The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

This was the first book on personal development I read about 20 years ago and am surprised how many times since it came up in conversation. I recently read a book called 'Turn the Ship Around' by L.David Marquet; who mentions Seven Habits a few times in there and how Stephen Covey actually visited the Sante Fe (Submarine in the book). I thought it was about time to read it again. I can with honesty say that I enjoyed it the second time as much as I can remember I enjoyed it the first time.

In short, the book is about how success encompasses a balance of personal and professional effectiveness. How before you can adopt the seven habits, you need to change your perception and interpretation of how the world works and how between what happens to you and your response to it is your freedom to choose that response.

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are conditioned to “see” it.

It describes how proactive people work on the things they can do something about. How management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

The three most powerful points I took from the book were;

  1. To make relatively minor changes in your life, focus on your attitudes and behaviours.

  2. Think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things

  3. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or, as we are conditioned to see it

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are;

1) Be proactive

  • We’re in charge. We choose the scripts by which to live our lives. Use this self-awareness to be proactive and take responsibility for your choices.

2) Begin with the end in mind

  • "It's incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover that it's leaning against the wrong wall." - Stephen Covey.

  • Start with a clear destination. That way, we can make sure the steps we’re taking are in the right direction.

3) Put first things first

  • We must have the discipline to prioritise our day-to-day actions based on what is most important, not what is most urgent.

  • In order to maintain the discipline and the focus to stay on track toward our goals, we need to have the willpower to do something when we don’t want to do it. We need to act according to our values rather than our desires or impulses at any given moment.

  • The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves." - Stephen Covey

  • The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities." - Stephen Covey

Think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things." - Stephen Covey

4) Think win/win

  • In order to establish effective interdependent relationships, we must commit to creating Win-Win situations that are mutually beneficial and satisfying to each party.

  • Another important factor in solving for Win-Win situations is maintaining an Abundance Mentality.

  • Abundance Mentality: The belief that there's plenty out there for everyone.

  • Most people operate with the Scarcity Mentality -- meaning they act as though everything is zero-sum (in other words, if you get it, I don’t). People with the Scarcity Mentality have a very hard time sharing recognition or credit and find it difficult to be genuinely happy about other people’s successes.

  • When it comes to interpersonal leadership, the more genuine our character is, the higher our level of pro-activity; the more committed we are to Win-Win, the more powerful our influence will be.

  • To achieve Win-Win, keep the focus on results, not methods; on problems, not people.

  • Lastly, the spirit of Win-Win can’t survive in an environment of competition. As an organisation, we need to align our reward system with our goals and values and have the systems in place to support Win-Win.

5) Seek first to understand then be understood

  • Before we can offer advice, suggest solutions, or effectively interact with another person in any way, we must seek to deeply understand them and their perspective through emphatic listening.

  • We prescribe a solution before we diagnose the problem. We don’t seek to deeply understand the problem first.

  • You’ve spent years of your life learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening?" -Stephen Covey

  • You have to build the skills of emphatic listening on a base of character that inspires openness and trust." -Stephen Covey

  • Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. At any given moment, they’re either speaking or preparing to speak.

  • Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood takes courage." -Stephen Covey

  • If we listen emphatically, we see dramatic results in improved communication. It takes time to make this shift, but it doesn’t take nearly as long to practice emphatic listening as it does to back up and correct misunderstandings, or to live with unexpressed and unresolved problems only to have them surface later on

6) Synergize

  • By understanding and valuing the differences in another person’s perspective, we have the opportunity to create synergy, which allows us to uncover new possibilities through openness and creativity.

  • When one plus one equals three or more, when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

  • Synergy allows us to create new alternatives and open new possibilities. It allows us as a group to collectively agree to ditch the old scripts and write new ones.

  • Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness." -Stephen Covey

  • By putting forth a spirit of trust and safety, we will prompt others to become extremely open and feed on each other’s insights and ideas, creating synergy.

  • The real essence of synergy is valuing the differences -- the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between people.

