Archive for January 15th, 2012

7 Family Habits


It is so easy to be reactive! You get caught Lip in the moment. You say things you dot* mean. You do things you later regret. And you think, “If only I had stopped to think about it, I never would have reacted that way!”

Family life would be a whole lot better if (people acted according to their values instead of reacting to the emotion or circumstance of the moment It’s possible to develop a habit of learning to pause and give wiser responses. Proactively is the ability to act rather than react.

I have a friend who makes a powerful proactive choice every day. When she comes home from work, she sits in her car in the driveway and pauses. She takes a minute to think about the members of her family and what they are doing inside the house She considers what kind of feeling she wants to help create when she goes, inside. She says to herself, “my family is the most enjoyable, the most pleasant, the most important part of my life. I’m going to go into my home and feel and communicate my love for them.”

Just think of the difference this makes in her family. And another friend told me this story, which shows Habit 1 in action:

While my wife was out of the room, my three-year-old son Brenton emptied a one-and-a-half-gallon jug of water from the fridge-most of it onto the kitchen floor. My wife’s initial reaction had been to yell at him. Instead, she stopped herself and said patiently, “Brenton, what were you trying to do?”

“I was trying to be a helping man, Mom,” he replied proudly.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I washed the dishes for you.”

Sure enough, there on the kitchen table were all the dishes he had washed with the water from the jug.

“Well, honey, why did you use the water from the fridge?”

“I couldn’t reach the water from the sink.”

“Oh!” my wife said. Then she looked around. “Well, what do you think you could do next time that would make less of a mess?”

He thought about it for a minute. Then his face lit up. “I could do it in the bathroom!”

“The dishes might break in the bathroom,” she replied. “But how about this? What if you came and got me and I helped you move a chair in front of the kitchen sink so you could do the work there?”

“Good idea!” he exclaimed.

As my wife was telling me what had happened, I realized how important it was that she had been able to catch herself between stimulus and response. She had made a proactive choice.

One useful way to communicate the idea of proactivity is through an analogy I call the “emotional bank account.” This account is like a financial one in that you can make “deposits”-things that build trust in the relationship-or “withdrawals” – things that decrease the level of trust. The balance in the account determines how well you can communicate and solve problems with another person.

One of the great benefits of being proactive is that you can choose to make deposits instead of withdrawals. No matter what the situation, there are always things you can choose to do that will make relationships better.

Little kindnesses go a long way toward building relationships of trust and unconditional love. just think about the impact in your own family of saying “thank you,” “please” or “you go first.” Or performing unexpected acts of service such as phoning to see if there’s anything you can pick up at the store on your way home. Twelve hugs a day-that’s what people need. Hugs can be physical, verbal, visual or environmental. And each one is a deposit in the emotional bank account.

You would be hard pressed to come up with a deposit that has more impact than making and keeping promises. just think about it! How much excitement, anticipation and hope is created by a promise?

Our daughter Cynthia shared this memory:

When I was twelve, Dad promised to take me with him on a business trip to San Francisco. I was so excited! After Dad’s meetings, we planned to go to Chinatown for dinner, see a movie, take a ride on a trolley car, then go back to our hotel room for hot fudge sundaes from room service. I was dying with anticipation.

The day finally arrived. The hours dragged by as I waited at the hotel. Finally, at 6:30 p.m., Dad returned with a dear friend and influential business acquaintance. My heart sank as this man said, “I’m so delighted to have you here, Stephen. Tonight, Lois and I would like to take you to the wharf for a seafood dinner, and then you must see the view from our house.” I could see my hopes and plans going down the drain.

I will never forget the feeling I had when Dad said, “Gosh, Bill, I’d love to, but this is a special time with my daughter. We’ve already got it planned to the minute.”

We did absolutely everything we had planned. I don’t think any young girl ever loved her father as much as I loved mine that night.


With Habit 2, you create a clear, compelling vision of what your family is-and where you want to go together. The most profound, significant and far-reaching application of Habit 2 is the family mission statement. This is a combined, unified expression from all family members of what it is your family really wants to do and be-and the principles you choose to govern your family life.

When children are young, they generally love to be included in the process of creating a mission statement. They love helping to create something that gives them this sense of family identity.

Our daughter Catherine, who’s now grown and has children of her own, said:

Before my husband and I were married, we talked about what we wanted our home to be like, especially when we had children. It was out of these discussions that we wrote our family mission statement.

We have three children now, and although our mission statement has remained fundamentally the same, it has changed a little with each child. After we had two children, we had more perspective, and we were able to realize better how we wanted to raise our kids together-how we wanted them to be upstanding citizens in the community and so on.

