One of the most successful and influential self-help books of the last 50 years is Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Published in 1989, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for 220 weeks and has sold over 20 million copies.
In honor of its 29th anniversary, we are going to do a quick review of the seven habits, illustrating them from the perspective of memoir creation.
Habit 1: Be proactive. Take responsibility for your own life. Focus your time and energy on what you can control. Deciding to create a memoir -- a collection of memories about moments or events that took place in your life -- is the ultimate way to embrace your own history. And doing so is well within your control!
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. All things are created twice—first mentally, then physically. Begin each day, task, and project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination. Reflect on what you want to accomplish. Do you want to take a deep dive into just one part of your life? Or focus on two or three highly influential life events or relationships? Having a concentrated purpose makes the task far less daunting.
Habit 3: Put first things first. Knowing what your priorities are and acting accordingly allows you to say NO when necessary. This ties to creating a mindset about the effort of creating your memoir. It’s an effort that shouldn’t be a chore; not something you “have” to do. Think of the time you spend on it as a reward to yourself -- this approach makes the anticipation of your efforts, and the efforts themselves, more enjoyable and less stressful.
Habit 4: Think win-win. Life is not a zero-sum game. There’s enough pie for everyone. You may think that your life is just not interesting or eventful enough to be memorialized. But -- in the spirit of “there’s enough pie for everyone” -- even though your life may not have made headlines, you still have many stories to tell and a history worth preserving.
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Really listen to what the other person is saying; don’t be mentally preparing your response. Do not filter everything you hear through your own frame of reference and experiences. We had to turn this one around a bit to make it applicable to the creation of memoirs. It is true that you have to understand your experiences in order to create a narrative that has value to you and your loved ones. But it’s not other people you are listening to - it's yourself! And a memoir is, by definition, filtered through the narrator's frame of reference.
Habit 6: Synergize. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Interact with people genuinely and be open to their influence. An alternative to the “solo” memoir-creation approach is to seek a better understanding of your significant life events by talking with people close to the events or remembrances your have chosen to document. If that’s a path you choose, be open and candid; after all, you chose that approach (and those people) for a reason! Allow them to help you identify the threads that make up your life’s tapestry.
We’re not even going to try to tie Habit 7 to memoir creation, as it’s just good, solid advice for memoirists and non-memoirists alike: Sharpen the saw. Have a balanced program for self-renewal in all area of your life—physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Preserve and enhance yourself; you are your most valuable asset.