  • The key to valuing differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are." -Stephen Covey

  • After all, if two people have the same opinion, one is unnecessary. When we become aware of someone’s different perspective, we can say, “Good! You see it differently! Help me see what you see.”

  • We seek first to understand, and then we find strength and utility in those different perspectives in order to create new possibilities and Win-Win results.

Synergy allows you to:

  • Value the differences in other people as a way to expand your perspective

  • Sidestep negative energy and look for the good in others

  • Exercise courage in interdependent situations to be open and encourage others to be open

  • Catalyse creativity and find a solution that will be better for everyone by looking for a third alternative

7) Sharpen the saw

  • To be effective, we must devote the time to renewing ourselves physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. Continuous renewal allows us to synergistically increase our ability to practice each habit.

  • Habit 7 is focused around renewal, or taking time to “sharpen the saw.” It surrounds all of the other habits and makes each one possible by preserving and enhancing your greatest asset -- yourself

There are four dimensions of our nature, and each must be exercised regularly, and in balanced ways:

  1. Physical Dimension: The goal of continuous physical improvement is to exercise our body in a way that will enhance our capacity to work, adapt, and enjoy.

To renew ourselves physically, we must:

  1. Eat well

  2. Get sufficient rest and relaxation

  3. Exercise on a regular basis to build endurance, flexibility, and strength

  • Focusing on the physical dimension helps develop Habit 1 muscles of pro activity. We act based on the value of well-being instead of reacting to the forces that keep us from fitness.

2. Spiritual Dimension: The goal of renewing our spiritual self is to provide leadership to our life and reinforce your commitment to our value system.

To renew ourselves spiritually, we can:

  1. Practice daily meditation

  2. Communicate with nature

  3. Immerse yourself in great literature or music

  • A focus on our spiritual dimension helps us practice Habit 2, as we continuously revise and commit ourselves to our values, so we can begin with the end in mind.

3. Mental Dimension: The goal of renewing our mental health is to continue expanding our mind.

To renew ourselves mentally, we can:

  1. Read good literature

  2. Keep a journal of your thoughts, experiences, and insights

  3. Limit television watching to only those programs that enrich your life and mind

4. Social/Emotional Dimension: The goal of renewing ourselves socially is to develop

meaningful relationships.

To renew ourselves emotionally, we can:

  1. Seek to deeply understand other people

  2. Make contributions to meaningful projects that improve the lives of others

  3. Maintain an Abundance Mentality, and seek to help others find success

  • Renewing our social and emotional dimension helps us practice Habits 4, 5, and 6 by recognizing that Win-Win solutions do exist, seeking to understand others, and finding mutually beneficial third alternatives through synergy.

  • Not a day goes by that we can’t at least serve one other human being by making deposits of unconditional love." -Stephen Covey

  • As we focus on renewing ourselves along these four dimensions, we must also seek to be a positive scripter for other people. We must look to inspire others to a higher path by showing them we believe in them, by listening to them emphatically, by encouraging them to be proactive.

  • The more we see people in terms of their unseen potential, the more we can use our imagination rather than our memory." -Stephen Covey

  • Focusing on our mental dimension helps us practice Habit 3 by managing ourselves effectively to maximize the use of our time and resources.


What I took from it.

  • Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.

  • We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or, as we are conditioned to see it.

  • The way we see the problem is the problem.

  • The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

  • We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

  • Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.

  • A habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.

  • Proactive people can carry their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shines makes no difference to them. They are value driven; and if their value is to produce good quality work, it isn’t a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not.”

  • Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values—carefully thought about, selected and internalised values.”

  • Proactive people are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social, or psychological. But their response to the stimuli, conscious or unconscious, is a value-based choice or response.”

  • It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”

  • What matters most is how we respond to what we experience in life.”

  • Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.

  • You simply can’t think efficiency with people. You think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.

  • Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.

My Rating

This is a great book. Principles that are common for all people and essential for success. It really helped me to re-focus on what is important for me in life and how to re-prioritize my life around my principals. This is a self-development classic and a 'must read' for anyone who takes personal development seriously. It took me 20 years to read this book again. I will have to make it a more regular read.