems you may encounter along the way and visualize overcoming them.

And now I have to admit that that is exactly (okay, not exactly, but similar to) what Mr. Covey says. Use your affirmation, which you've crafted with care, and then visualize situations where you might need help. Like dealing with a difficult child. Or a troubling situation at work.

Or turning down those vats of money that you ordered up in your previous, poorly-chosen affirmations.

* See, now Buddha was a bit of an "outside in" kind of guy. He suggested that if you're feeling blue, try smiling, because the act of moving your muscles into the smile will remind your brain about those happier emotions connected with smiling. And research has born this out. And anyway, who is going to impugn Buddha? He knew a thing or two.

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