REALISING YOUR FULL POTENTIAL – Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals – Stephen Covey-

Dr Stephen Covey (1932-2012) was a highly influential management guru and author of the now classically regarded The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. First published in 1989, the book has become an international blueprint for personal and professional self-development, leadership, time management, effectiveness, success and even love and family.

The principles as outlined in the book may be used for life in general – they are not limited to workplaces, management or leadership. Covey’s concepts actually can help people to grow, change, and become more effective in really any other aspect of human responsibility that you might imagine.

Although critics have argued that Covey’s work is nothing more than good common sense, the book has remained in the bestseller charts for many years.

I am giving you here an overview of the seven habits philosophy and practical suggestions for how those habits can be used as part of a self-development strategy.

Finally, I have also presented the main criticisms of Covey’s work.

An Overview Of The ‘The Seven Habits’

The book offers a philosophy for life based on seven fundamental principles. These can be applied in a professional context and also to family/personal relationships. Central to the book is the idea of making a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way we think and act. By adopting each of the seven principles or habits, as they are known, Covey encourages us to change our internal mindset and become more effective in all aspects of our lives.

The ‘Habits’ seem very simple, and in many ways they are, yet to varying degrees, they may entail quite serious changes to thinking and acting.

What Is A habit?

At the beginning of the book, Covey defines a habit as a combination of:

  1. Knowledge (the ‘what to do’ and the ‘why’)
  2. Skill (the ‘how’ to do)
  3. Desire (the ‘want to do’)

In order to make something a habit in our lives, we must demonstrate all three areas.

Habits 1, 2 and 3 are about moving from a state of dependence on others to complete independence (or self-mastery, as Covey calls it).

Habits 4, 5 and 6 are about improving our interdependence, that is, our ability to work well with others.

The seventh and final habit is about looking after our physical and emotional well-being.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are as follows:

Habit 1: Be Proactive

This is about taking personal responsibility for our own lives and how they develop. This is the ability to control one’s environment, rather than having it control you, as is so often the case.

If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting  – Stephen Covey –

Rather than simply reacting to things that are beyond our control, Covey explains that we should focus our energy and time on the things over which we do have control. As he explains:

Your life doesn’t just happen. Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose success. You choose failure. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice.

By making a conscious choice to be a proactive person, rather than someone who is passive and reactive in life, Covey suggests that we can start to create opportunities to do things differently, and so produce better outcomes for ourselves. The decisions that we make in life are the primary factor which determines how effective we will be, so it makes sense to take personal responsibility over our choices.

Habit 1: Putting It Into Practice

One of the most powerful ways we can develop a more positive mindset is to consider our overall outlook and the language we use to describe situations. For example, when faced with a difficult challenge or conflict at work, a reactive person might say, ‘There is nothing I can do’, and so takes no action to try to improve the situation. However, a proactive person strives to adopt a positive ‘can do’ outlook, so might instead say, ‘Let’s look at our options here’, and then decides to take action to move towards a positive solution. When a colleague or friend causes upset, a reactive person might say, ‘S/he makes me so angry and annoyed’ whereas a proactive person would think ‘I can control my own feelings and responses.’

If you want small changes in your life, work on your attitude. But if you want big and primary changes, work on your paradigm – Stephen Covey –

What to do:

  • Think about the way in which you describe difficult or challenging situations you find yourself in.
  • What does your choice of language say about your approach?
  • Do you tend to let situations wash over you, or are you someone who tries to make the best of things?
  • Why not ask a trusted colleague or mentor to give you some feedback about your general outlook and the type of person you are perceived as?
  • Try to make a conscious effort to use more positive, proactive language and to gradually become more proactive in your overall approach to problems and challenges.
  • Another way to become more proactive is to consider our Circles of Concern and Circles of Influence. We are all concerned about different things in life, such as our families, our health, problems at work, as well as much bigger issues like global warming or the debt crisis. Proactive people channel their efforts within their Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about, i.e. improving their health, nurturing their children, and working to improve issues or problems at work. By contrast, reactive people focus their efforts in the wider Circle of Concern – areas over which they have little or no control.

What about trying these?

  • Take a moment to consider your own personal Circles of Concern and Influence.
  • What do you worry most about?
  • Are you focusing your energies on areas where you really can make an impact or on things which are outside your control?
  • Actively focus on expanding your own personal Circle of Influence. The opportunities you have are a result of the people you know or are connected to.
  • In order to develop greater opportunities and expand your horizons, it is a good idea to try to strategically increase your connections to the right people, and bring them within your Circle of Influence.
  • You can do this by making the most of opportunities to build trusting relationships with the people you need to influence.

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall – Stephen Covey –

Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind

Covey calls this the habit of personal leadership – leading oneself, that is, towards what you consider your aims. By developing the habit of concentrating on relevant activities you will build a platform to avoid distractions and become more productive and successful.

Habit 2 is about creating a personal vision about how we want our lives to be. Central to this habit is the idea of centredness. This describes the things we choose to make the focus of our lives. For example, many people place greatest importance upon areas like their family, status or position at work, money and wealth, material possessions or following a religion.

Covey argues that by thinking deeply about our most important values and life goals, we can then make a conscious effort towards making them a reality. He says we must first conceptualise and visualise what it is we want to achieve in life, and then create a plan to make our goals a reality. This can be done on a personal (individual) level, as well as at a wider organisational or team level.

Habit 2: Putting It Into Practice

One of the best ways to incorporate Habit 2 into our lives is to develop a Personal Mission Statement. This should focus on what we want to be and do with our lives. Covey says that developing a mission statement cannot be done overnight, but takes time and thought to develop. He advises breaking the mission statement (or personal constitution, as it is often known) down into the specific areas of our lives and considering the specific goals we wish to accomplish within each.

A mission statement is not something you write overnight… But fundamentally, your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life – Stephen Covey – 

What to do:

Consider the different roles you have in life.

