22 August 2011

A Quick Self Inventory - Using Covey's Four Elements of Being Human to Identify What's Missing


Sometimes you're just off. You're not even sure why.

Stephen Covey argued that we are made up of four large parts: physical, social / emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. And if you divide our humanity into a different list or add to this one to make it work better for you, great. The point is, you can use this list - or some variant on it - to assess how you are doing, to inventory what is missing. Sometimes you feel like something is missing .Other times you just feel like there could be more. In any case, here's a place to start.

The drive for, and realization of, these needs does so much to define us and our happiness.




Physical - you are a biological creature. You might be feeling spiritual or mindful but there comes a time when all that matters is finding a toilet or tree to hide behind.

Eating poorly? Short of cash? Craving food, sex, alcohol ... This physical piece can be the most obvious of the missing pieces. And, of course, it can also be a diversion from what is really bothering us - people looking for food rather than esteem, sex rather than affection, ... well, you can fill in the rest.

Social / Emotional - this is complex. Social is our relationship to others and emotional is our relationship to ourselves. Do we have friends or family who give us a safe place to be ourselves? People who support us and who we, in turn, support? People who cheer us and people who coach us, those who support and those who challenge?
Emotional needs are also complex but they might be defined by our self-talk as much as anything else. What is our internal narrator telling us? Is it nurturing or toxic? Is it reality based on dependent on denial and delusion?

Intellectual - this has to do with keeping our big brains occupied. What are we thinking about? What is structuring our consciousness? Are we focused only on things that are offered to us by media and tradition or are we able to create our way into unique thoughts and new learning?

Spiritual - this is the big one. What, finally, gives our life meaning? It could be traditional religion and its hopes and consolation. It could be a life of our own invention that we're creating in response to what we see as possible, exciting, or important. It is what gives us a sense of purpose, connects us to something bigger than our own life.

There is a great deal you can do with these four. For one thing, it might help you to understand what is missing is not what you've been focused on. Perhaps what you need isn't another intellectual challenge but instead a physical comfort - or vice versa. You might think that you're bored when you're actually lonely, hungry when you're bored, or think that your problems is that you're unable to make sense of what you're doing when in fact it is that you're unable to see how it matters, a failure that makes it nearly impossible for you to be engaged in it. Nothing is more frustrating, or fruitless, than trying to cure what ails you spiritually with physical needs or intellectual needs with the social. When you are feeling restless because your mind needs a new challenge, it's a bad idea to go visit familiar friends. When you are hungry, it's a bad idea to console yourself by reading new recipes. If you're lonely, don't try curing that by meditating. Identify what is missing and try to meet that need rather than distract yourselves from it. You can't always solve what's wrong with Ramen noodles or Netflix.

Covey suggested that you could use this checklist of four elements of being human to assess a job, for instance.

Physical: does your job pay you enough to live the life in the physical comfort that you want or need? Even if it does, you might still be unhappy if you don't like what it does to you socially or emotionally.

Social / Emotional: Do you feel good about the people you work with? Do you feel good about what you do? Even if you do, you might still be unhappy if you don't like what it does for you - or more likely fails to do for you - intellectually.

Intellectual: Are you learning enough to stay up with your field? Do you feel mentally challenged by your job? Is it engaging enough that you lose track of time or self as you do it? Finally, even if all three of these needs are met, your job may still not do it for you if it feels meaningless.

Spiritual: Imagine that you were paid enough, enjoyed your coworkers and were continually learning but every project you completed was looked at by your boss who then, with a smile, said "We can't use this," and simply threw your work away. After awhile, your work would seem meaningless and you'd lose heart.

Of course your job might not address all of these. Most of us for at least some part of our career find ways to address at least one of these needs outside of work. Sustaining happiness means finding some way to address these four needs.

This little framework doesn't solve problems but it can help you to focus on the right ones. And I find it is not a bad place to start when scratching my head about what to do next. An important step in problem solving is defining the problem. If one or more of these is missing, that's a problem. And if you could read this far and make sense of this, you can begin to make progress at addressing what is missing. And that might highlight the final important piece: faith that you and the ones around you are able to address these needs.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

I like this. Thanks for posting it.

My current job is seriously lacking on the social/emotional and intellectual fields, and the other two are fading fast. Something has to change.

Now I just have to figure out what.