The children have added things to our mission statement as well. Our oldest is six. She wants to make sure we tell lots of jokes in our family, so we have added that in for her.

Every New Year’s Eve we work on our mission statement and write out our goals for the coming year. Our kids are very excited about the whole process. We post our mission statement and the children refer to it often. They say, “Mom, you’re not supposed to raise your voice. Remember-‘happy, cheerful tones in our home.”‘ It’s a big reminder.

Here’s how to create a mission statement in your family.

Step One: Explore what your family is all about. Call a family meeting to introduce the idea and start the process. Keep it short: Ten fun minutes a week over a period of several weeks will be much more effective than one or two long, philosophical discussions.

Be explicit with the idea that you want the mission statement to serve as a unifying and motivating influence for everyone in the family. Ask questions such as: What things are truly important to us as a family? What are our family’s highest priority goals? What kind of relationships do we want to have with each other? What are our responsibilities as family members?

Step Two: Write your family mission statement. The process of writing crystallizes your thoughts and distills learning and insights into words. It also reinforces learning and makes the expression visible and available to everyone in the family.

Whatever you come up with at first will be a rough draft. Family members will need to work with it until everyone comes to an agreement: “This is our mission. We believe it. We buy into it. We are ready to commit to live it.”

It doesn’t have to be some magnificent verbal expression. It may be a word, a page, a document, even a song or a drawing. The only real criterion is that it represents everyone in the family and inspires you and brings you together.

Step Three: Stay on track. A mission statement is meant to be the constitution of your family life, the foundational document that will unify and hold your family together for decades-even generations-to come.

One father told me:

For our blended family, having a mission statement has been tremendously helpful. It gives us some common values and a common focus on where we’re going. It reads: “Our family mission: To always be kind, respectful and supportive of each other, to be honest and open with each other, to keep a spiritual feeling in the home, to love each other unconditionally, to be responsible to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life, to make this house a place we want to come home to.”

We put the statement in a beautiful frame and hung it over the fireplace, and every week we have somebody share what one of those words or sentences means to him or her. It only takes two or three minutes, but it makes the mission statement come alive. We’re also setting goals around the mission statement, making it a central part of our lives.


There’s no way we can be successful in our families if we don’t prioritize them in our lives. And this is what Habit 3 is about.

There is probably no single structure that will help you to prioritize more than a weekly family night. On a typical night in our own family over the years, we would review our calendar of upcoming events, hold a council to discuss issues and problems, have a talent recital so the kids could show us how they were coming along with their music or dance lessons, do a short lesson and a family activity and serve refreshments. In this way, we’d accomplish what we’ve come to feel are the four main ingredients of a successful family night: planning, problem-solving, teaching and fun.

The second absolutely foundational family structure is the one-on-one bonding time. These one-on-ones are where most of the real work of the family is done. This is where the most significant sharing, the most profound teaching, the deepest bonding takes place.

A mother of five sons said:

The other day, I took My 22-year-old son out to lunch. As we ate together, we talked about his life, including his classes at school, his plans for the future, and so on.

We had a wonderful time just being together. As I thought about it later, 1 realized this is something that didn’t just happen. I started this one on-one tradition when the boys were in elementary school, and it’s really made a difference. I don’t think I could have this kind of time with my son now if we hadn’t started doing it when he was younger.


As we move toward our destination as a family, we’re sometimes thrown off track by external forces. But the force that does the greatest damage is the climate created within the family by negative emotions-competition, criticism, blaming, anger.

The key to handling these challenges is to cultivate a family culture of mutual respect, understanding and creative cooperation. This is the essence of Habits 4, 5 and 6.

One father told this story:

Our two boys were very competitive and squabbled frequently. Finally, I confronted the older boy about it. He abruptly announced, “The thing you don’t get is that I can’t stand my brother.” 1 was shocked by the intensity of his feelings.

Then I asked the older boy to tell his brother what he’d told me. The younger boy was hurt by the cutting words. Blinking back tears, he looked down and quietly said, “Why?”

His brother was quick with his answer: “Because you’re always saying things that make me mad. I just don’t want to be around you.”

The younger brother sighed. “I do that because every time we play a game you always win.”

“Sure I do,” the older boy quickly replied. “I’m better than you.”

With that, the little boy could hardly speak. But he said, “Yeah, but every time you win, I lose. So I say things to bug you. I just cant stand to lose all the time.”

These tearful words reached the heart of the older brother. The tone of his words softened as he said, “I’m sorry. But will you please just stop saying and doing the stupid things that make me so mad at you?”