  • What is your professional role?
  • What is the role of your team?
  • What role do you play within your personal relationships, social circle or local community?

Think about the things that are most important to you in each of these areas. What goals do you want to work towards in each area? Identify the ideal characteristics for each of these roles, and use them to guide how you will think and act.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Covey’s third habit is about developing the skills needed to achieve the vision and life goals set out in Habit 2. This is the habit of personal management. It is about organising and implementing activities in line with the aims established in Habit 2. Covey says that Habit 2 is the first, or mental creation; Habit 3 is the second, or physical creation.

To help us do this effectively, Covey asks us to consider two key questions:

  1. What one thing (that you aren’t doing now) that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?
  2. What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

Habit 3 is about helping us to make the answers to the above questions a priority, instead of putting them off because we are distracted by crises or much less important tasks.

Habit 3: Putting It Into Practice

To help put Habit 3 into practice, Covey suggests using a tool he has developed known as the Time Management Quadrant. This can be used to help plan, prioritise and implement tasks and activities based on their overall importance (e.g. how closely they are aligned to our key goals and values) rather than their urgency.

Covey uses a simple four box matrix to convey this. Using the matrix, tasks are prioritised as:

  • urgent/important,
  • not urgent/important,
  • urgent/not important and
  • not urgent/not important.

Covey believes that the key to success is concentrating on highly important but non-urgent issues, across all the identified activities. These, he argues, are the most important in terms of self-development, but are also the ones that are most commonly ignored.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.  -Stephen Covey –

What to do:

You can use Covey’s quadrant to improve the way you manage your own (as well as your team’s) time, in order to free up more resources to concentrate on achieving wider goals. First, consider all the tasks and projects you have on at present according to their importance and urgency. You should aim to concentrate the majority of your (or your team’s) time, resources and personal effort on the highly important but non-urgent issues, as these are the areas most likely to be neglected.

Habit 4: Think ‘Win-Win’

Habit 4 is about developing a personal leadership philosophy which is based on ‘win-win’ thinking. Covey calls this the habit of interpersonal leadership, necessary because achievements are largely dependent on co-operative efforts with others. He says that win-win is based on the assumption that there is plenty for everyone, and that success follows a co-operative approach more naturally than the confrontation of win-or-lose.

Covey explains that when we interact and collaborate with other people (be it within family relationships, at work or socially) there are six ways in which we can approach situations and challenges:

  1. Win-win. This means that all agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying for all parties.
  2. Win-lose. This is a highly authoritarian approach, in which one party gets their way, and other party loses out completely.
  3. Lose-win. This is seen as capitulation, or giving in to another person’s preferred approach.
  4. Lose-lose. This is a philosophy of adversarial conflict, where people are desperate for the other party to lose out, even if it means losing themselves.
  5. People with this mentality simply think about securing their own success, but they don’t necessarily want the other party to lose – they are focused on securing their own position and leaving it up to others to secure theirs.
  6. No dea This means that where parties cannot find a solution that is mutually beneficial, they agree to disagree on the issue.

Adopting a win-win mindset means that whenever we face conflict or a divergence of opinion or approach in any walk of life, we genuinely strive for a solution which is mutually beneficial for everyone involved. Covey says:

One person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of others. All parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the plan.

Win-win is about thinking beyond doing things ‘your way’ or having to submit to doing something someone else’s way, but rather looking for a solution which works for all parties.

Habit 4: Putting It Into Practice

When it comes to implementing a successful win-win agreement, whether in our professional or personal lives, the following guidelines can be helpful:

  1. Desired results. It is important for both parties to spend time considering the end result or goal that they wish to achieve as a result of the collaboration, agreement or negotiation.
  2. It is also important to consider whether the agreement is governed by any rules, procedures or operational guidelines.
  3. As an integral part of any agreement or negotiation, both parties should consider the resources that are available to help make the agreement or decision a reality (e.g. people, money, expertise, technology, etc).
  4. How will the parties determine how well the agreement is progressing?
  5. What are the rewards of achieving the desired outcome? It is also important to consider the consequences of not achieving the goal you have in mind.

When one side benefits more than the other, that’s a win-lose situation. To the winner it might look like success for a while, but in the long run, it breeds resentment and distrust – Stephen Covey –

Habit 5: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood

Habit 5 is perhaps one of the great maxims of the modern age. It is Covey’s most commonsense pieces of advice.

Quite simply, it is about taking time to listen and understand the views of others. In the competitive rush to have our voice heard, we perhaps don’t always take time to fully appreciate what other people are saying. Covey argues that positive relationships are built on mutual trust and a sense of mutual understanding, which only comes from a true appreciation of the other person’s perspective.

By being a good listener first and foremost, Covey says that we put ourselves in a better position to be able to effectively communicate our views, plans and goals to others.

When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems – Stephen Covey –

Habit 5: Putting It Into Practice

Active listening is a technique you can use to deepen your understanding of what another person is saying, ensuring that their key messages are fully received and understood.

Follow these tips to improve your active listening skills:

  • Maintain your attention. Focus on what the other person is saying at all times, and try not to let your attention wander. Let the other person speak without interruption.
  • Use positive body language. Make frequent eye contact and adopt an open posture to demonstrate your interest in what the other person is saying.
  • Use reflective listening techniques. Ask open questions to draw more information from the speaker, and try to develop a sense of empathy to understand how the other person is feeling.
  • Build on what has been said. Active listening is not just about passively listening to the other person’s point of view, but adding to their ideas with comments of your own, while taking care not to hijack the conversation.
  • Summarise their key points. A good way to test your understanding is to summarise the main messages. This clarifies and reinforces the message for both parties.

When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen – Stephen Covey –

Habit 6: Synergise

Habit 6 is based on the principle that when it comes to working effectively with others, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

To synergise with others means that we develop an approach based on creative co-operation with others, rather than relying on our own ways of making decisions or solving problems.

