We all think that with age comes maturity. In some ways this is true. For one, we all mature physically. As we progress through adolescence and puberty, we become men and women. We also learn from life and gain some amount of wisdom from the experience. But is there more to maturity? What is maturity and how do we know we have fully matured, mentally, spiritually, and socially / emotionally?

Dr. Stephen Covey writes about this in Habit 1 of his Seven Habits and he refers to it as the “Maturity Continuum”. This model for true growth and personal effectiveness is represented in an upward-moving spiral. It represents the path we all travel in our lives, and if we truly mature over time, marks our transition from dependence to independence and ultimately, to interdependence. Unfortunately, not all of us will travel far along the maturity continuum. Indeed, some people never truly leave the dependence stage.

No matter how far we go, we all start life at the same place: dependence. As infants, we are entirely dependent on our parents for feeding, care, love, and development. We also require shelter, food, and clothing. Without someone to depend on for the very basics of life, we would perish. Over time, we slowly become independent, at least in some aspects of our lives. We learn how to take care of some of our physical needs. Gradually, we achieve enough independence to make it on our own. But for many, dependence is still a stage we are stuck in. We may be living on our own, yet may depend on another for our happiness. We may earn enough money to achieve a decent standard of living, yet still be dependent on parents for some level of financial support due to high debt.

Covey illustrates how his Seven Habits help us progress from one stage of the maturity continuum to another. To become truly independent, we must embrace and live Habits 1, 2, and 3:

  • We must be proactive, for example. We must learn that WE are responsible for our own happiness. We must learn to respond rather than react. We must focus on our circle of influence and not the circle of concern.
  • We must begin with the end in mind. We must learn that all things are created twice – the mental or first creation, followed by the physical, or second creation. We must develop our own self-awareness and endeavor to craft a personal mission statement that will serve as our own unwavering constitution or code, through life.
  • And we must put first things first, focusing our efforts on high-leverage quadrant II activities before the world tries to mire us down in urgency. We must seek for balance in life, between production and our capability to produce.

Once we have truly mastered the first three habits, we can work on the second three to help us achieve the ultimate stage of the maturity continuum: interdependence. Interdependence is a far higher level of maturity and effectiveness in life, and one not achieved even by many who we consider “successful”. To become interdependent, we must embrace and live habits 4, 5, and 6:

  • We must first think “win-win”. Without this higher view on life, we can never expect to seek true interdependence in working with others.
  • We must then seek first to understand, then to be understood. Without truly listening and fully understanding where others are coming from, it is impossible to build deep and true relationships and the trust that results.
  • Finally, we must synergize. Synergy is considered by Covey to be the highest activity in all of life. It is where 1 + 1 equals more than 2 – and sometimes 3, 5, 100, or even 1,000.

Even if we reach a level of interdependence, the maturity continuum represents a spiral of continuous improvement. And regular practice of Habit 7, “Sharpen the Saw”, is a great way to improve while assuring gains that are made are held. In fact, Habit 7 embodies practices that improve all of the other 6 Habits.