The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is originally a book designed to help — you guessed it! — people act more effectively. It applies as much to a work environment as it does to personal life and this is really a book worth reading. It constitues a nice push to gain more control over your life and toward what you want. (I used to be a mess trying to get things done before reading this book! Now, I usually finish anything I start.) What I would like to do here is review those seven habits and see how YOU can use them to learn English more effectively.
Habit 1 — Be Proactive!
Being proactive means acting based on what you want and not merely on what happens to you. It means seeing that you can always do something about what you desire and that you always have a way to maneuver about what happens to you.
Applied to learning English, it means wondering what YOU can do, right now, to make things better. It also means not letting any limiting belief or negativity block your way. For example, is there something you really hate about the language but you know you need? Maybe something about grammar? For example, maybe you do no understand the difference between present perfect and past perfect and you hate working on it because, every time, you have tried to, it did not help. Then be open about it and see that, even though you hate having to do that right now, you can find a way to make it work.
Maybe it is something less theoretical. Maybe you need to form a new habit, for example, to chat with people in English more often. See that even if you may have a hard time finding native speakers or finding the time for it, there is always something you can do. You can move to another country or even just travel to a bigger city in your own country! Or you can chat over the Internet (it is only a couple of clicks away, right?).
There is always something you can do to improve your English, starting right now. You have options. Proactivity is all about realizing that and acting on it.
Habit 2 — Begin with the End in Mind
Why are you doing this in the long-term? I mean, this “English learning” thing, why? Is it for school because you have to? Is it for work because you are having a hard time with the language there? Is it to travel or live abroad? But beyond that, beyond those examples… what is it really for?
You should do things for yourself, based on what you believe in, on what your values are. If you do things for others, because you are forced into it (you need good grades at school; you need to understand documents at work; or you are afraid to have a hard time communicating abroad)… Things just won’t be as much fun and you will not benefit from them quite as much.
So find your reason. Create your mission statement and discover your purpose with the English language. The reason has to be your own and be in alignment with what you want out of life. It will give you some perspective, altitude even, on what and where your English might come in handy. For example, if you are learning English because you think it is fun and because you know you want to see the world, live a rich life… then this is very empowering and makes everything else, English at school, at work, everywhere, much easier. It is also a big support when the going gets tough, because, then, you know WHY you are putting in all the effort.
Beginning with the end in mind is also a good way to give some direction to your learning. Instead of merely learning for learning (grammar, rules, lists…), you start noticing how what you learn can help you (you read an article about one of your hobbies in English; you watch a movie you like without dubbing, you start conversations in English with people who share your dreams…) and start practicing even more. Your goal, your mission, acts as a guiding light.
Habit 3 — Put First Things First
You have chosen to act, you have a vision of where you want to go. Now, where do you start? Putting first things first is about letting priorities sink into place. You know what you want and act accordingly. It is also about saying no. You cannot do everything at the same time. The preceding two habits will help you decide what is the right thing to do, step by step, and this third habit is about actually doing it.
Applied to learning English, this will mean two things. Knowing what is most important to you and knowing what is most useful to you. For example, if you want to go live in New-York because that is where you see yourself living, but you cannot pronounce or understand spoken English at all (while the rest of your English is okay)… then you would know that phonetics is what you need to study and feel confident doing so. You would review all of the American vowels and consonants. In doing so, you would also feel like you are doing the right thing, which is, as simple as it sounds, always a big relief, whenever we want to get things moving forward, especially when they are part of a bigger project.
If you are clearly open about taking responsibility (habit 1) and have built a vision for yourself (habit 2), then putting first things first will be pretty obvious, as you have a clear idea of what it is you want and can do.
Habit 4 — Think Win/Win
Thinking Win/Win means seeing life as a cooperation, rather than a competition. It also means being brave and sensible enough to seek the best outcome for both sides, trying to both be true to your own values and respect others’. To do that requires to believe that there is plenty for everyone, which is called an “abundance mentality” — as opposed to scarcity.