Within a team or professional environment, a synergistic culture is created when everyone, regardless of their status, position or rank, is encouraged to contribute their views and experiences in a collaborative way.

This allows creativity and innovation to flourish, by opening our minds to new perspectives and possibilities that we couldn’t have conceived alone.

Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge – Stephen Covey –

Habit 6: Putting It Into Practice

If you are a senior leader, or a manager of a team, becoming more synergistic is really about creating the right conditions within which people feel empowered and encouraged to actively participate. For example, consider how decisions are made in your team at present – do you actively seek out the views of your team members and take their opinions into account? How often do your team members approach you with new ideas and suggestions for improving how they work? As a starting point for developing team synergy, Covey suggests getting a team together (perhaps outside the formal day-to-day working environment) to work on creating their own mission statement. Your role should be to set out some broad parameters at the beginning and to facilitate an active, open discussion.

Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw

This is the habit of self-renewal, says Covey, and it necessarily surrounds all the other habits, enabling and encouraging them to happen and grow. Covey interprets the self into four parts: the spiritual, mental, physical and the social/emotional, which all need feeding and developing.

Habit 7 is about making time to look after our physical and emotional well-being. We are often so busy trying to develop the other six habits that we can sometimes forget about looking after ourselves. Put simply, the seventh habit involves investing time and energy in our best asset – ourselves!

Habit 7: Putting It Into Practice

To maintain our physical and emotional well-being, Covey advocates taking action in four areas:

  1. Healthy eating, exercise and adequate rest.
  2. Making social and meaningful connections with others.
  3. Investing in our own learning, e.g. by reading, writing and teaching.
  4. Spending time developing our interests in nature, culture, music or art.

Criticisms Of The Seven Habits

It is important to bear in mind that Covey’s work is not without its critics. The major criticisms are summarised as follows:

  1. The habits are just common sense. Since Covey’s book was first published, many commentators have argued that the seven habits can simply be boiled down to good management and leadership practice. This may be true, and indeed Covey himself has said that he didn’t invent the seven habits – he just pulled together existing wisdom into a binding philosophy for others to follow. He also pointed out that common sense does not always equal common practice.
  2. The book is overly complex. The second common criticism is that the language used in the book to describe the seven habits is often cumbersome and long-winded. Critics argue that Covey’s approach makes personal development far more complicated than is necessary. The habits themselves have been criticised as too abstract and that they don’t connect well with each other. This may be true to some extent; however, the real value of the book lies in the reader’s ability to understand the essence of each habit and apply it to their own personal circumstances. To Covey’s credit, the book contains many practical case studies and examples of how the habits have been used in practice, by Covey himself and also within the organisations and teams he has worked with.


By applying his seven habits to our lives, Covey argues that we can develop a framework for improving our effectiveness both in a professional and personal context. By first developing a sense of personal independence, we move from being dependent on others for our successes to taking personal responsibility for making success happen ourselves. The habits also teach us the importance of working collaboratively and harmoniously with others in order to develop more effective relationships. The final habit relates to the need to continually invest in ourselves as we maintain and develop our personal philosophy.

As of old, Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!



Human nature has got certain attributes which are just hard to erase. These traits are wired in us so much that they are part of who we are. But, if you want to make the most of your career and life in general, JUST WEAVE these two words into the fabric of your approach to LIFE in 2018: “CHALLENGE YOURSELF!”

There is nobody who can doubt that setting goals is one of the most important life-changing scenarios. Regardless of whether the life-changing scenario is big, with audacious goals or just a small adjustment, it takes a lot of courage to get committed.

Whilst we seem to have no problems identifying goals we want to accomplish, putting these plans into action is frequently much more difficult than we think. Why?

This is essentially because of two issues:

  • There is lack of self-discipline and motivation contributing to this behavior.
  • It could also be because of low self-efficacy as deep down one doesn’t believe that one can achieve their plans.

SELF-EFFICACY as an individual’s belief that he or she will be able to accomplish a specific task. It is believed that an essential component to accomplishing something is our confidence that we can. Thus, self-efficacy drives one’s motivation – Albert Bandura.

Dear Reader, try to ponder on these questions as honestly as you can:

  • What are the factors affecting your self-efficacy?
  • How can you develop more confidence in your abilities?
  • What are the most important things you need to know about the influence of your mind on your achievements?

There are some ways of challenging yourself that are better than others. Research seems to agree on three fundamental conditions on changing yourself:

  1. They take you out of your comfort zone without putting you in serious danger.
  2. They provide you with an intense, accelerated learning experience.
  3. They help you develop skills and attitudes that are highly valuable to you in life.

 12 Ways To Challenge Yourself

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” -Leonardo da Vinci

Introducing your own challenges at work or at home will not only improve your career performance, but also provide the perfect opportunity to enhance your skills and future career prospects.  By adopting this approach in your current role, you will gain invaluable skills and experience in 2018 that will seamlessly transfer into your next position when you’re ready to move on.

  1. Push Yourself Out Of Your Comfort Zone

I have stepped outside my comfort zone enough to know that, yes, the world does fall apart, but not in the way that you fear. Tan Le

Every job or task has certain tasks that involve a bit more thought and time investment, which many of us tend to shy away from during our day-to-day work life.  In order to challenge yourself, you have to take these tasks head on; embrace the challenge and learn something new from it.

If you feel like you’ve exhausted your own role and the responsibilities within it, try to take on new projects and opportunities that are not normally expected of you.  Specifically consider projects that push you out of your comfort zone, challenge your strengths and address your weaknesses.

But it’s not being out of your comfort zone that gives the results, it’s the length of the stretch you are about to make when out of it.