“OK,” the younger boy replied. “And will you stop feeling that you always have to win?”

I know I’ll never forget my young son’s words. Losing all the time, or even most of the time, can make any of us say and do stupid things that bug others and even ourselves.

No one likes to “lose” _especially in close family relationships. So win-win is the only solid foundation for effective family interaction. It’s the only pattern of thinking and interacting that builds long-term relationships of trust and unconditional love. And all it takes to change the situation is for one person to think win-win.

Thinking win-win means you have this spirit of win-win in all family interactions. You always want what’s best for everyone involved.

Of course, there will be times when you’ll have to say no to children. This doesn’t feel like a win to them. But if you cultivate the spirit of win-win whenever you can, children will better understand and accept those decisions that sometimes seem to them to be win-lose. There are several ways to achieve this.

* Let them win in the little things. In our family, if children want to go outside, get their clothes dirty or leave a cardboard fort in the house for weeks, we generally let them do it. We try to distinguish between matters of principle and matters of preference, and only take a stand on things that really count.

* Talk with them about the big things. That way they’ll know you have their welfare in mind. Try to involve them in the problem and work out the solution together.

*Take steps to offset the competition focus. Recently, 1 went to watch our granddaughter play in an important soccer match, which ultimately ended in a tie. Her team was demoralized, and the coach was deeply disappointed also.

So I began to say enthusiastically, “Great game, kids! You had five goals-to try your best, to have fun, to work together as a team, to learn and to win. You accomplished four and a half of those goals. That’s ninety Percent! Congratulations!”

You could just see their eyes brighten up. And it wasn’t long until players, coach and parents were celebrating the four and a half goals these kids had achieved.


There’s simply no way to have rich, rewarding family relationships without real understanding. Most mistakes with our family members are not the result of bad intent. It’s just that we don’t understand. We don’t see clearly into each other’s hearts.

Really listening to get inside another person’s mind and heart is called “empathic” listening. It enables you to see as someone else sees-and it also helps family members feel safe in sharing, gets to the real issues and helps people connect with their own unique gifts.

Suppose that for several days, your teenage daughter has seemed unhappy. One night, while you’re washing dishes together, she finally begins to open up: “Our family rule that I cant date until I’m older is embarrassing me to death. All my friends are dating. I feel like I’m out of it.”

An empathic response would attempt to reflect back what your daughter feels and says, so that she would feel that you really understand. For example: “You kind of feel torn up inside. You understand the rule, but you feel embarrassed when you have to say no to dates. Is that what you mean?”

She might say yes and go on deeper into her feelings. Or she may say,

“Well, not exactly. What I really mean is…” \When you give an understanding response, you make it safe for her to open up. You make it comfortable for her to air the problem so that together you can search for solutions. And you build the relationship.

There are other expressions of empathy besides summarizing and reflecting. Sometimes total silence may be empathic; sometimes a nod or a single word is empathic. Empathy is a very flexible, sincere and humble process.

But there’s more to Habit 5. It doesn’t mean seek only to understand. It simply means that you listen and understand first. This is the key to .being understood and influencing others. When you are open to their influence, you’ll almost always have greater influence with them.

One woman shared this:

My husband and I did not see eye to eye on spending. He wanted to buy things I felt were unnecessary and expensive. 1 couldn’t explain to him the pain I felt as our debt mounted.

Final I decided to find a different way to express myself and influence the situation. I realized that my husband sometimes just didn’t see the connection between his spending decisions and their consequences. So when he said, “lt. would really be nice to have (something),” I’d say, “You know, it would. Let’s see what would happen if we bought that.” I would take out the budget and say, “Now if we spend this, we won’t have money to do that.” When he truly saw the consequences of spending decisions, he often came to the conclusion him self that we were better off not buying the item in question. I also discovered that with some of the purchases he wanted to make, the benefits really did outweigh the drawbacks.

When people know they will have an opportunity to be fully heard, they can relax. They don’t have to become over-reactive, because they know that their time to be understood will come. This dissipates negative energy and helps people develop internal patience and self-control.

This is one of the great strengths of Habit 5. Remember, the key is in the sequence: First you seek to understand another person’s point of view; then you share your own. It’s not just what to do. It’s also why and when.


Synergy is the magic that happens when one plus one equals three-or more. It comes out of the spirit of mutual respect and understanding you’ve created and produces a brand-new way to solve a problem.

A friend recently told me a story that captures the essence of Habit 6:

After one week of practice, my son wanted to quit the high school basketball team. I was very disappointed. I worried that if he quit basketball he would just keep quitting things. My son didn’t want to hear me at all. I was so upset I walked away.

