Book Summary: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Book Summary: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Quick Summary: In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll learn practical principles that will help you succeed in both your personal and professional lives in this incredibly influential guide.

Most of us strive for a corner office, a loving family, and a deep sense of accomplishment. However, even the best can sometimes feel that their goals are beyond their reach. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to unlock our hidden potential?

In fact, there is. To achieve your full potential, you must develop the right habits. There are seven simple principles outlined in this book that will help you achieve more. You’ll gain insight into your routines and develop a lifestyle that leads to your own version of success with their enlightening advice and insightful anecdotes.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Book Summary

The author Stephen Covey noticed an interesting pattern when he examined 200 years of self-help advice. Generally, he discovered that there are two main paradigms. Personality ethics is one of the paradigms. 

According to this paradigm, success is achieved by learning a series of tricks and techniques. If you complete the right tasks or speak the right way, you will achieve your goals. Despite its appeal, this advice often results in superficial changes that don’t make a significant difference in the long term.

In the second paradigm, things are different. Here, the character is emphasized. It argues that success is based on certain principles. However, these principles don’t apply to every situation. Instead, they are universal truths about the world. We will reach lasting results if we align our inner character with these rules.

What is the practical application of this paradigm? Consider trying to make your marriage happier. Taking a vacation or adopting a new communication style would be recommended by the Personality Ethic. 

The Character Ethic, on the other hand, encourages you to develop your character. By cultivating a character based on the principles of fairness, empathy, and trust, you can be the type of person who has a good marriage.

As easy as it is to say, it is hard to do. The way that you perceive and approach the world around you must change if you want to develop an inner character based on good principles. You must cultivate good habits to make changes based on the character paradigm. Do you wonder what habits you need? We will discuss that in the sections below.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

For millennia, scientists, philosophers, and everyday people have puzzled over a simple question: What makes you unique?

Some believe that our lives are dictated by our DNA and our evolution. Others point to our parents. They say that the most important thing is who raised us and how we were raised. Others, however, insist our surroundings and immediate circumstances are more important.

All of these answers are insufficient. All of them are deterministic – they believe our lives are in the hands of external forces. Those who are highly effective, however, typically approach the world from a different perspective. Although we can’t control everything, we can control ourselves.

Our capacity for self-awareness distinguishes humans from other animals. Animals are heavily reliant on their environment for survival. In general, they react in a preprogrammed way to things they encounter in the world. By contrast, humans have the ability to pause, reflect, and decide how to respond. It’s called being proactive, and it is the first habit of highly successful people.

Proactive behavior gives you the freedom to engage with the world around you in a way that suits your preferences, as well as the chance to determine your own destiny. If it rains on your picnic, for example, you can cancel it. If it rains on your picnic, for example, you can focus on the positives. 

By focusing your attention on having fun with friends, despite the storm, you can avoid brooding about the weather.

Even under dire circumstances, this works. Viktor Frankl is an example. He spent time in concentration camps during World War II. Despite all the external conditions dictated by his tormentors, he knew that he could still control his response. 

Instead of losing hope, he envisioned a better future in which he could explain how he survived the horror. He was able to overcome this setback and later pursue a career as an educator due to this proactive response.

By practicing, you can also cultivate the ability to actively shape your response to hardship. Consider your options carefully when you come across an obstacle at work or at home. Try not to act on impulse. Rather, step back and think about what’s causing the problem, then focus your energy on what you can influence.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

As a starting point, let’s imagine that it’s three years into the future, and you’ve sadly passed on. Tragic, indeed. Now that you’ve been buried, all of your friends and family gathered to pay their respects. The eulogies are delivered by each person in turn at the podium. How would you like them to remember you?

It’s tough to contemplate, but it’s also instructive. In an instant, your unimportant daily details disappear, and your true priorities become apparent. Right now, you’re considering your relationships, your accomplishments, and your legacy.

In order to organize your life, it’s essential to consider your ultimate outcome, as this somber experiment shows. This is why highly effective people make it a habit to think things through – which leads us to habit number two.

No matter how big or small your actions are, you do them twice. The first step to carrying out a process is conjuring up a plan before you actually do it. A simple to-do list can be as quick and casual as a mental checklist, or as detailed as a well-written business plan.

However you look at it, thinking about the future is essential for navigating the present. Build the dream home of your dreams. Drafting a blueprint before framing the house or building the roof is a wise idea. The construction process will be a chaotic disaster if you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re building. The result will likely be unsatisfactory, as you’ll make costly mistakes and waste valuable resources.

Short-term projects can be easily applied to this principle. When it comes to professional matters, for example, setting goals that you hope to achieve by the end of each quarter will help you stay on track.