I want to challenge you today to get out of your comfort zone. You have so much incredible potential on the inside. God has put gifts and talents in you that you probably don’t know anything about. Joel Osteen

2. Be Competitive

I am competitive and I feel bad when we lose. You can see it in me when we’ve lost. I’m in a bad way. I don’t like to talk to anyone. Lionel Messi

A little competition can go a long way at work.  This doesn’t necessarily mean trying to beat other employees as this can generate conflict and make you unpopular in the office or staffroom.  What you need to do is to simply try to be the best that you can be. Try to consider your past achievements and use them as a basis to define new goals to work towards.  Always try to push yourself that little bit further.Stay Connected

It’s all about people. It’s about networking and being nice to people and not burning any bridges. Your book is going to impress, but in the end it is people that are going to hire you. Mike Davidson

Most of our engagement at work may only be within your team so what about learning from others. It really plays a vital part in your overall career success.  Make sure you stay connected not only with your own team members, but also with the wider corporate network. It is an excellent way of selling yourself. You just never know what is around the corner but colleagues whom you have known for years may just be the antidote for a career change.

By communicating with other departments and colleagues in different positions, you will gain a different perspective, which you can then apply to your own processes and make your job better or safer.

  1. Don’t Procrastinate

Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill. Christopher Parker

Everyone is guilty of procrastination at work from time to time.  We put off tasks that we don’t want to do in favour of more mundane tasks, which quickly makes us feel bored at work. In order to combat procrastination, a shift in attitude and the way you approach towards work is necessary.  Don’t wait for the perfect time to do something.  Seize the moment and try hard to do things as they occur rather than putting them off and waiting for the perfect time to occur.

  1. Be Independent

We all need assistance from colleagues time to time, but try to fulfil your job responsibilities with minimum help.  Completing a task on your own from start to finish, will not only make you feel more challenged, but will provide a greater sense of achievement on accomplishment.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein

Remember that your success and devotion not only benefits the company, but also advances your own skill set and increases your employability.  In this instance, it’s important that you don’t always wait for your boss to delegate tasks to you.  Take initiative and look for new tasks that you can take on.  Be open to change and always give 100% at work to make the most of every opportunity.

  1. Evaluate And Re-evaluate Your Skills and Flaws

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” -Stephen Covey

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan

Don’t wait for a work review to evaluate your performance, instead you should constantly evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to your position.  By fully understanding your competencies, you are better able to overcome the negative aspects of your performance and utilize the positive ones.

Pay particular attention to your flaws and try to take on different roles that can help you to improve upon them.  Always be open to learning new skills and building upon your existing skill set in order to enhance your current position as well as future career prospects.

  1. Figure Out What You’re Scared Of – And Do It For One Week Consistently.

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” -Napoleon Hill

If you’re in sales, and you’re scared of talking to people personally or over the phone, then you have a problem. You can’t just relate with your clients online, can you? Now, instead of crippling in fear and automatically thinking you’ll fail, spend at least five minutes a day to pick up the phone and make a call to a prospect. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you may embarrass yourself. And yes, someone may hang up on you. But don’t stop on the first try just yet! You’ll get the hang of it eventually. After a while, you can look at fear in the eyes and say, “Go on, I’m not scared!”

  1. Aim High in Your Career

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” -Les Brown

Big, bold career goals can really challenge you and help you grow as a person. But I’m not talking about theoretical goals though that you dream of achieving, all the while spending most of your time watching TV. I’m talking about well-defined career goals that you work to achieve.

These goals can relate to the amount of money you make, the number of people you impact through your work, the role you play in a company, or the magnitude of the projects you manage. Whatever floats your boat.

The main point is that by setting and pursing such goals, you will be forced to develop as a person. You’ll need to study, to develop your expertise in your field, to innovate and to take calculated risks. All of this implies unbelievable self-growth.

  1. Have A Positive Attitude

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” -Audrey Hepburn

Having a positive attitude is one of the most attractive assets in an employee. Always approach tasks – even difficult ones – with a positive attitude and a belief that you can do it.  Don’t underestimate yourself or your abilities, and carry out your position with dedication and enthusiasm.

By making these simple changes to your position, you will not only feel more challenged at work through the tasks that you take on, but you will also improve your own skill set and future career prospects.

  1. Physical Exercise

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” -Vince Lombardi

Physical exercise is often talked about as a way to be healthy and stay in shape. I see another side to it though. I see it as a good way to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Ever since August 2015 when I challenged myself to walk 30-35 kilometres a week, I have never faltered. I walk everyday and the benefits have been astounding!

This is because when you exercise, you put in some degree of effort. Whether you’re running, or lifting weights, or jumping rope, some sort of physical and mental exertion is involved. And this exertion has many benefits in terms of self-growth.

Through regular exercise, not only that you train your body and you develop your strength, speed, endurance and so on, but you also train your mind. You develop willpower, vigilance and confidence. And there are now studies that show regular physical exercise is associated with a higher level of perseverance and determination, which you know, how important can be in life.

Aside from the obvious reason that exercise can help you maintain your regular weight or shed those unnecessary pounds, it can also aid in making you feel better about yourself by releasing endorphins.

  1. Make Failure A Learning Process

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Regardless of how smart or hardworking one is, failure is inevitable. Everyone makes mistakes or fails to meet expectations at some point in their professional lives, and it’s important to frame those situations correctly or a career can be sidetracked. Again, the leader has much power here.

Employees will go further for a leader who they know has their back. It’s important to build your employee back up after a failure and get them back on their feet again as soon as possible. Discuss the failure as a learning opportunity, and avoid being overly critical or berating them about the issue. Make sure they know that you view failure as a necessary part of growth and innovation, and that you see great things for the person ahead.

  1. Push Yourself Out Of Complacency

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” -Jimmy Dean

There’s a natural tendency for us to gravitate toward what we’re good at doing. Then we get stuck there because we’ve gotten comfortable.

This kind of stasis can be too much of a good thing and inhibit growth. Try pushing yourself to try things you have potential for and give yourself the opportunity to take a risk.

