The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey
This book has touched millions of people’s lives – it’s one of, if not THE, most well know success books out there. There are literally 1000’s of success books out there, so why should the 7 habits of highly effective people be any different? Stephen researched the last 200 years of success literature and found something interesting. In the last 50 years, most of the books have been focused on the personality ethic – things like public image, how you dress, how you perform in social interactions, positive mental attitude, and skills and techniques to get people to behave in certain ways. These books focus on how to appear rather than how to actually be.
The 7 habits of highly effective people takes an inside out approach – it focuses on the character ethic rather than the personality ethic. In the words of Stephen covey:
Almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the character ethic as the foundation for success — things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the golden rule. … the character ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.
Greatness starts from the inside out.
Of course, there is a place for the personality ethic, but character forms the foundation. Personality ethics need to be rooted in character. The personality ethic can be seen as fake or as a fake it til you make it image if it’s not rooted in character. Sometimes people apply these personality techniques in order to use and manipulate people to meet their own goals and agendas. In the long run, people will eventually see through this duplicity… but you can’t fake character ethic.
If you’re still confused, imagine an iceberg. The personality ethics are above water while the character is below the water. The character forms the foundation. It is where the greatest impact over the long term is. It’s where you sow the seeds. The problem is that people don’t focus on the foundation, they focus on the appearance. They are looking for shortcuts and quick fixes, but there are no shortcuts. This is not a quick fix program… but if you endure and apply the following habits, you will absolutely achieve your goals and it will help you develop better relationships.
Let’s jump into the 7 habits.
HABIT 1 – BE PROACTIVE
Let’s talk about the circle of concern and the circle of influence. The circle of concern consists of all the things that are out of your control (weather, politics, what people think about you, success of others, the economy, other people’s mistakes, other people’s opinions, and so on).
The circle of influence consists of all the things that you can control (your attitude, what you read, what skills you learn, your enthusiasm, how you spend your free time and who you spend it with, your habits and hobbies, and so on).
With that said, there are 2 ways to live life – you can either be reactive or proactive. Reactive people complain about things that are out of their control. Their environment and outside forces effect their performance and their mood. Additionally, they don’t take action or ownership of the things that they can control.
And then you have the other type of person – they are proactive. This type of person realizes that their decisions determine their life, not their conditions. Proactive people don’t complain about things they can’t control. Additionally, they take action to improve the things that they can control. Proactive people understand that sometimes we may not have complete control over certain outside forces, but we can control how we respond to a situation.
Lets look at an example of how a proactive and reactive person respond to the same situation. 2 people take a test and they both fail. One blames the teacher and gives up and the other takes responsibility and studies harder and tries to improve themselves. The reactive person complains about how bad the teacher is and the proactive person asks, what can I do? They look at themselves first instead of blaming and complaining.
So, don’t focus on what you can’t control. Focus on what you can control. Take responsibility.
And keep in mind, as you become more proactive within your circle of influence, it grows bigger and you bring more power into your life. Even if you only implement 1 habit out of the 7 habits, make it this one. This one alone can have a huge impact on your life. You either act or are acted upon.
HABIT 2 – BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND
All things are created twice – the first time it’s created is in your mind and the second time is in the real world. let’s look at how it’s created in the mind first..
To get where you want to go in life, you need to have a map. you need to determine your life goals, your destination, and you also need a plan on how to get there. Otherwise, you’re just aimlessly wandering around in life. So, where do you want to go in life? Have you sat down and clearly defined the type of life you want? Do you know where you want to be in 5, 10, and 15 years from now? If not, then you’re wandering around aimlessly at the whims of everyone else.
Let me put it another way. Picture your life like a ladder. You’re climbing up the ladder of life, working hard, doing the right things, and making progress month by month, year by year. Then as you get toward the top of the ladder you suddenly realize your ladder was leaning against the wrong wall the whole time. It was leaning against a wall that you thought would make you happy (materialism, money, recognition). You placed your ladder on the wall that has nothing to do with your life purpose and nothing to do with your passions.
A lot of people live their lives like this. They don’t have a vision (or the right vision) for their life. They don’t have what Stephen Covey calls a personal mission statement. You need to make a conscious effort of where you want to end up or other people will control your life and where you end up going. This is why this habit is so important. You need to figure out your destination first and then work towards it.
If you’re not really clear on what your purpose is, then think about the end of your life. How do you want to be remembered? Why do you want to be remembered for that? Find your purpose and make sure there is a strong why behind it.. Again, not something like having money, but something you have a real passion for. You weren’t put here to make money, buy stuff, work a job you dislike, and then die. You have something to contribute to the world. You can add value. Instead of asking what life has to offer, ask what you can offer life.
