Dr Gerald Bell of the University of North Carolina conducted a survey where four thousand retired executives were asked the question: “If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?” Overwhelmingly, the vast majority of the executives’ answers reflected a desire to take better ownership of their lives. Fundamentally, they responded that life isn’t practice, but the real thing – every day one being on stage, acting out the drama.

The executives, all of them very successful by material standards, mused of paying more attention to  their health and not throwing the same away as if trash, spending more quality time with their families, investing more time in personal development or having more fun, giving more focused attention to spiritual development and community service. All of them were expressing their real values and needs, some of which had been neglected over the years, now perhaps with regret. Dr Bell’s survey draws attention to and reaffirms that humans are driven by needs and values – meeting them and fulfilling them being paramount to a meaningful and complete life.

Dr Stephen R Covey, of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, spoke of meeting these needs in four areas of one’s life – in the physical (Live), social/emotional (Love), mental (Learn) and spiritual (Leave a Legacy) dimensions of our existence. Loosely, this implies the following for his four focus areas:

  • Live – this not only encompasses basic physical survival, but really optimising your strengths and giftedness in terms of your hobbies, sport, outdoor activities and the like. With appropriate practise and exercise, not only do you develop greater fitness and potential, but you also positively impact your self-esteem, confidence and self-belief.
  • Love – this area involves all your relationships, especially the important ones – the need to love and be loved. Developing value and meaning in the key relationships of your life through consistent and focused attention leads to intimacy and fulfilment.
  • Learn – this need does not just talk to vital mental renewal, study and career development, but also speaks to our need of variety and desire for things that make our lives fun and interesting. Investing energy into new projects that stretch one, facilitating greater exposure through travel and research, reading – all these activities stimulate the mind’s levels of awareness and computing ability.
  • Leave a Legacy – the spiritual dimension encompasses our values and beliefs and the expression of the same. It develops feelings of self-worth, esteem and an innate knowledge of where one’s purpose in life fits in the bigger scheme of things. A void in understanding in this area leads to depression and feelings of insignificance.

Desiring to be your very best and getting there needs focus and energy applied appropriately. Individual effectiveness requires development and renewal of all four need dimensions in a wise and balanced way. Neglected dimensions negatively impact other dimensions, the same inhibiting growth. Renewal is the principle and the process that empowers us to develop continuous improvement.

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