Debra Swersky
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Over Under

The orientation of toilet paper is an interesting controversy. Is it the “over” orientation or the “under” orientation? Personally, and alongside the hotel industry, I have adopted the “over” orientation. Of course, as with all very important controversies there is a Wikipedia article delineating the full history. 

Thankfully, I was too busy reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to peruse the entire Wikipedia article. In reading this book by Stephen Covey I found myself in a similar, and actually important, controversy. “Inside out” or “Outside in.” Said differently, Nature vs. Nurture. 

In Stephen Covey’s book he goes into extensive detail about “Inside-Out.” He says, “[The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People] is a principle-centered, character-based, “inside-out” approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness. “Inside-out” means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self - with your paradigms, your character, and your motives.” He goes on to say many things about “inside-out” including, “it’s futile… to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves” and “making and keeping promises to ourselves precedes making and keeping promises to others.”

I get it. But, the more I read the more aggravated I became that there are countless infographics and summaries of the book that list out The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People like they are the 10 commandments. The take-home message, the most important part of the book, is about the approach to embodying the 7 habits: “Inside Out.” Putting my frustration with the title used to market the book aside, I began to experience further aggravation about the paradigm shift to “inside out” that Covey suggests.

While reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People I stumbled upon a TED Radio Hour podcast called “Amateur Hour” which had a story about a guy (AJ Jacobs) who was a professional amateur. Each year he would pick something in which he was an amateur and do it. The year that he talks about in this particular podcast is the year that he, as an amateur religious person, lived by the rules of The Bible. One of the biggest things that he learned during the year was how much his behavior in living The Bible changed his thoughts. In the podcast AJ Jacobs quotes Jerry Sternin, author of The Power of Positive Deviance, when he says, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” The podcast host reiterated: Fake it ’til you make it.

At this point, I stopped in my tracks (go figure, I was walking). Here was Stephen Covey, author of one of the most-read business books telling me that I can’t possibly be a “highly effective person” without improving myself first. And the rest of the world saying “fake it ’til you make it,” “smile your way to happiness,” and “dress for success.” I was at a standstill. Do I need to change my mind to change my behavior or change my behavior to change my mind? More realistically, is it more important to know that I am sharp and polished or wear sharp and polished shoes? I. Don’t. Know. It’s hard enough for me to get dressed in the morning!

Here’s the way that I see the world: It doesn’t matter whether you are an “over” or “under” orientation person, or an “inside out” instead of “outside in” person… it’s the end result that matters. (You get the joke.)

Debra Swersky