It is only when you plan for the long term that you can gain the most benefit from this habit. You can do this by crafting a mission statement that describes your desired life. Think about what your goals are, what values you want to uphold, and what success means to you. Write it down. As a tool for measuring your progress and making decisions, this document is helpful. When you know exactly where you want to go, staying on track is much easier.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Monday morning, 9:00 a.m., and you’re at work. There’s a phone ringing, the printer is jammed, and you have to draft a report and project plan. There’s a knock on your door – it’s your boss. He wants to talk to you.

What is the first thing you do?

No matter what your goals are, it can be hard to know what steps to take at what time. This third habit refers to assessing the urgency and importance of tasks and prioritizing them accordingly.

Here’s how we can do it. Time management can be accomplished in many ways. Some people recommend making lists; others suggest scheduling your tasks in advance. Organizing your efforts based on priority is the key to working effectively – and if you are using a time management matrix, you can make this possible.

There are two dimensions to a time management matrix: urgency and priority. Create one by drawing two-by-two grids with four boxes on a piece of paper.

Quadrant One is at the top left of the picture. It contains urgent and important tasks like a sudden crisis that can’t be ignored. Quadrant Two: Important but not urgent tasks, such as building client relationships – this is the top right box. 

Quadrant Three is at the bottom left. This is for tasks that are urgent but not so critical, such as answering the phone. The last quadrant, on the right, is Quadrant Four: here, you can do anything that’s neither urgent nor important, like playing solitaire.

You can easily see where to focus your efforts once you have divided up all your responsibilities in this way. The tasks in Quadrant Two deserve more attention than the items in Quadrant One. Because they aren’t urgent, they often go unnoticed. Yet they are still important, and can lead to significant efficiencies. Quadrant One will not appear if you address them early on.

We can’t do everything by ourselves, of course. You may need to delegate items that don’t require your personal touch when putting first things first. Avoid micromanaging. Give specific results rather than assigning tasks. When it comes to efficiency, the most important factor is the outcome.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

It’s championship football game time. Last season’s game is about to kick off. One team will win and one team will lose. Even if they played well, one team walks away empty handed.

Life isn’t always like that – one team must succeed and the rest must fail. You can actually benefit from almost any situation if you use collaborative thinking. Therefore, effective people ensure that everyone has a positive outcome.

We use certain paradigms to structure our relationships throughout life. Most people view the world from a win-lose perspective. Therefore, they see each exchange, whether personal, business, or other, as a competition in which they get what they want at the expense of the other party.

Some contexts may benefit from this paradigm, but others may not. In this paradigm, everything is a contest, and partners are adversaries. This breeds distrust and disharmony, which ultimately leads to both parties losing. 

As an example, consider a sales team where bonuses are only given to the top performers. The rest do not receive any bonuses. In this arrangement, each player is incentivized to care only about himself. This may lead to people hiding leads, or even worse, sabotage each other. What’s the result? Less sales in general.

A win-win paradigm is an alternative to this. Collaboration is preferred over competition. It aims to benefit all parties. For that sales team, this would mean distributing bonuses only after everyone reaches a specific sales goal. In this way, a salesperson’s success is also the success of everyone else.

How can you ensure you’re always looking for win-win situations? A mindset of abundance can help. Success, joy, fulfillment, or even profits are not seen as rare commodities with this mindset. Rather, it recognizes that there is always enough to go around. There is always more value to be had, so it’s easier to find ways to collaborate on achieving it when you realize there is always more.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

You can’t pick out your friend from ten steps away, words are blurry, and you’re always squinting. You need an eye exam. You know how these trips typically go. Your doctor tries out different lenses as you read letters off a chart. Eventually, he finds the right one for you.

How about if the doctor took a different approach? Rather than testing your eyes, what if she handed you her glasses, said, “These work for me,” and moved on? You’d probably have to find a new optometrist as your vision would still be blurry.

Many people act like that doctor when it comes to communicating. Instead of understanding the problem, they offer solutions. People who are highly effective follow a different approach, with the fifth habit of listening before speaking.

Any meaningful relationship begins with good communication. It is unfortunate that most people only seek to hone their speaking skills. But that’s only half the battle. In order to build real relationships, you must also understand. To understand someone well, you have to listen to them.

Hearing is not the only aspect of listening. Understanding another person’s feelings and thoughts means actually being able to relate to them on a personal level. This is best achieved by practicing empathic listening. 

You need to tune into both the intellectual and emotional frames of reference of the other person when listening to them. In other words, it means not only listening to the words, but also understanding them on a deeper level.

