I recently read the classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. This book was written in 1989 but this book contains information that is relevant today. Even as the world continues to change, we will still have to interact with people so the advice in this book will remain relevant.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are broken into two sections each containing three habits. The first three habits involve self-mastery, they present you with skills that allow you to move from being a dependent person to and independent person. Habits four, five, and six present you with skills to move from independent to interdependent. The habits in section two allow you to cooperate, communicate, and ultimately become more of a team player. The seventh habit basically encompasses everything and involves my passion which is self-development and improvement.
The seven habits are as follows:
1. Be Proactive
2. Begin with the End in Mind
3. Put First Things First
4. Think Win/Win
5. See First to Understand… The to be Understood
7. Sharpen the Saw
Habit 1: Be Proactive – This first habit is a section that I would recommend everyone read or at least skim through. Some of the information in this chapter is filler information but some of it is really good. One of the things Covey mentions is the phrase: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose. Basically, what this means is in-between something happening to you and how to decide to deal with this situation is your choice. You don’t have to act purely on emotions you can take a minute and respond in the correct way. Sometimes things need immediate reaction and the goal is to train your brain to make the correct decisions. This is why firefighters and police go through so much training so they can may the correct decision without much thought. I think most people have heard the saying be proactive not reactive. Basically, that is what this section is telling you to be. The section goes into great detail giving you examples of how you can be proactive vs reactive. If you have issues with this in your life, I would recommend you read the full chapter. Although if this isn’t something you struggle with you can probably skim through this section and get the full impact of it. The be proactive not reactive involves not letting external circumstances affect you. For example, if the weather is bad outside this isn’t something that should affect your mood, you should look at it as I can’t control the weather and move on with your day. Letting weather affect your mood first thing in the morning is a way to start your day in a negative way. This does not set up your day for success. This approach has been used since the roman times and is the basic principle in stoic philosophy.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind – This section is pretty self-explanatory; it means when you are starting a task, or a goal think about the end. Then make decisions based on the result you want. The section also focuses on the centers or focuses of your life. Which can be many different things like family, spouse, money, career, friends, church, etc. The center of your life is where you make your decisions from, if your family focused you make your decisions from that aspect in your life. Covey says that in order to achieve the best results your center should in include all the values and from there you can base your decisions on many things, not just one aspect of your life. This chapter also touches on mission statements for your life, and this breaks down the values for your life. These are not life goals but values that you make your decisions from.
Habit 3: Put first things first – This section gives you the basis for life/time management. It breaks things down into a time management matrix. The matrix is broken into urgent, non-urgent, important, and non-important. It references how most people spend a lot of their day focusing on urgent and important things, basically putting out fires and other issues. When you ask a person what they did today and they say, “putting out fires” this is where they focus most of their time. This may not be the best thing because it leads to stress and burn out. In order to avoid this, effective managers should find ways to distribute the work. Focusing their time on improving the processes so there are less “fires” to put out. In order to do this Covey recommends spending time on urgent and non-important activities like relationship building and planning. If more time is spent on these activities, you will spend less time on the urgent and important activities. Covey also gives an example of a weekly schedule planner, that break down your daily and weekly priorities, appointments, goals, and self-improvement activities. This planner is very hard to explain but if you’re interested in reviewing it Google, The Weekly Schedule for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win – This section covers the Win/Win approach where in life or a negotiation both parties win. So, the results of a given situation is mutually beneficial to both parties involved. There could be other outcomes like win/lose — I win, you lose, lose/win — I lose, you win, lose/lose – no one wins and win – where you don’t necessarily want someone to lose but you want to win. In some situations, there has to be a “winner” and a “loser” such as sports. In life usually some mutually beneficial situations can be worked out and if common ground can be found it can improve the relationship greatly.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand… Then to be Understood – This is the best concept in the book and if you can only read one section of the book read this one. The concept is self-explanatory but what it really refers to is how to listen attentively. When Covey talks about listening, he means to really listen and letting other people talk about their concerns and feelings. Once you understand where the other person is coming from then you can truly present your case. Hopefully then move toward a win/win situation. When an individual truly feels like they are understood they are more inclined to let their guard down and be vulnerable. This is where true understanding happens, then you can address your concerns. Covey gives a number of great example situations in the book that I would recommend everyone read.
Habit 6: Synergize – When you combine all the habits that Covey has covered in this book its creates synergy. This is a good section that brings together the other five habits. The goal of the book is to create a balance in your life. When you combine time management, proactivity, understanding, focus, and compromising – this creates the sixth habit synergize. Kind of sounds like a Power Ranger.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw – This habit refers to self-development or improvement. The areas of your life you can develop are physical (exercise and nutrition), social/emotional (empathy and synergy), spiritual (value clarification and meditation), and mental (reading and writing). I am a big advocate for self-improvement or “sharpen the saw”, one of the greatest gifts we have as humans is the ability to keep improving. I truly believe human development and potential are limitless. If you were to ask me six months ago if I would be writing a blog and running an Instagram page, I would not have believed you. The courage to do these things came from reading and what I like to call remapping my mind. If I didn’t take the initiative to improve myself, I wouldn’t be pursuing my passion!
In the last chapter of this book, Inside-out Again, Covey mentions a phrase that has stuck with me ever since I read 7 Habits. “The gap between stimulus and response”, this phrase has also shaped Coveys life. When Covey tells the story about discovering this phrase, I went back and read over and over. It’s one of those phrases that sticks with you because of how true it is. There is a small gap between what happens to us and our response, I think this defines our lives. The better we approach this gap and prepare for these small moments the better our responses will be. If we can train our mind to be calm and still during these brief moments, the better the outcome will be. Controlling that gap is essentially how we control our lives.
This is a brief summary of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it is mostly my thoughts on Coveys topics covered in the book. If you are looking for additional detail on the topics, I would recommend reading the book. There is a lot of useful information and for anyone look to improve their lives, reading this book is a great place to start. If you are interested other things that I am reading, listening to, or just my general thoughts on life. Look me up on Instagram @the_52_book_challenge.