How can we use that to learn English? Well, when meeting people, being able to remain true to yourself while being very open-minded and respectful is obviously an asset. It works as a key to harmonious relationships, which will make socializing easier.
For example, when you go out to meet people who speak English, try to see what you can bring to them, and not just what they can bring to you. At first, of course, you are happy to just practice the language. See, also, what you can bring them in the process, while keeping true to your values. Are you a lot of fun? Do you have interesting things to say? Do you have things in common? Or, on the opposite, do you have a different view on life that can be interesting to share with them?
There is no real confrontation anymore when thinking Win/Win, as your goal becomes for both sides to benefit from the communication. As such, this works as a way to smoothen and enhance relationships.
Habit 5 — Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
We all learn to speak but when did we ever learn to listen? Never. Still, how can communication between two persons be clear and efficient when we are too busy trying to think of the reply, questions and comments we are going to make, while “listening” to someone? Based on those observations, the 5th habit encourages us to listen emphatically to the other person, so as to really get and understand her, see what she sees, feel what she feels. By proceeding in such a way, not only is the communication more meaningful and accurate, we also come up, once we speak, with more adequate and meaningful answers.
How does it work with English as a foreign language? Well, first, being able to hear the person properly, not just her words, but her feelings and vision, is very good practice for our language skills. We become able to understand words deeper than the surface, since we start to understand people instead of mere English words. What is more, as we gain a better understanding of people, bridging the gap between ideas (thoughts and feelings) and words become easier. With a true understanding of human nature, our ideas are clearer and more precise, which reflects in our speech. This is a good first step to thinking in English.
The “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” maxim is analogous to a “diagnose before you prescribe” philosophy. In doing so, we avoid much of the loss that generally occurs in communication, we are much more effective and, most importantly, we are finally closer to truly “getting” others.
Habit 6 — Synergize
To synergize means to work together creatively and to see that there is more value in doing so than people working on their own; that two heads are better — more creative — than one. It means seeing that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, thanks to the value differences bring one another — different angles, new ideas.
When practicing your English, this means seeing that, beyond language, the other person has something interesting to bring you and that the two of you, together, create a unique combination. Seeking to cooperate creatively is a great way to truly get to learn from the other person and — also! — really have a lot of fun. If the both of you value what is going on, your interaction, and are genuine about it, that’s when the magic begins. It is also a fruit of the 5th habit, which worked as a seed.
For example, picture yourself having a lot of fun with people you meet in English, be it at work, going out or whatever the setting. When you bring something to the other person and the other person brings something to you, something starts to happen. You build and grow on each other. This is what makes meeting new people so interesting. It has an impact on your language skills, as illustrated by the fact that friends often use the same expressions. For your English, as you become more able to understand and even expect people’s words, you also get proof that you really got into the language, which is pretty good for your self-esteem and intimacy with English.
In a few words, synergize, “cooperate creatively”, with others because it’s both fun and enriching.
Habit 7 — Sharpen the Saw
Renew yourself. Applied to learning English, it means two things.
First, take some time off once in a while. This is a tricky part as language in general does not really require us to take time off. Language is such a deep part of our nature that it is with us pretty much 24/7 — in our dreams, for example, meanwhile sleep is like the ultimate time off. However, sometimes, we need to give things a rest, so as to be able to come back to them with a fresh mind and renewed enthusiasm. So, quite simply: when you are totally fed up with the language, give it a rest and come back to it a couple of days later. There is an extra trick with languages: if you do not use it, you lose it. (This is even true of our mother tongue.) As such, keep the break to a minimal — no more than a week. Also, see what you are actually growing bored of. Usually, it is studying that is starting to bore you, while practicing is still a lot of fun. So balance the two and keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to practice… not study :-)
Second, look for novelty, try something new! Man is a creature of habits and we need to change those regularly. If you grow a little annoyed with your English, because it seems too repetitive, try different ways to practice. Novelty is one of the greatest pleasures of life and speaking English opens many new doors to you: so go down the yellow brick road and see what is at the end of the rainbow!