Over the next two days, I wondered just what had made him want to quit. Finally, I decided to talk to him again. [Habit 5: seeking to understand.] At first he didn’t even want to discuss it, so I asked him about other things. After some time, he began to tear up and he said,

“Dad, I know you think you understand me, but you don’t. No one knows how rotten I feel.”

I replied, “Pretty tough, huh?” [Habit 5: empathic listening.]

He then literally poured his heart out. He expressed his pain at constantly being compared to his brothers and said he felt I favored them, He also told me about the insecurities he felt- not only in basketball, but in all areas of his life. And he said he felt that he and I had somehow lost touch with each other.

His words really humbled me. I had the feeling that what he said about the comparisons with his brothers was true. I acknowledged my sorrow to him [Habit 1: proactivity, and-with much emotion–I apologized.

But I also told him that I still thought he would benefit from being on the team. He listened patiently, but he would not budge from his decision. Finally, I asked him if he liked basketball. He said he loved it, but he disliked all the pressure associated with playing for the school team. He said that instead, he would really like to play for the church team-but that team’s coach had just moved away.

I found myself feeling good about what he was saying. I was still a little disappointed that he wouldn’t be on the school team, but I was glad that he still wanted to play [Habits 4 and 5: win-win thinking and effort to understand].

At that point, almost by magic, a new idea came into both of our minds at the same time. In unison we said, “I/You could coach the church team!” [Habit 6: synergy and a new alternative solution]. The weeks I spent as the coach of that team were among the happiest of my athletic experiences. And they provided some of my most memorable experiences as a father.

This father and son seemed locked in a win-lose situation. But then the father made an important shift. He sought to really understand his son. Together they came up with a better way-an entirely new solution that was a true win for both.

The key to synergy is to celebrate the difference. It’s not enough to simply tolerate differences in the family. To have the kind of creative magic we’re talking about, you must be able to say sincerely, “The fact that we see things differently is a strength-not a weakness-in our relationship.”

Synergy also helps you to create a culture in which you can successfully deal with any challenge you might face. The culture created by Habits 4, 5 and 6 is like an immune system. It protects your family so that when mistakes are made, or when you get blindsided by some physical, financial or social challenge, you don’t get knocked out. You can deal with whatever life throws at you and use it to make the family stronger.

HABIT 7: SHARPEN THE SAW If done properly, consistently and in a balanced way, Habit 7 will cultivate all of the other six habits and keep them strong and vibrant. How? Simply by using them in renewing activities-especially, family traditions. That’s what we mean by “sharpening the saw.”

Traditions give family members a sense of belonging, of being understood, of being supported, of being committed to something that’s greater than self. And the family renews the emotional energy of a tradition every time they revisit it.

Think of all the opportunities for fulfilling traditions:

0 Family dinners. You may have only one good meal together each week, but if it is meaningful and fun, the family table can become more of an altar than an eating counter.

0 Family vacations. Planning for a vacation, anticipating it and thinking about it-as well as laughing about the fun times and the dumb times we had on past vacations-are enormously rewarding to our family.

*Extended and intergenerational family activities. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and other extended family members can have a tremendous positive influence. Broaden almost any activity, such as Sunday dinner, to include them.

*Worshipping together. Research shows that shared worship is one of the characteristics of healthy, happy families. It can create context, unity and mutual understanding- much in the same way that a family mission statement does.

*Serving together. This tradition can be tremendously renewing. Can you imagine anything more bonding, more unifying, more energizing than working together to accomplish something that is really meaningful and worthwhile?

*Working together. There are many ways to create the tradition of working together, at home or in a parent’s place of business-and many benefits of doing it. Our daughter Catherine remembered:

One tradition we had in our family was the “ten-minute program.” That meant that everyone would work really hard for ten minutes to clean up the house. We all knew that if we had eighteen hands working, it would go a lot faster than two.

We also had “work parties.” We’d work really hard for three or four hours to get something done, but we’d have food and laugh and talk as we worked. We’d also do something fun after, like go to a movie. Everyone expected they’d have to work. It was just part of life. But it was so much better with these little treats.

As your family works together on Habit 7 and all the other habits, remember: Like a new pair of glasses or a new, more accurate map-the 7 Habits framework can help you to see and communicate more clearly, and will help you to arrive where you, as a family, want to go.


Stephen R. Covey, co-chairman of Franklin Covey Company, is an internationally respected leadership authority family expert, teacher and organizational consultant. He and his wife Sandra and their family live in Utah.

Stephen Covey husband, father, grandfather and author of the number-one best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, shares secrets to building a strong, close family