Remind yourself that it’s about the effort, not just innate skills.

 “Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an over-emphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.” – Stanford Psychology Professor, Carol S. Deck

  1. Travel And Allow Yourself To Be Interested In New People

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

We’re not talking about the expensive kind of travelling here. Something cost-effective like going to your local museum or visiting the resort in the next city can all count as travelling! Here, don’t just limit yourself to your fellow travelers – try to connect with the service staff, like the lifeguard, or the receptionist, or the tour guide. You never know what kind of people they’re going to be. Get out of your house or go online right now to book your class.

Start now and learn to challenge yourself from time to time. We all need a little push once in a while.

Surely, our challenges are way out there, seemingly unrealistic at the time being. It is only when we step out of our comfort zone in a resolute manner, reaching further than we were used to that we begin in earnest to yearn for more.

I don’t know about you, but I find the strategies above are like the pieces of a puzzle. Putting them all together and what you have is a lifestyle that entails constantly challenging yourself and growing in all the relevant directions: you grow socially, you stimulate your mind and body, you develop your expertise and you get wiser each day.

Good luck in all your endeavours. Any comments of yours on ways you are challenging yourself in 2018 would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!


The exam season is almost within us!

A High School student will write MORE THAN 30 essays by the time he/she graduates. This could be in the form of a class task, a homework exercise or timed-essay in the exam. Essay writing can be quite demanding and many students go through High School without having grasped the essentials of a good essay writing.

To avert such a catastrophe falling on you, here are useful ways on how to successfully write a brilliant essay. Following the AMAZING IDEAS suggested here, step by step, is crucially beneficial in the short and long run. You will definitely ace it if you do! Good luck in all your endeavours.

NB: I would like to encourage you, dear reader, to read my earlier post  in order to fully understand academic writing at High School posted here:

Dispel Some Misconceptions

An essay should be written in a formal and impersonal way. This means it must be objective in its expression of ideas. Furthermore, it also means that specific reference to your personal opinion or to yourself as a performer of actions is usually avoided.

Personal Writing (To be avoided) Objective Writing (Instead, try this)
In my opinion .  . . It has been argued that . . . .
I believe that . . . Some writers claim . . . .
In my view . . . . Clearly, . . . It is clear that  . . . There is little that . . .
I undertook the survey/study . . . . The survey/study was undertaken . . . .
I propose to . . . It is proposed that . . . .
In this essay I will examine . . . . This essay examines . . . .

A note on paragraphing is also essential here:

Parts of a Paragraph

A paragraph is a group of sentences that communicates one main idea. Most paragraphs have three parts: a topic sentence, several supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.

The topic sentence is the most important sentence in the paragraph. It is often the first sentence in a paragraph. It tells the reader what the paragraph is about.

Next comes the supporting sentences. These sentences give details, examples and reasons to explain the topic sentence. All of the supporting sentences must relate to the topic of the paragraph.

Some paragraphs end with a concluding sentence. The concluding sentence restates the main idea in different words. Here are some common ways to begin a concluding sentence: All in all …, As one can see …, Accordingly…

Writing An Essay Plan

The Question: This starts with the question you are going to respond to. Read it carefully. Then UNDERLINE THE KEY WORDS that will tell you what sort of approach to take (Analyse, Explore, Discuss, etc). Lastly, HIGHLIGHT key words relating to the question.

The planning gives a basic outline of your essay. Try using a “Spider diagram” or a “Pattern plan”- listing your points down – or “Mind-mapping” to brainstorm relevant ideas.

Why should you plan?

  • To ensure that you include all the information you will need.
  • It sets out your main ideas clearly.
  • To make sure that your essay has got structure by taking the reader through your answer in a logical and progressive way.
  • So that you answer the question fully.
  • So that you don’t run out of time in an examination.
  • You can also select your connecting words and phrases, as well as quotes (if any) to each point/idea to earlier and later points.

The Introduction

Writing an effective introduction is one of the most important skills you must learn. A good introduction should:

  • give your reader a taste of what your essay is about
  • lead your reader into the rest of the essay
  • encourage them to continue reading, because what you are writing seems clear and interesting.

Another important sentence is your Thesis Statement – usually, the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. It must present the TOPIC of your essay and also make a comment about your POSITION in relation to the topic. It must tell the reader what your essay is about. It is very important!

Take Note: An introduction must connect back to the question being asked. A simple way to gauge how good or bad your introduction is, is to try this simple technique: “Remove the introductory paragraph and show it to another student and have them tell you what the essay question is. If the answer is NOT quite what the actual question is, then something isn’t right.” REVISE IT!

The Body/Supporting Paragraphs – Follow the PEEE Technique!

This is the main body of your essay which should:

  • be clearly structured into well-organized paragraphs. A general rule is “one point = one paragraph”.
  • start with a topic sentence (POINT) making it clear what the paragraph is about.
  • have EVIDENCE to support your point. You do this through selecting a well-chosen quote; the quote should demonstrate the point you have made. It could be a sentence; phrase or a word.
  • EXPLAIN the link between your point and the evidence – how does the evidence support the point you have made?
  • What EFFECT does this have? How would the audience feel about this? Look at the author’s choice of language – what words does s/he use? What effect do these words have? Is what the author has done effective? What’s your personal response?

The Conclusion

A conclusion should not be a reworking of everything you have previously stated in your essay.  It is, instead, as crucial to the overall success of your essay as the other sections.  The conclusion needs to be a carefully constructed paragraph that ‘completes’ your argument.  It is an opportunity to leave the reader with a set of final, original ideas about the text that you have created yourself.  You should try to make a lasting impact in your conclusion, creating a paragraph that your reader remembers and show your own individual, intellectual and emotional engagement with the text that you are writing about.

Writing a good conclusion is important because it will:

  • round off your essay well, perhaps echoing your introduction to do so, usually in about 3-5 sentences in length.
  • leave your reader with a clear sense of what the essay was all about.
  • summarize all the points you have made clearly and concisely.