You can accomplish this by holding off on offering advice until you clearly understand what someone is trying to communicate. Rather than replying to an anecdote with a story of your own, identify the emotion the other person is trying to express. You can “reflect” by simply saying, 

That sounds frustrating, or you feel this is important. It keeps the conversation focused on the person you want to understand.

It’s not a shortcut or trick. Empathetic listening requires a genuine interest in the other person. Empathetic listening requires practice and patience. It will become second nature once you practice it. Their empathy and respect will often be reciprocated by them. Over time, you will find that your relationships become more fulfilling and satisfying.

Habit 6: Synergize

Let’s go on a rainforest walk. There’s so much life and beauty here. How is this place so lush and vibrant? Could it be the birds? Could it be the ants? Or is it the sun shining through the canopy overhead? It’s not a simple matter of which element is at fault. All of these things are connected. The complexity of life’s interactions is what allows such ecosystems to flourish.

There is often more to a whole than its parts, both in nature and in human relations. Efficacious people are always looking for ways to unlock its potential and implement this sixth habit, which we call synergy.

As a concept, synergy can be hard to describe, but, to put it simply, it is the result of different people working together in harmony. Every individual has different strengths and weaknesses, so every person is unique. Therefore, when groups work together, they can reinforce the positive attributes of each other while mitigating the negative ones. Together, they form a stronger whole.

This can happen in almost any situation. Imagine, for instance, a classroom where students are free to exchange ideas and interact. How will that work? The discussion is enhanced by some students’ provocative questions, some students’ informative answers, and other students’ personal insights. You may stray from the lesson plan in the end, but everyone will learn more.

A safe and respected environment is the key to encouraging synergistic energy. It requires empathetic listening and win-win thinking. It is more likely that people will share ideas, build on their contributions, and value the skills brought to the table by others when these habits are practiced.

In David Lilienthal’s case, it worked. In the United States after World War II, he put together a team of highly capable people to lead the Atomic Energy Commission. The experts all held strong opinions, which occasionally clashed with each other. 

Lilienthal arranged weekly meetings so each team member could discuss their hopes, fears, and reasons for participating in the program. During these open discussions, trust and understanding were fostered, allowing for synergy to blossom. A highly creative and productive culture developed as a result.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Take on the role of an energetic lumberjack. Your daily job is to fell trees in the forest. It’s easy at first. It bangs down, bangs down, bangs down. You begin to notice a disturbing pattern over time. The trees are getting harder and harder to chop down. After a week, it takes all afternoon to topple a single trunk.

How did this happen? It was a simple mistake. Your tools have been neglected while you’ve been working hard at work. Now your trusty ax is dull and useless, once sleek and sharp.

No matter how driven and dedicated the worker is, he or she will eventually burn out if they don’t take a break. This is why the seventh habit of highly effective people involves rest and renewal.

When striving to achieve your goals, it can be easy to forget to nurture your own well-being as you focus on outward actions. This is a dangerous oversight, since all your other effective habits will suffer without a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Thus, it is vital that you devote time and energy to continually renewing yourself in four different dimensions.

Physical dimension is the first. In order to do this, you should exercise regularly, eat right, and sleep well. Maintaining these healthy habits will give you the endurance to operate over an extended period of time.

In addition to the physical dimension, there is the spiritual dimension. To renew this dimension, you need to get in touch with yourself, your values, and the beauty of the world around you. Take a few moments to contemplate, pray, or meditate every day. Such practices help you stay centered and ready to deal with adversity.

There is a third dimension, which is mental. You need to exercise your mind regularly, just like your body. Learn new things every day to stay sharp. Consider picking up a foreign language, learning new skills, or reading new books. You’ll be more engaged in the world and your life will be more fulfilling.

The fourth and final dimension of your life relates to your social and emotional well-being. Your social life does not have to suffer for the sake of efficiency. It’s crucial to nurture your professional and personal relationships. Play with your children, check in with loved ones, and talk to colleagues.

As long as you renew each of these dimensions, you will continue to reap the benefits. You’ll always be ready to act effectively if you firmly establish this habit.

Final Words

A shortcut or trick that works only in certain circumstances isn’t self-improvement. Developing strong habits based on guiding principles is the most meaningful way to improve your life and to become more effective. Here are a few suggestions.

One, be proactive in how you respond to the world.

Two, have a goal in mind when starting any task.

Three, put first things first by prioritizing.

Four, always look for a win-win situation.

Five, learn to truly understand others so you can build stronger relationships.

Six, foster open communication to foster synergy.

Seven, take some time for yourself.

By internalizing these imperatives and cultivating a commitment to them over time, you’ll gradually begin to reap the benefits of living an effective life.

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