The 7 Habits of highly effective people will bring you back to yourself. It will remind you that you are in charge of your life. It will convince you that you and only you are responsible for your situation and choices.
The 7 Habits come from unchanging principles, the actual laws of nature. They give you power. The habits make you see yourself as a programmer who can write the program for your future.
The habits also teach you the importance of cooperation and empathic listening. They make you realize that reality is interdependent. You’ll learn to see the world from perspectives different than yours.
About Stephen R. Covey
Stephen R. Covey was an internationally respected leader, teacher, and author. He was also a family expert and organizational consultant. Covey dedicated his life to teaching principle-centered living and leadership. Dr. Covey had an M.B.A. from Harvard University and a doctorate from Brigham Young University.
Covey was a professor and director of university relations at Brigham Young University. In 2003, he received the Fatherhood Award from the National Fatherhood Initiative. He was quoted saying that the fatherhood award was the most meaningful award to him. Dr. Covey was the cofounder and vice chairman of FranklinCovey Company.
He died on July 16, 2012, at the age of 79, while he was working on ten different writing projects. His company still shares Dr. Covey’s vision, discipline, and passion for inspiring. The company lifts and provides tools for change throughout the world.
PART ONE: PARADIGMS AND PRINCIPLES
There are so many people out there who are excelling in their work lives but failing miserably in their family lives. They don’t trust their employees, so they don’t take a day off. Their children don’t feel connected to them anymore.
They’re a success story on the outside but on the verge of collapse from the inside. Their marriages are failing. Their children don’t talk to them. They don’t have any friends. Their lives are falling apart.
These problems are deep and painful. A quick fix doesn’t work in this case. To change such situations, we have to improve ourselves and our perceptions.
In the past, character ethics were considered the basis for success. Character ethics include humility, courage, and integrity.
After the world war though, the foundation of success shifted to personality ethics. It includes our attitudes, behavior, and human interactions.
Before we learn more about the habits of effective people, we’ll try to understand our paradigms and paradigm shifts. Character ethics and personality ethics are both social paradigms.
A paradigm is a way we see and perceive the world. Like a map of a territory, a paradigm is a model of something else. Two people can see the same thing and interpret it differently, and they’ll both be correct. It’s not logical but psychological.
Our paradigms affect the way we interact with people. A paradigm shift is the ‘Aha!’ moment when you begin to see things differently.
The shifts from the Newtonian model of physics to Einstein’s theory is a paradigm shift. So is the shift from monarchy to democracy.
The Principles of Human Effectiveness
We’ll now learn about principles that lead to human effectiveness.
The principles are fairness, integrity, honesty, human dignity, service, quality or excellence, potential, growth, patience, nurturance, and encouragement.
We look at someone’s success, and we ask them how they did it. What we want is to get a quick fix to achieve similar success. The way we see the problem is the problem. The personality ethic tells us that we can dramatically turn the situation around. We don’t go more in-depth to change the paradigm within ourselves.
This new level of deeper thinking, which is paradigm-based, is what we called the 7 habits of highly effective people. It’s an inside out approach, which means we’ll start from the most inside part of ourselves.
The 7 Habits—An Overview
Our character is made of habits.
A thought becomes an action; an action becomes a habit. The habit shapes our character, and character decides our destiny.
Our habits determine our effectiveness. A habit is the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is what to do, skill is how to do it, and desire is the want to do it.
To make a habit, you have to work in all these dimensions. Changing a habit can be a painful process, but it will produce happiness. Happiness is our ultimate purpose in life. So, the result is worth the pain.
The 7 habits are natural laws that are interdependent. In fact, everything in nature is interconnected. Being physically mature doesn’t make us emotionally mature, as well. In our maturity continuum, dependence is the paradigm of you. Independence is the paradigm of I, and interdependence is the paradigm of we.
Contrary to popular belief, independence is not supreme. People often fail at marriages and abandon their children in the name of independence. Such people cannot be good leaders. Interdependence is more mature than independence.
It’s a choice only independent people can make. If you’re independent, you can work on habits 4, 5, and 6, and if you’re interdependent, you can develop habits 1, 2, and 3. Habit 7 is what encircles all other habits. It’s a renewal.
Effectiveness lies in the P/PC balance. P stands for production, and PC stands for production capability. We focus too much on the production and too little on the assets that produce.
There are three kinds of assets: physical, financial, and human. If you don’t want to ruin your machines, deplete your bank accounts, or break your relationships, focus on these assets as well.
PART TWO: PRIVATE VICTORY
HABIT 1: Be Proactive
We are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a result of our decisions, not our conditions.
If we let others control us, we are reactive, not proactive. It means we have chosen to be controlled. Reactive people are driven by emotions, while proactive people are driven by values.
What happens to us doesn’t matter; what matters is our response to it.
Being proactive is to take the initiative, to act and not be acted upon. This is the law of nature. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize this. They wait for others to help them. They don’t use their R and I (resourcefulness and initiative).
We are free to choose our actions, but we aren’t free to choose the consequences.
Living in harmony with the natural principles will have positive results. Going against them will bring negative results. Our actions are like one end of the stick, and the consequences are the other end.