The format in writing a conclusion can be seen in three stages as:

  • A ‘general’ comment summarising the content of your essay.
  • A brief reference to one of the major points made in your essay.
  • A final summing up, perhaps including a specific, interesting detail.

You may find that you need more than one sentence to cover each point. As a rule of thumb having 3-5 sentences is fine.

Thus, a conclusion should contain NO new points and so no reference, as well.

Lastly, you will need to do some:


Always allow time for proof reading your work.  As a proof reading exercise, the mechanical process of checking through a document for error of: Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar (SPaG), Syntax, Repetition (of words, phrases or ideas) but also errors of fact is an essential undertaking.

You will also need to check that the work is divided into paragraphs of suitable (but varied) length, each as far as possible devoted to a discrete idea or aspect of the subject.

It is all about accuracy and therefore clarity of meaning, since the more inaccurate the piece of academic writing is, the more its clarity will be compromised.

My maxim: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL is all yours. Good luck.


Explore Learn Grow

“A brave man acknowledges the strength of others.” ― Veronica Roth

“Beware of those who criticize you when you deserve some praise for an achievement, for it is they who secretly desire to be worshiped.” ― Suzy Kassem,

“You can always tell when someone deserves the praise and recognition they receive, because it humbles them rather than inflating their ego.”Ashly Lorenzana

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” – Stephen R. Covey

“In the arena of human life, the honors and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.”– Aristotle

The above quotes are illustrative of how we realise the power and influence of praise and recognition in our day to day living. Through motivating others, be it individuals or team members, offering praise and recognition for a job well done can be an extremely powerful tool in changing dynamics at work, school or home.

Network Monitoring AccountFIRST, here’s a fun exercise:

  • Think of your current line manager – On a scale of one to ten (one being the worst) rate their skills of recognizing, praising and rewarding hard work and achievement.
  • Now rate yourself: How well do you recognize and praise your students; employees, colleagues or your own children?

Certainly, that exercise might not have been quite as fun.

Why do we need praise?

There is no secret on how being praised often makes people feel good. Human aspects of pride, pleasure and increased feelings of self-esteem are all common reactions to being paid a compliment or receiving positive feedback, be it from colleagues, senior management OR even from our students!

It seems praise aims at fulfilling two important functions:

  1. Praise is the number one tool available to you to release energy and motivation in your people.
  2. Praise educates the people around you regarding what you like about their approach and encourages them to do more of it.

This is because being praised triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that mediates pleasure in the brain. It is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity or occupation. It helps in controlling the reward and pleasure centres of the brain. As well as making us feel good, dopamine can also contribute to innovative thinking and creative problem-solving at work.

Time To Grow UpThese positive effects, however, are relatively short-lived, and for praise to have an enduring impact on employees, students or children’s engagement, it needs to be offered regularly. A senior employee at famous performance management consultancy, the Gallup Organisation hinted that “recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis”. Furthermore, in another Gallup research, it reported that employees who report that they are not adequately recognised at work are three times more likely to say they will leave in the following year.

The impact of praise

Psychologists and researchers have long been fascinated by the effects of praise on workplace performance and behaviour, and what this means for organisations. In a survey of more than four million employees about the importance of praise and recognition conducted by Gallup Organisation the results were fascinating:

  • employees who receive regular praise are more productive, engaged and more likely to stay with their organisation than those who do not.
  • employees who are praised receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers.
  • employees who are recognized for their efforts even enjoy better health than employees who are not.

 Delivering praise

There is a great deal of empirical evidence suggesting how praising employees at work can be beneficial. However, the most important aspect in which the praise is delivered has a significant bearing on its effectiveness. Research points out that only genuine achievements should be praised, and that empty words have little or no value.

Indeed, it is alleged that ‘unearned praise can do more harm to an individual and a workgroup than none at all’. It not only prevents employees from knowing when they need to improve, but it can diminish the impact of the genuine praise that is offered at other times.

Similarly, students or children who are praised for being inherently ‘good’ at something are less likely to take on new challenges than those who are praised for their approach to the task. When it comes to praising students or children, Carol Dweck, a psycholgist’s advice is to ‘focus on the processes they used – their strategies, effort or choices’.

Research highlights the value of constructive feedback; where managers should be specific about which aspects of their team members’ performance have particularly impressed them and why.

There’s little doubt that praising and recognising the efforts and achievements of others can bring about some very positive results in the workplace. Being praised makes the recipient

  • feel good about themselves
  • help to boost their performance
  • experience an ‘uplift’ that can increase employee’s morale, motivation and engagement
  • renew their commitment to their manager and the organisation.

For praise to have this kind of impact, however, it needs to be delivered effectively.

Only genuine achievements should be praised, and managers should ensure their feedback is constructive and specific.

Seeking Recognition

Recognition is being seen to be good or bad in some act. It can be either positive or negative. Effective recognition has the following characteristics:

  • It is positive in nature
  • It is immediately connected to performance
  • It is specific about what is being praised
  • It is close to the action

We want and cherish praise and recognition in determining the values of our school or organization. Thus, in today’s world, praise and recognition are communication vehicles for that which is deemed important. The top tips below are tried and tested techniques to praise and recognition.


  1. Never WAIT!

The more time that passes between great performance and recognition, the lower the impact of that recognition. Immediately is never too soon.

  1. Credit where credit’s due

It’s no secret that both giving and receiving praise makes us feel good: we’re psychologically wired to function in a receive-give and give-receive kind of environment. When we feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in what we’ve achieved, our brain releases the hormone dopamine, immediately awakening the reward and pleasure areas of our brain

  1. Be specific

Generic praise is nice but specific praise is wonderful. Don’t just tell an employee you did a good job; tell them how they did a good job. Not only will they appreciate the gesture, but will also know you pay attention to what they do.

