What’s it about?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) is the ultimate self-help book that teaches you the effectiveness principles. If you adopt those habits into all your life aspects, you’ll be on a clear path to success.

About the author:

Stephen Covey was an American author, lecturer, and advisor. Not only did he write books on the subject of motivational skills and self-help, but he also wrote religious texts. The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People is his most famous work. It sold over 20 million copies!

Adopt the habits that differentiate highly effective people from normal ones:

Do you long for a more effective life? Do you wish you achieve more at work? Or maybe you’d like to be a more devoted partner?

No matter what you want to improve, you can never get there if you don’t start by changing yourself. And the best way to accomplish a long-lasting personal change is to develop better, more effective habits. Yes, we are habitual creatures. It’s not necessarily always about how we act, but to a large extent, who we are is defined by our habits. Routine defines our character and, just like gravity, steers our behavioral direction.

The though question is: What habits help you become more effective? Dive in the following summary to find out!

For a long-lasting change, you have to adjust your character, not just your behavior:

When the writer, Stephan convey, started his quest on truly understanding the nature and route of success, he began by engaging himself with 200 years worth of literature on this topic, beginning from 1776. Based on his deep immersion, he concluded that there are two ways to endeavor life improvements:

  • Improve on the skills necessary for the behaviors you wish to have. For example, if you desire to better your relationships with others, look into communication studies or body-language techniques.

We call this way the personality ethic. It has been pretty popular since the 1920s. However, despite it portraying a reliable route to growth, it is just a shortcut. The personality ethic steers you clear of the fundamental character traits that hold you back, assuring that some simple learnable techniques can be the silver bullet for all your issues. Alas, this promise is often empty, and it never ends you up with ongoing growth on the personal level.

  • Working on your character is a far more effective method – that is, the essential fundamental habits and beliefs that form your view of the world. Only if you stem your behavior straight from your character will you endure, sooner or later, your best real character.

This method is called the character ethic, and it stresses traits like integrity, courage, and the golden rule. It was dominantly used before the 1920s, and it is clearly stated in reliable writers’ work like Benjamin Franklin.

Therefore, if you seek real change, you have to work on yourself from the inside out. And here is how:

Orient your way of viewing the world with the basic principles of the universe:

If you ever needed to navigate the streets of a city you are not familiar with, you would know that a map is the way to go.

Similarly, you would use your paradigm as guidance to navigate the world surrounding you. A paradigm is a subjective way you use to understand and recognize the world.

After all, there is no such thing as an objective observer. Our personal paradigms tint almost everything we perceive and acknowledge about the world. For example, an individual with a negative paradigm will consider getting lost somewhere as a waste of time. In contrast, someone with a positive paradigm would view it as an adventure.

Because our paradigm is the essence of our character, transforming it is the key to make the change we need. This is the only way to shift our subjective realities to then achieve a better character and behavior. That’s why recognizing and monitoring your personal paradigms is essential, or you’ll never figure out which ones hold you back. 

The author went through an intense shift once in a New York subway. On a Sunday morning, the subway train was pretty peaceful; most people were reading or resting. A man with his family entered and shifted the whole scene. The children were continually shouting and moving, which disturbed everyone while the father just sat there doing nothing. Covey, the author, was very irritated that he asked the father to control his kids. The father uttered softly that he probably should, but their mother passed away a few hours earlier, and the children are in shock.

Indeed, Covey’s paradigm changed immediately to one of sincere compassion and an urge to help. Although not all paradigms might switch that quickly, each one can be just as substantial. So, which paradigms should you long for?

The most effective paradigms are the ones that orient around more prominent universal principles like honesty, kindness, justice, and integrity. Since most people agree that those are sound principles, we can consider them natural, permanent laws. Therefore, the more you base your map of paradigm on such natural principles, the more realistic and better are your chances of success in gaining lasting change.

Reaching those principle-based paradigms is what the seven habits are all about.

The first habit: Be proactive and grab control of your fate:

What differentiates animals from humans? The main one is that animals are driven by external stimuli and can only behave according to their preprogrammed nature. On the other hand, humans can reflect on any stimulus before reacting to it and can easily reprogram themselves.

This means that rather than reacting to what’s around us, we can affect it proactively.

Even though we all have the ability to be proactive, a lot of people choose to be reactive and let external circumstances limit their behavior and emotions. For instance, some people allow a rainy day to disturb their mood and affect their whole day’s activities negatively. 

Proactive people, on the other hand, control their weather. They take responsibility for their own actions and make rational and conscious decisions regarding their behavior.