So, think about your purpose, think about your values, and write them down! Your personal mission statement can be as simple as Will Smith’s, “I want the world to be better because I was here”. Keep your mission statement at the forefront of your mind and whenever you make a decision, see if it’s in alignment with that mission statement. This will keep you on track.
Create your ideal life and your legacy. It can be whatever you want. Dream big and don’t hold yourself back. Most of the time, the thing that holds us back is ourselves. Don’t let self doubt get in the way. Realize that anything is possible. Define how you want your life to be right now and don’t let the past or anything else hold you back. You write the script to your life. No one else. You are the programmer.
HABIT 3 – PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST
This is the second creation. As you learned in habit 2, all things are created twice – first in the mind, and then in reality. Habit 3, putting first things first, is where you take the steps and actions required to make your vision a reality. Habit 2 says: you are the programmer. Habit 3: Write the program. This is where we begin examining our daily routine and habits.
Ask yourself, what’s the most important thing for you in this moment? It’s probably your wife/husband/significant other, finishing school, improving your health, or family, right? It’s not checking FB or Instagram. So why do we spend so much time doing these useless things? We need to get into the habit of putting first things first. Taking the time to focus on what really matters and focusing our efforts on what’s going to get us to where we want to be in life. Really start questioning the scripts, the habits, in your life.
We have all fallen into the viscous cycle of waking up late, eating poorly, leaving late for work, rushing through traffic in a state of stress, being unorganized at work and being pulled in all different directions, and then getting home, eating fast food because you’re tired, then falling asleep late because you’re watching some new TV show. Then you wake up late the next day to do it all over again! This is the perfect example of not putting first things first.
We could all use a little help in the time management department. We all have a lot to do, so, how do we manage our time effectively? Usually we all write things down on an endless to do list. We tend to go in order from top to bottom with no real priorities. Or you schedule things on a calendar, which is a decent practice, but with one interruption and our whole game can be thrown off. You could also try daily planning based on priorities, but again, one interruption can mess it all up (most of us fall into this time management scheme). There is another way though.
Stephen developed a cool quad chart in which you categorize things by urgency and importance. You need to categorize items into the following:
You remember the example above of the reactive and unorganized person, now let’s look at an example of someone who puts first things first.
Joe wakes up early, exercises for 30 minutes, eats a healthy breakfast, leaves early for work and has a nice smooth and joyful ride to ride, then works on the important and not urgent things, works on emergencies if needed, delegates quad 3 activities, and rejects quad 4 tasks. Joe takes a nice relaxing lunch and thinks about the rest of his day and plan his night. At the end of the work day he closes out tasks and plans things for the next day. He gets home and prepares a healthy meal and then maybe reads before bed. He seems to have more time to think about his life, reflects on things, and makes plans on where he want to end up and who he wants to be (habit 2). Huge difference, right?
No one on their death bed wishes they spent more time at work or checked their FB more often, right? So again, focus on what’s important to you and make them a priority. Commit yourself to it.
The first 3 habits (be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first) are about moving you from being dependent to being independent. They are about self mastery. They help you become more effective as an individual by developing inner strength, character, purpose, and values.
The next 3 habits move you from being independent to being interdependent. Interdependence is the highest level level of what Stephen Covey calls the maturity continuum. The maturity continuum consists of 3 levels: dependence, independence, and interdependence.
Dependency is like the relationship between a child and mother, or even sometimes between a boss and employee (if the employee lacks their own inner strength, values, and purpose). It’s the attitude of you. To move from dependence to independence, you have to nail the first 3 habits. This is the attitude of I. Most people think independence is where it’s at. They think it’s the highest level, but in fact, interdependence is the highest level. Interdependence is where you think like a team. Think marriage, family, and team mentality. We accomplish what we want together. It’s the attitude of we. We can combine our talents and our abilities. You have to move from being dependent to independent before you can truly become interdependent.
Habits 4-6 will help you deal with people – how to read their needs, how to empathize, and how to cooperate with them.
HABIT 4 – THINK WIN-WIN
There are 6 types of personal and business relationships. Lose-win and win-lose. This is the typical mentality of most. In order for me to win, you have to lose. This is the mind set of – someone is going to get the good end of a deal and someone is going to get screwed. This is a poor mindset to have, but people live with this outlook because most people have a scarcity mind-set. Most people have a lack of abundance mind-set.
There is also the lose – lose relationship, which of course is no good for anybody. Here is an example of this one. I had a friend who got divorced and was about to retire from the military. Instead of retiring and getting a pension (half of which his wife would get), he got out at 19 years and got no pension. In this case, they both lost out.
Next, there is win. This is not really a relationship at all. This is you just getting what you want and not providing value to anyone else. It’s pretty much selfish
Then there is no deal. This one is pretty much neutral. If you can’t come to a deal where you both benefit, then there is no deal.