The added impetus is that they will know exactly what to do the next time in a similar situation.

4. Be genuine

Never praise for the sake of praising. It will become obvious to everyone if it is “forced” and will lessen the impact when you really do mean what you say: the real praise and recognition.

5. Save constructive feedback for later

Many of our bosses, albeit inherently, toss in a little feedback while praising a colleague or employee. They will say “how great you did . . . but next time you might want to consider . . .” Oh! No! It just leaves a sour taste to the praise as “. . . all I hear is what I should do next time.”

Advice: Praise and recognize now! It is better to save performance improvement opportunities later.

6. Go hunting

Are you one of those bosses who are conditioned to spending time looking for issues or problems to correct and resolve? If so, it will do you a lot of good by just spending a little time trying to catch colleagues or employees doing good things, too.

7. Be surprising at some point

Birthday presents are nice, but unexpected gifts make an even bigger impact. Unexpected recognition is always more powerful, too. Winning “Employee of the Week” is nice, but receiving a surprise visit from the owner because you won back a lost client is awesome.

8. Strike a balance

It is much easier to recognize some of your best employees because they are consistently doing great things. However, finding ways to spread the positive vibe around is golden.

Whilst it is going to be hard to find reasons to recognize some of the less than stellar employees, the fact that they are there means they are part of the team. By giving just a little encouragement may be all a poor or average performer needs to turn the productivity corner.

9. Create a CULTURE

By making praise and recognition something you measure, may at first sound cheesy and forced, but the more it is done, the quicker it will be embraced.

The ripple effect to it is that peer pressure and natural competitiveness are promoted. Employees become happy to assist and accomplish things worthy of praise so as to report great stuff to the boss or fellow colleagues.

10. Treat employees like snowflakes

We all respond differently to praise and recognition. There are many of us who may appreciate public praise but, then equally so, there are those among us, who just want a quiet word. Some of us cringe when made the centre of attraction.

Surely, knowing your employees, students or children and tailoring your recognition so it produces the greatest impact for each individual is a bonus.

Exper ExperienceAnd remember:

Dear Boss, just remember that:

Recognizing our effort and achievement is self-reinforcing. When you do a better job of recognizing us, we tend to perform better. We will come to work happy, ready and eager to perform because we know we are a TEAM as Together Everyone Achieves More.

So dear folks, praise and recognition are essential building blocks of a great workplace. We all possess the need to be recognized as individuals and to feel a sense of accomplishment. There is nothing complicated about recognition, but it is one of the items that consistently receives the lowest ratings from our bosses.

Let me hope that, that room for improvement, is now. Let us start with our little ones and build it up from there.


Good luck




  • What is academic writing style?
  • When do I have to use it?
  • Are there different types of styles?
  • How is an academic paper structured?

By the time students are in high school, rudimentary elements of ‘academic style’ of writing will have been sowed. But, what does it mean?

There may be slightly different ideas on the matter within different departments but there are some basic approaches to academic writing on which all would agree.

Every department or person has their own, individual style of writing and we would probably all recognize that we write in different ways in different circumstances: formal or informal ways.

However, academic writing always has a different set of audience. It is going to be read by others. This means what you are going to write has to be easily understood by the reader – who is probably going to be the marker.

There are certain conventions – ways of writing – that students have to understand and follow in their approach to an academic piece of writing.


  1. Read academic books and journals as models to imitate. As you engage yourself in the reading, ask yourself questions about: how are the paragraphs structured and why particular words/expressions are used.
  2. As you are writing, consider whether your writing sounds as if it could be in an academic book. If it does, that is a good sign. If it sounds like a chat with a friend, you will need to revise it.
  3. Think about your readers and express your ideas with clarity.
  4. Academic writing – mainly involving extended writing tasks, coursework or research papers at High School have to stick to certain rules and regulations.
  5. Academic writing tends to be impersonal, objective and cautious avoiding sweeping statements or generalisations.
  6. Always make sure to back up everything you say with evidence from reliable sources unless it can be considered as “common knowledge”. Carrying out research through appropriate reading is essential. By providing evidence or justification through, whatever sources one uses – books, websites, journals, – must be accurately referenced.
  7. Strike a balance. This means in your writing, you must include examples of ideas that disagree with what you are saying as well as ones that support it. It will also show that you have read widely and thought about your topic from different perspectives.
  8. Show your understanding of your topic. Define key terms in the first body paragraph – these are better off being researched upon than a mere dictionary meaning.
  9. Your writing must have a logical structure. Structure your paragraphs well, and if the Department encourages sub-headings, so be it.
  10. The need for referencing is important. Whenever you use someone else’s ideas, whether quoting verbatim or not, you must let your reader know your source. Lastly, you will then need to list all the sources you have used in your work.


  1. There is a generally agreed rule in academic circles that the first person – that is “I”, “we”, “my” etc – should never be used. Similarly “you” should not be used as well.  The key here is that it makes your writing sound more objective and impersonal.
  •           Avoid “I” or “you” by using “one:”                                                                                                   One could argue that …. or If one is in such a situation, one could….
  •          Avoid “you” and “I” by starting with an impersonal “it:”                                                        It can be considered/argued/claimed that ….
  1. Write a thesis statement. It is a statement that focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. It can be placed at the beginning or end of the introductory paragraph.                                                                                                               Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.
  1. Avoiding problems of “expression” – Some students end up with problems of whether to use “his” or “her”. It is always easier to use plurals as in:                                  For example: A student is encouraged to check his / her essay carefully.                              Instead it is simpler to say: Students should be encouraged to check their essays carefully.
  •  Sentence structure is an issue. Using very long complex sentences can be confusing for the reader.  It is often better to use short sentences as they add clarity.
  • Always write in full sentences. Sentence fragments will always be marked down.
  • Avoid repeating the same word in a single paragraph. Always try to find an alternative.
  • Never use humor or irony in academic writing.
  1. Choose the right words and spellings. Remember that when you are writing for a U.K. audience, you will need to use British English, and not American English spelling, for example “colour”, not “color”.
  2. Always try to avoid informal words. It is advisable to think of your word choice and use those used in academic books or journals rather than magazines.
  3. Use words –technical terms if need be – that are appropriate for your area of study. Literary terms give precise meaning to your work, thereby adding clarity.
  4. Referencing: As soon as you start to research and read for any academic assignment, make sure you note down all the details of what you are reading, so that the correct information can be included in your references.  Every important fact and idea needs to be referenced.
  5. The Structure Of A Typical Academic Paragraph

     As a general rule remember ‘one point = one paragraph’.

