Keep it together

by Mariejean Li

Successful families value principles

Stephen R Covey, author of internationally acclaimed bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Photo: Wallace Chan

In a hectic society like Hong Kong, keeping a balanced lifestyle is often easier said than done. This is especially true for parents who must maintain a healthy and happy home for their families while coping with everyday challenges.

One of TIME Magazine's 25 most influential Americans, an expert in the field of people and family development, and the best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen Covey recently visited Hong Kong to deliver a lecture series co-organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Education and the Right Management Hong Kong Limited.

During the seminar Dr Covey offered a different approach to resolving challenges within the family. He told attendees that miscommunication and misinterpretation are often the culprits that lead to the destruction of families by bringing unnecessary arguments and drama into the home. However, keeping silent, ignoring the issues and turning to violence are not the ways to tackle these challenges. Instead, people should go directly to the core issues at hand and resolve them there.

Build good habits

He noted that people are naturally creatures of habit and therefore shaping and practising positive behaviours governed by principles will help to build good habits — the key to a successful family. "Behaviour is governed by values and consequences are governed by principles," Dr Covey said.

When it comes to people not having enough time for everything, such as busy parents trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance while working over 60 hours a week, Dr Covey stressed that it all comes down to time management. He said, "No one person has more time than anybody else as we all have the same amount of time. It's how you choose to use the time you've got that makes the difference." His strategy is to be selective: not saying no to doing things that are urgent but prioritising. "When you prioritise you see how much more time there really is," he added.

Many years ago Dr Covey stumbled on a short passage in a book that influenced his entire life and the way he communicates with the world. The idea was as simple as it was sublime. It was that there is a space between any stimulus and the response to it, and the key to a person's growth and happiness is how he or she uses that space. Each person ultimately has the freedom to choose and every decision made will shape the current outcome and eventually his or her overall future.

Dr Covey explained to the seminar-goers that this principle can also be applied to families who are experiencing communication problems and struggling to stay together.

He encourages all families to become more aware of their decision making and to live by choosing to help and understand one another, thus relieving pressure and creating harmony within the family.

He noted that family members get into arguments with each other solely based on their capacity to perceive different things, and if they are able to find a way to build a mutual understanding of each other's differences without blaming one another, they can experience a more harmonious and healthier lifestyle.

Family ties

According to Dr Covey, one simple but effective way for families to strengthen their bond is by creating a family mission statement. This is done by combining, exploring and expressing each member's input over a period of weeks or months, making adjustments as needed, in order to get an understanding of what the family is all about.

With proper planning and assessment, a unified statement of principles can then be used to govern and improve the family's life.

Dr Covey said for this to be effective, families should follow a three-step process:

1. Exploring what the family is all about
2. Writing the actual family statement
3. Sticking to what has been agreed upon

Other tips include listening carefully to and restating accurately what others say, recording and writing down every thought, suggestion and idea, and being patient, taking enough time to gather everyone's input.

Within the three-step process, five elements are used for support in carrying out the mission statement.

First, family members are encouraged to think about what characteristics they desire in a home, such as whether they want it to be nurturing, caring or fun. "Successful families practise making a commitment to, staying in touch with, and helping each other, and they also encourage, appreciate and support one another," Dr Covey said.

Second, family members should think about their desired effects on each other and whether or not they should be more independent or dependent, balancing out any inconsistencies. He remarked, "Family members are urged to get together and collectively solve problems as they arise. Use the family's strengths and resources to help other families that are less fortunate. Help each other to discover your voice by looking at your needs, conscience, passion and talents to find that unique contribution."

Third, they are urged to find a meaningful purpose for their lives, usually done by putting effort into being useful and helpful to others. A good example is becoming leaders who contribute to the family and to the outside community.

Fourth, family members should identify the source of the power and principles that they live by, such as love, integrity and service. "By applying the right principles in decision making and living, every family has the ability to achieve a quality life," Dr Covey emphasised.

Finally, families are encouraged to deal with the four basic human needs: to live, love, learn and leave a legacy in order to find significance in life. Dr Covey added, "Develop traditions that will bless your family for generations to come and plan and hold one-on-one family activities together regularly."

Follow through

After successfully having created the statement, family members are urged to implement it on a daily basis, making it a part of their everyday lives and referring to it often and regularly in conversations.

As time passes, family members should check to see if there are any gaps or differences in how they are actually living in relationship to the family mission statement and destination. Over time, with repetition, family members' behaviours will naturally begin to change and interaction between them will improve, making family life more enjoyable for all.

Throughout the years, Dr Covey has built a successful family of nine children and 48 grandchildren, and his personal success has inspired millions of people around the world. His simple strategy for strengthening the relationship between his own family members is by planning regular family time once a week with his wife Sandra and their children.

"This method has worked in my family for years and it can work for any family out there as well," he stated. "If you do these things I can guarantee that the quality of your family life will improve dramatically."

Five elements

  • Desired characteristics of home (eg, nurturing, caring, fun)
  • Desired effects upon family members (eg, independent, dependent)
  • Meaningful purpose (eg, help one another)
  • Source of power (principles: love, integrity, service)
  • Four basic needs of people: live (physical/financial), love (social/emotional), learn (mental), leave a legacy (spiritual)

Taken from Career Times 16 November 2007
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