Proactivity can be an intensely powerful habit and can have a considerable effect even in the hardest of circumstances. You can easily have the power to decide what happens between a stimulus and the time to respond. Thus you’d be able to shift both your behavior and emotion toward any situation – good or bad. To apply this, try a 30-day proactivity challenge: whenever you find yourself holding others accountable for a problem you are dealing with, whether at home or work, remember that the root cause is your reaction and response to the issue. Concentrate on finding solutions instead of reasons.

“Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.” 

-Stephen R. Covey

Exercise this freedom before responding to the problem.

The second habit: start with the end in mind:

Any action you perform, you perform it twice, the first time in your mind and the second physically. For instance, when you want to build a house, you imagine beforehand in your mind exactly how you want it. If you don’t, you would later be surprised and overwhelmed with the whole process and how expensive and chaotic it is.

This implies that it is essential to have your plan figured out exactly how you desire in your mind before you go ahead with any task. The more your imagination is exact, detail-oriented, and realistic, the better the results of your actions.

This mental and visual anticipation works in all situations. For example, all competitive and successful sprinters practice visualizing how they will bolt from the starting line to perfect the race and end in the first place.

So, whether at home or work, take your time to visualize. As the saying goes,” better ask twice than lose your way once.” You’ll be much more productive if you spend time imagining your actions before practicing them. This way, you’ll know what to expect and what you’ll end up with.

To do that, start with one of your upcoming projects; write it down and think about the results you hope for and how do you reach them.

Though, starting with the end in mind isn’t just necessary for individual projects. You should also achieve a clear image of your larger life goals.

The second habit continues: write your personal mission statement and combine it into your life little-by-little:

A small mental exercise: imagine that you are three years into the future, and unfortunately, you passed away. Look at your partner, your loved ones, your friends presenting eulogies. Then ask yourself what you would want them to say about you? What is the kind of person you want to be remembered by? What did you leave in the world before you went?

In reality, most people keep wasting all their time and energy on a project that doesn’t really matter to them because they never slowed down, stopped, and really thought about what they’re doing. Simply, they lack the knowledge to be able to differentiate between being efficient and being effective.

Being efficient is to get the maximum amount done in the least amount of time possible. However, this is pointless if you are unaware of what you are seeking in life. It’s all about making progress, but you would be going in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, being effective means making that progress while going to the right destination. Effective people don’t run after money and fame thoughtlessly; they orient their lives around what’s essential for them. 

So, how can you figure out your destination?

One obvious method is to answer those mentioned-previously funeral questions and apply their answers as the basis for your personal mission statement. This statement should tell your faith, what kind of a person you hope to be, and the achievements you long for.

The mission statement is your personal constitution, a set standard which all else can be valued and measured. Directing such a compass gives you a sense of security and direction, which lets you align all of your actions.

The third habit: first things first:

Now that you have established a mission, how can you proactively turn it into a reality? Easy: live it, day in, day out. Sure, in the middle of your everyday roles, hassles, relationships, and problems, this can be very challenging, and it needs an excellent time-management technique. 

Sadly, almost all time-management skills center on improving efficiency instead of effectiveness. However, you don’t need complicated techniques. It’s enough to remember the simple phrase, “first things first.” 

This means meticulously organizing everything you do so that the essential things are taken care of first. Everything else can be done later. But, how do you know which is which?

Start by categorizing all your tasks as per two dimensions: urgent and vital. This results in a two by two matrix with four quadrants:

  • Quadrant one holds the urgent and important tasks that need to be dealt with right away.
  • Quadrant two is for the important but not urgent tasks, say planning for the future.
  • Quadrant three has urgent but not important tasks; as a phone ringing while you’re working.
  • Quadrant four is where you put neither important nor urgent tasks – the waste of time.

The most essential quadrant of the four is the second one. The tasks in this quadrant are the ones that will influence your life the most. And the more you work on those tasks, the fewer crisis you will find in quadrant two.

However, most people are unaware of the importance of quadrant two. So a good place to start is to identify a task you’ve been neglecting that belongs in quadrant two – one that would impact your life significantly – and then commit to deal with it.

The fourth habit: always think “win-win”:

When you interact with the outside world, what outcome do you look for?

The most viral view people adopt is the “win-lose” paradigm. When they view interactions with others, whether in their personal life or at work, as a competition, they always feel that they need to fight the others over the last piece of the pie.

However, most life situations need no competition. There can be pie for everyone, and it’s always better if all of them work towards a “win-win” result that makes everybody happy.

The prime disadvantage of the “win-lose” way of thinking is that whenever two people of this mentality end up against each other, this situation turns into a “lose-lose” one. It is also out of the question for a relationship to be a positive long-term one if both sides are in competition with each other.