    Paragraphs may differ in many ways, but a typical academic paragraph should contain THREE main things:

    a) A topic sentence (or Point)

    b) Evidence to support the point in your topic sentence (usually an external source but sometimes your own data or own examples).

    c) Analysis of why the point is important and how it helps you answer the question (your explanation).

    Some scholars like to use acronyms like

    • PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation) or
    • TEA (Topic, Evidence, Analysis) or
    • WEED (What the paragraph is about, Evidence to support, Examples, Do say ‘so what?’).

    It doesn’t matter how you remember it, the important thing to remember is that all three things are needed.

  6. Boosting Your Grades

    It is in the Explanation/Analysis part of your paragraphs that you will gain credit for showing an ability to discuss and analyse the facts and arguments you have presented.

    This involves a personal evaluation, arguing the pros and cons, illustrating advantages and disadvantages, taking an argument apart and looking at each point, or following it through and extrapolating i.e. continuing the same line of argument (perhaps into other areas) to see where it would lead, or giving counter arguments.

  7. Conclusion

    A conclusion should not be a reworking of everything you have previously stated in your essay.  It is, instead, as crucial to the overall success of your essay as the other sections.  The conclusion needs to be a carefully constructed paragraph that ‘completes’ your argument.

    It is an opportunity to leave the reader with a set of final, original ideas about the text that you have created yourself.  You should try to make a lasting impact in your conclusion, creating a paragraph that your reader remembers and show your own individual, intellectual and emotional engagement with the text that you are writing about.

  8. Proof Reading

Always allow time for proof reading your work.  As a proof reading exercise, the                      mechanical process of checking through a document for error of:                                          Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar, Syntax, Repetition (of words, phrases or ideas) but also errors of fact is an essential undertaking.

You will also need to check that the work is divided into paragraphs of suitable (but          varied) length, each as far as possible devoted to a discrete idea or aspect of the subject.

It is all about accuracy and therefore clarity of meaning, since the more inaccurate the         piece of academic writing is, the more its clarity will be compromised.


  • NEVER rely on the computer’s spelling and grammar checker to do the work for you. This is fatal!  It is extremely unreliable.
  • Run the Spell and Grammar Checker software first BUT remember that you will still need to check the work yourself afterwards.
  • If your document is not too long, try printing it out. Often errors can be seen on paper but not noticed on a computer screen.
  • Leave time (-24 to 48 hours is recommended) between the end of the writing process and the start of proofreading. This time length helps clear the mind then approaching the same topic more refreshed and therefore with a better chance of spotting errors.
  • Try proofreading backwards! It is weird, right?  Essentially, reading your work from the end to the beginning – either sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph – destroys the flow of argument and sequencing of ideas or chronology; thus forcing the brain to look only for mechanical error in the text.
  • Watch out for repetition of certain words or phrases – ring the changes by fixing them: you could be changing by using a pronoun to replace the repetitive noun; or use an alternative work or synonym.
  • The human eye often skims words – i.e we see only parts of words and complete the rest by assumption from meaning or context rather than by sight. This is why we often fail to spot spelling mistakes, for example.  So train yourself consciously to read (i.e. observe) all parts of every word.
  • Collaborate with others (fellow students, colleagues, guardians / parents) to check (each other’s) work. Normally, another pair of eyes will often spot errors which your own have missed.

It is all yours now. Good luck.


Across High School students, the two words “Essay” and “Composition” are synonymous and therefore can be used interchangeably. However, students are right to some extent as “An essay is a type of composition”. Strictly speaking though, there is a huge difference between an essay and a composition.

An Essay

We tend to use an essay when we are thinking of a literary (yes, in Literature) composition that is describing, discussing, arguing, analyzing, or evaluating a certain topic or an issue. Thus, an essay can be descriptive, narrative, argumentative, expository, persuasive and discursive.

A Composition

It is a piece of creative work, where a given language is used in the formation of a literary piece such as poetry, prose, drama, short story, novel, music, or free verse, to mention a few.

There are rules and regulations, however, that one needs to follow in the creation of either an essay or a composition.



A short piece of literary writing. A piece of creative work.
A type of composition. It is a mini-composition. Some and not all compositions are essays.
It is typically a combination of facts and figures; personal and opinions as well as ideas of the writer. A Composition can be prose or verse (poetry).
This is a type commonly used for academic writing. It can be both academically or for public consumption.
Examples include argumentative, descriptive, expository, discursive and narrative. Examples include a novel, poetry, essay on drama, a piece of music, research paper.
Typically made up three parts: introduction; Body paragraphs and a Conclusion Typically made up three parts: introduction; Body paragraphs (maybe longer) and a Conclusion
Typically made up three parts: introduction; body paragraphs and a conclusion. There are rules and regulations intended for the creation of that particular literary form
It often explores a given topic, often analytically
It is based on your thinking, that of others or both.
It is often based on information from multiple sources.

Now that you know what an essay is, and what a composition is; let us further explore how a student can write a brilliant essay in English at High School. This is the subject of my next two posts:

  • Essential Skills For Academic Writing Style In English@High School

  • Hints On Writing A Good To Excellent Essay In English Literature

Until then, be the best you can be.