We only realize our mistake when we get to the other end of the stick.
Now, our response to the mistake determines the quality of our next moment. To develop the habit of effectiveness, make commitments to yourself, and keep them.
Take responsibility for your problems and solve them. Try the principle of proactivity for at least thirty days, and you’ll develop the habit.
HABIT 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Principles of Personal Leadership
Okay, I want you to imagine yourself at your funeral.
What would you want your relatives and friends to say about you?
If you manage to experience this deep visualization, you’ll know your fundamental values.
Begin your life today with your last day in mind. Make sure that none of your actions or words contradict the idea you hold supreme. Let each day contribute effectively to the vision you have for your life as a whole. Begin with the end to gain a perspective.
Everything is created twice; first in mind and then physically. Understand the principle of two creation and take charge of both creations.
Develop a personal statement, a philosophy, to live by. Begin at the center of your circle of influence.
This center is the source of your security, guidance, wisdom, and power. These interdependent factors create a balanced character and a beautiful human being. We all have a center through which we approach life.
Your Mission Statement
Writing your mission statement will change you. It’s not a day’s work. Throughout the process, you’ll be analyzing yourself. You’ll be rethinking your beliefs, evaluating your behaviors, and reconsider your priorities. Use your whole brain.
Identify your roles and goals. You can write your mission statement in terms of tasks to have balance and harmony in your life. In this way, your responsibilities will be clearly in front of you.
You can regularly review them and avoid indulging in one of them completely. Your goals will focus directly on the results you want in life. You can also have a family and an organizational mission statement. These will be based on shared values and visions. This will create a frame of reference and a guideline for all of you without anyone else directing you.
HABIT 3: Put First Things First
Principles of Personal Management
Before we get into the third habit, ask yourself these two essential questions.
- What is that one doing that can make a positive difference in your personal life if you do it regularly?
- What is that thing that will do the same for your professional life?
Since habit two is the first and mental creation, habit three is the second and physical one. It is the exercise towards being principle-centered.
You’ll only be able to adopt this habit if you’ve already adopted the first two habits. This implies that you’re already aware of your paradigms and have a clear vision.
The power of independent will is undeniable. Empowerment comes from using this endowment in the daily decisions we make. Our integrity is determined by the degree of independent will we exercise regularly. Leadership decides what first things are, active management is putting first things first.
Time management is all about organizing and executing around priorities. This single sentence represents three generations of time management theory. The first generation was about taking notes and keeping checklists. The second generation moved towards calendars and appointment books. The third generation focuses on setting goals and targets.
The problem is that with a focus on efficiency and time-control, we don’t get the opportunity to build relationships or enjoy small moments. So, there’s a fourth-generation. It declares that the actual problem is not time management but human management. It focuses on relationships, not time and things.
Try the following activities:
- Write down your key roles.
- Select your goals for each role.
- Schedule your time to achieve the goals on a daily and weekly basis.
- Adapt daily.
PART THREE: PUBLIC VICTORY
Paradigms of Interdependence
You do calculus after you’ve done algebra. You can’t have fruits without the roots. Similarly, public victory comes after the private triumph.
This is the law of sequence.
To have good relationships with others, you must become the master of yourself. With self-independence comes self-respect. Every other skill comes later.
Our words and actions must come from our inner core: the character ethic. They shouldn’t come from artificial relation techniques: the personality ethic.
Don’t look for quick fixes when the acute pain of poor relationships becomes unbearable. Look at the chronic problem that lies underneath. Don’t ask others to change. Work on your own character.
Like a financial bank account, we also have an emotional bank account where we deposit by being honest, kind, and courteous.
We manage to have a reserve of trust. We start to feel safe in the relationship. Now if you’re continually demanding one thing or another from the person you’re in a relationship without doing your part, your withdrawals will increase your deposits.
You need to maintain the balance. There are six ways to improve your deposits.
- Understand the other person
- Pay attention to the little things
- Keep commitments
- Clarify the expectations others might have from you
- Show personal integrity
- Apologize sincerely whenever you make a withdrawal.
HABIT 4: Think Win/Win
Principles of Interpersonal Leadership
Win/win is not a technique, nor a strategy. It’s a paradigm, a philosophy of human interaction. The alternate paradigms are Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose, Win, and Win/Win or No Deal.
Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart. It doesn’t believe in my way or your way, it believes in a better way. Win/Lose is something we grow up with. From childhood, people start comparing siblings with each other. We start to believe in competition instead of cooperation.
So, we want to win at the cost of others’ losing. Lose/Win is worse. It means you give up easily and it shows that you’re weak.
When two Win/Lose people get together, it results in a Lose/Lose situation. Their egos can’t let others win, even if they’ve to lose as well.
So, which paradigm is better? Well, it depends on the situation. If it’s a football match, Win/Lose is the best option.
If the relationship is more important to you, choose to Lose/Win.
Let’s get to the last option: Win/Win or no deal.
When you know that you can leave with no deal, you won’t settle with less than a Win/Win, you’ll be independent.
The habit of thinking Win/Win guarantees success in relationships.
