How can I get a book full of good ideas to change my behavior?

Answer: Try these ideas:

Step 1. When you’ve finished reading the book,  skim through it again, searching for up to 20  key ideas you’d like to incorporate  into your life.

For example, here are the 20 key ideas from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that I’d like to incorporate into my life:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win/win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Spend one hour/day sharpening the saw
  8. Watch the P/PC balance
  9. Make deposits into emotional bank account
  10. Focus on my circle of influence
  11. Use the  space between stimulus and response
  12. Develop a strong inner core of guiding principles
  13. Love is a doing word
  14. Trigger upward spirals
  15. Explore interdependence
  16. Keep promise to self and others
  17. Write and follow personal mission statement
  18. Do Quadrant 2 (important but not urgent) things
  19. Adopt abundance mentality
  20. Value the differences

(Note: Because I read the book carefully, these seemingly vague abstractions are rich in meaning for me now. Therefore, I only need to use a few words  to remind myself of these content-rich ideas.)

Step 2. Now memorize your list.

Once you’ve finished reading a book, you’ll probably not look at it again for a long, long time, if at all.  If these 20 key ideas are going to have any chance of changing your behavior, you’re going to have to plant them safely into your long-term memory.  If you can’t remember what they are, they can’t change your life!

What is the best way to memorize these 20 key ideas? Rote-learn them! Test yourself each day, maybe even test yourself several times a day to start with. It only takes a couple of minutes to whizz through 20 items in your mind.

Identify the items you usually forget and spend extra time learning these. Use whatever rote-learning methods work  for you.  I find the  peg method works brilliantly for me  in this instance. This is how I do it:

  1. For each letter of the alphabet, I think of a person I know well whose name begins with that letter.  For instance:
    A = Alice
    B = Bruce
    C = Christian
    D = Dad
    E = Eleanor, etc
  2. Each of my 20 key ideas gets paired to the  person corresponding to the idea’s number ranking (e.g. idea 1 gets A=Alice).   I form a rich mental picture in my mind that somehow combines each idea to its person.

    For instance, the idea “Be proactive” gets paired with Alice.  I form a rich mental picture of my daughter Alice being very proactive in lots of ways. (This one’s easy as Alice is naturally proactive.)

    Similarly, the next idea “Begin with end in mind” gets Bruce, my Father-in-Law. Bruce is prone to being pessimistic so I imagine him coming up with  gloomy, bad endings to everything.The idea “First things first” gets paired  with Christian.

    Christian travels a lot so would be often packing his suitcase; I imagine him putting the  most important things in his case first… and so on.

    To recall my 20 key ideas, I simply recall each person and wait to see what image flashes into my mind.  If all goes well,  I will see Alice being amazingly proactive and Bruce imagining bad endings and Christian putting important things into his suitcase first. And then it’s an easy step from that recalled image to the actual key idea  represented by that image.

    This peg technique is fun, easy to do  and almost miraculous is its effectiveness. It’s so much easier than trying to drag 20 unrelated items out of my memory randomly. I’ve tried that enough times, and it hurts!

Step 3. There are lots more steps to getting good ideas in a book to change our lives forever. I’ll talk about those ideas  soon.

How can I create habits that will help me be successful?

Answer: Identify the key success-generating habits you wish to establish, remind yourself of these habits at the start of each day, and review your progress at the end of each day.

Stephen Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ( p 147), offers these two questions to help you identify your key success-generating habits:

Q1: What one thing could you do (you aren’t doing now) that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?

Q2: What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

Print off these two questions and your answers and place somewhere prominent such as on the wall in front of your desk.  At the start of each day, read these questions and your answers to keep these habits in the your mind during the day.

Then, at the end of each day,  review the things you did during the day to strengthen these habits.

Here’s a worked example:

Step 1: Answer these two questions:

Q 1: What one thing could I do that I’m not doing now that if I did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in my personal life?

A 1: Try hard to accurately understand and “feel” others.

Q2: What one thing in my work life would bring similar results?

A1: Create my website just  the way I have envisioned it in my mind.

Step 2: Type up  the questions and my answers and place on the wall in front of my work desk.

Step 3: Create two new goals on my daily goal-tracker program:

  1. Into the breakfast routine category:  “Read  Q & A habit printout.”
  2. Into the end-of-day routine category: “Review habit progress for the day.”

I use my goal-tracker program every day. Once I’ve included these habit goals onto my goal-tracker, I won’t have to worry about remembering to do them.

Step 4:  At the start of each day, read the Q & A printout to keep these sought-after habits prominent in my mind during the day.

Step 5: At the end of each day, answer these two review questions:

Q 1:  What specific things did I do today to “try  hard to deeply understand and “feel” other people”?

A 1:  I listened very attentively to Mary when she was telling me about her problem with her son. I successfully resisted jumping in offering my advice, but instead  practised some awesome empathy (for me!). Afterwards I tried hard seeing things from her perspective, even though it was hard for me to understand why she reacted the way she did. I thought of a better way I could have said something during the conversation ( re-scripting).

Q  2: What specific things did I do today to  “create my website just the way I have envisioned it in my mind”?

A  2: I wrote up two more articles, I wrote down a couple of clever ideas that perhaps I can ask the web designer to create for me, and I proof-read and edited three old articles.

Have a go!

To create a habit, we need focus, monitoring and lots of repetition. That’s what this strategy offers.  Why not give it a go for 30 ticks on the goal tracker and see what happens?