And lastly, we come to the best type of relationship – win-win. We want to look for win-win relationships. We want to search for mutual benefit and have the mind set that there is plenty out there. There is abundance. We can share knowledge, gain, and profit.. We don’t need to crush each other – we can work together instead. Life isn’t a zero sum game, so, look at every situation with a win win mentality.
HABIT 5 – SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD
Stephen tells a great story here. Stephen and his son have a talk and Stephen can’t get through to his son about some issue they’re having. He then goes to a friend for advice. He tells the friend, I just cant understand my son sometimes. He won’t listen to me. The friend says hold on, let me get this straight. You can’t understand your son because he won’t listen to you? I thought to understand someone, you have to listen to them.
That’s a great point isn’t it? For us to understand someone, we have to listen to them… not the other way around. It’s common sense really, but most of the time this is how our relationships play out.
We often get mad at people because they don’t think the way that we think. We all see the world differently. We all see the world through our own perceptions and opinions based on our own experiences. You can’t understand someone unless you really listen to them. Try to understand their perspective first. Try to understand how they are feeling and why. This is called empathic listening. This is the highest level of listening (the others being ignoring, pretending to listen, selective hearing, and attentive listening). None of these are very effective, but most of us listen using one of these levels.
Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply
before the other person even finishes. Before you judge, before you take action, before you contribute, just listen.
So, if your wife says, “I hate my job”, instead of providing advice or repeating what she said, which is the typical response, you rephrase the content and reflect the feeling and say something like, “you’re not enjoying your job and you’re feeling upset”. This gets you both on the same side of the table. You’re listening with the intent to understand intellectually and emotionally. Then can move forward to repair the situation.
The time to be understood is when the conversation leads to logic and advice is requested. When you go down this path maybe she eventually responds with, “should I look for another job?” This is when you can seek to be understood. If it goes back to emotional, then you listen again empathically until logic is brought back. This creates an atmosphere of caring.
HABIT 6 – SYNERGY
The idea behind this is that different people bring different opinions, ideas, perspectives, and strengths to the table. Instead of simply tolerating or accepting these differences, we should celebrate them. We should value these differences. This is what any good CEO does – they get their different subject matter experts and get their input to come up with the best solution.
Another way to think of this is when you put two pieces of together. One piece of wood by itself isn’t that strong, but when you put two together, the overall strength increases by more than two times. With synergy, 1+1 can equal 3, 10, or 100. Think of how individual units can work together to create something even bigger. Another example is the human body. There are many individual parts that are amazing in their own right, but all the parts together create something amazing.
So again, habits 4 – 6 deal with relationships. These 3 habits can help you have effective and interdependent relationships with others.
HABIT 7 – SHARPEN THE SAW
Lets say you see a guy trying to cut down a tree with a dull saw. You say, hey, why don’t you sharpen that thing? It’s going to take you 6 hours at this rate. He says, I don’t have time to sharpen it, I have to cut this tree down. You explain, if you spent one hour sharpening that saw, it would only take 3 hours to cut the tree down. You don’t have time not to sharpen the saw!!
This example can be applied to our lives on many different planes. We are the instruments and we have to regularly sharpen 4 areas (these areas fall into quadrant 2 activities).
- Physical – Find the importance of it. Again, it’s not urgent, but it is important. You can either exercise and feel good now, or pay for it in 30 years when you’re in the hospital with all kids of physical aliments that you could have avoided.
- Spirituality – Ask yourself, who am I? What am I? Meditate, pray, and contemplate. Get in touch with music and art. The Meaning of Life – Man’s Search for Meaning
- Cognitive health – Continuously explore, learn, teach others, expand, and educate yourself. Read a good book – check out The Power of NOW by Eckhart Tolle
- Social health (relationships) – Make an effort to spend time with friends and family. Improve your relationships. Check out The 7 Principles for Making a Marriage Work.
Think continuous improvement. We must continually renew ourselves. The best way to unleash your future potential is by investing – investing in yourself. Strive for continuous learning and improvement. Doing so renews each of the other habits as well. This habit keeps you fresh so you can handle the other 6 habits.
Make these 7 habits a part of your life. Don’t just attempt to understand them intellectually, try to live them. Apply these habits and teach them to others because the best way to learn is by teaching it to someone else. This is a life long process that requires patience. It’s not a quick fix, it won’t happen overnight, and it will be a challenge.
As you continue down the path, you will hit obstacles, and you will fall back a time or two, but this is necessary. Old habits will pull you down, but don’t give up. Keep pushing yourself and you will hit new heights and levels of effectiveness. As you progress, be open to self discovery and be open minded.