It has five dimensions: character, relationships, agreements, supportive systems, and processes.
HABIT 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Principles of Empathic Communication
Imagine going to an optometrist because you have trouble in your eyes.
He takes off his own glasses and asks you to put them on. You tell him that everything’s a blur; the glasses don’t work for you.
What if he tells you that’s you’re just ungrateful because those very glasses work for him.
Will you go to that optometrist again?
Now imagine your kid tells you he doesn’t want to go to school because he doesn’t like it. You get upset because you work hard to pay for his school fees. You tell him that he doesn’t see your sacrifices, or he should have a positive attitude instead. How would the kid feel about you now?
We have a problem. We want to fix things with good advice. Fail to diagnose the problem; we’re always in a hurry to prescribe.
The four ways to communicate
There are four ways to communicate: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. If you do them well, you’re effective.
To communicate effectively, to influence someone, you need to understand them first.
Emphatic listening is the key here. That’s what we’re all poor at. We just want to tell our story, speak of our own righteousness, and share our experiences.
When we listen, we either ignore what the other person’s saying or pretend to listen.
We listen either selectively or attentively only to the words that are being spoken. We don’t try to understand what’s behind the words-the emotions. Remember that man’s greatest need after physical survival is psychological survival.
We listen autobiographically and respond in one of these four ways: evaluate, probe, advice, and interpret.
All of us have a tendency to either agree or disagree, to question the other person’s behavior from our own frame of reference, to give advice based on our own experience, and to explain their actions through their motives.
We must be vigilant enough to distinguish when our response is logical and when it’s only emotional.
This habit lies in the middle of your circle of influence; it’s in your control. So, invest your time in learning about their problems and issue. Understand other people before you seek to be understood.
HABIT 6: Synergize
Principles of Creative Cooperation
The first five habits will prepare you for the habit of synergy. It is the true manifestation of all other habits put together.
It focuses on the four endowments, Win/Win motive, and empathic communication. In this way, it unifies the greatest powers within people. So, what does it mean?
Well, synergy means that the whole is greater than just the sum of its parts. One plus one equals three or more. It means that the relationship between the parts is also a part in itself, the most exciting part that unifies the other parts.
To communicate synergistically means to speak your mind and heart. It means you believe that other people will gain insight from your conversation, and it will move towards growth and learning.
In a classroom, the teachers and the students begin with a safe environment when everyone speaks and listens one by one.
Then they hit upon an idea, and there’s suddenly a new wave of excitement and interest. This is synergy: collectively replacing an old script with a new one.
In business as well, synergy leads to writing a new collective mission statement actual which is engraved in everyone’s hearts and minds. Synergy is exciting because creativity is exciting. You don’t know the results. The possibilities are endless.
PART FOUR: RENEWAL
HABIT 7: Sharpen the Saw
Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal
Suppose you come across someone who’s sawing down a tree. He looks exhausted, must’ve been working for hours.
You tell him to take a break and sharpen the saw which will make it work faster. But he tells you that he doesn’t have time to sharpen the saw because he’s too busy sawing. Habit seven is about taking the time to sharpen the saw.
Different philosophies and words are used to define these dimensions. According to Philosopher Herb Shepherd, a balanced life revolves around four values: tone, connectedness, autonomy, and perspective. These values correspond to the four dimensions, respectively. Sharpen the saw is about expressing all four motivations.
The most common way to renew your spiritual dimension is through reading and meditation.
Most of our mental development is through education. But after leaving school or getting a degree, we don’t like any serious reading. We watch TV instead. So, to make the best out of it, we need habit three. It will help us discriminate between entertainment and information. So, make TV your slave, not master, and also develop the habit of reading good literature.
Most importantly, use habit five as you learn and read. This will help you understand better without using your own autobiography. Writing is another way of achieving daily private victory. Emotional/social development is related to habits four, five, and six.
It is based on the principles of interpersonal leadership, empathic communication, and creative cooperation. Renewing the social/emotional dimension means creating an effective interdependent living.
We are all a function of the social mirror scripted by others. We seek the approvals of others because we take them as responsible beings.
There are times when someone’s trust in us makes a difference in our lives. That’s the power of positive and encouraging scripters. There should be a balance in renewal.
All four dimensions should be developed. Business organizations develop three of the dimensions and forget the fourth one. They focus on service, economy, and human relations. But they are not committed to recognizing and developing the talent of people.
Balanced renewal is synergetic. It is like an upward spiral towards growth and improvement. As we move up the spiral, we learn, commit, and do over and over again.
My personal takeaway
Personally, I think this is one of those books that cover the basics really thoroughly and is a great book to read in its entirety if you haven’t read much in this genre before.
My biggest takeaways from the book were:
- For lasting change, work on more than just your behavior
- Think ‘win-win’
- Look to understand, then look to be understood
Put it into action
Think about how you can be a better listener.
You should consider buying this book if…
This is one of those classics that covers the general ‘how not to be a shit human’ parts of life, so really, the book is fitting for everyone.
However, if you’ve read a million self-help books before, then you’re probably not going to find much new information. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out, then this book is perfect for you.