That’s why if you think “win-win,” you’ll find yourself making a significant number of positive relationships. It helps to keep communicating, compromising, and negotiating with others to find a solution that everyone agrees on. It might not be easy because it needs both sensitivity and patience. But, the mutual and positive trust you end up with is all worth it.

The fourth habit continued: creating stable relationships with others is like investing in an emotional bank account:

Any relationship you have with another person is just like having an emotional bank account: if you put effort, time, and goodwill into it, its balance increases, reflecting the growth of trust between you and the other person. Achieving that healthy balance means that both of you are flexible and can sort any miscommunications right away.

However, suppose the balance is nearly null. In that case, the relationship is like a minefield, and there is no such thing as flexibility. Your choices of words with each other have to be carefully thought through to avoid any conflict. So, how do you grow that balance?

Finding a win-win solution, sticking to your promises, or empathically listening to the other person can all be payments in your bank account. However, a withdrawal would be forcing a win-lose solution, breaking your promises, or listening to the person in front of you halfheartedly.

To construct a robust, long-lasting relationship, you can make several major deposits. Be explicit about what you expect from others, be sensitive and courteous even in the little things, and most importantly always, always keep your promises because that’s how trust is built.

Another deposit is to maintain the utmost personal integrity. This means to be loyal to people in front and behind their backs. This also nourishes trust between you and other individuals. 

If you accidentally withdrew from your account and you regret it, courage up and apologize; people tend to be forgiving to the honest.

The fifth habit: understand then be understood:

Say you walked into the doctor’s office. You noticed that he was absentminded while you describe your ailment. Then he stops you with the phrase “I’ve heard enough” and hands you the prescription. You probably won’t trust his advice.

Although this example sounds a bit surreal, we do the same very often while talking to others. We project ourselves into their situation instead of listening to what they are saying then prescribe for them a solution that works theoretically for us. Usually, they welcome such advice because people tend to trust other’s judgment if they feel understood.

You need to develop empathic listening skills if you want to respect a listener and give him proper advice. To do that, it is necessary to change a paradigm from “I’m listening to provide an answer” to “I’m listening to really understand the person talking to me.”

Empathic listening is to really fit yourself in the other person’s frame of reference to get them both emotionally and intellectually.

Experts of communication say that the words we utter make up 10 percent of our communications, sounds account for 30 percent, and body language 60 percent. Therefore, to practice empathic listening, you shouldn’t only focus on listening to the words but also taking in their feelings and behavior. 

It takes time and effort to perfect this skill, but it is well worth it. Once you learn to listen in an empathic way truly, you’ll find that even the most closed people ready to open up and take your advice and opinions. All they need is a real listener.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 

-Stephen R. Covey

The sixth habit: synergize by being open and respectful with others:

Now, we reached the habit that all the previous ones have been preparing you for: synergizing. Synergy is a situation where many add up to be more than the combined efforts of one individual. One plus one would equal four or more. So, how can you achieve this habit in your social life?

Every person views the world from his own different perspective. You’d be able to leverage the strength of synergy by valuing those differences. 

Synergizing people listen to each other, understand each other’s views, and combine their strengths to create something great. They are trying to stay on the same page, working to solve their shared challenges rather than fighting over them.

The way to synergizing begins by viewing your interactions with other people as an adventure. The result of this adventure might be out of your hand, but you should still embrace it by giving your whole authentic self.

This needs you to be significantly confident with yourself as well as to trust that this journey, even if a bit chaotic, will lead to something worth it.

The seventh habit: refine the saw if you want to keep sawing:

If lumberjacks kept sawing trees the whole time without ever refining their saws, they would’ve ended up with dull tools that can’t even break a branch off. Just the same, if you don’t take a break to take care of yourself, the effectiveness of any achievement you made will go away. This whole process can soon exhaust you and will forbid you from maintaining any of the good habits you’ve worked for.

That’s why sharpening your saw in the following four key dimensions of life is necessary for lasting effectiveness: 

  • Stay physically fit, excise regularly, eat healthily and avoid stress.
  • Maintain a healthy spirit by praying, meditating, or simply by reflecting on your values and norms.
  • Nourish your mental health by reading good books, avoiding spending too much time in front of a screen, recollecting your thoughts on paper, organizing, planning, and keeping a strong mentality.
  • Take care of your social and emotional health by understanding others, developing positive and healthy relationships with good people, and offering your help to those in need.

Always make time to breathe and reboot. Many claim that there is no time, but there always is. Try to write down activities that better your well-being and do one as a goal every week. This will allow you to strive for balanced renewal in every aspect of your life.