Stephen R. Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

by Stephen R. Covey, 447 pages

Finished on 23rd of November, 2022
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The business book of business books: published in 1989, it popularized terms and phrases such as synergy, thinking win-win, proactivity, or paradigm shifts. The twist is that it unites business and family life. Many lessons can be applied to both areas.

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. The 7 Habits are, in this order: 1: Be Proactive, 2: Begin With the End in Mind, 3: Put First Things First [These 3 = “Private Victory”], 4: Think Win-Win, 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood, 6: Synergize [These 3 = “Public Victory”], 7: Sharpen The Saw
  2. Identify your personal core paradigm or motivation, called your ”Center”, e.g. spouse, family, money, work, possessions, pleasure, friend/enemy, church, or self, in order to have a clear sense from where you can and should harmoniously derive your sense of security, your guidance, wisdom, and power.
  3. Utilizing the Management Matrix means to aim for spending your time with more Quadrant II activities, which are the important, but not urgent ones, in order to improve your personal and then your public effectiveness.

🎨 Impressions

This book is mentioned so often in the other modern books about business and business-related issues, I had it on my list for a long time. Although the title suggests it’s a modern listicle-type clickbait book, it’s actually more than thirty years old and has stood the test of time rather well. It first appeared on my radar in the book “Worth It” by Dan Price, the highly unusual millionaire founder who gave up his salary in order to make a minimum wage of 70,000 USD per employee of his possible. Dan Price gave responsibility to this 7 Habits book for awakening his business sense.

I finally bought the book after reading Derek Sivers mentioning it in his book “How to Live” in a sentence with the Bible, Quran, and others, as a foundational book. Derek was partly joking, but there is a bit of truth to it. 10 Commandments or 7 Habits – your choice.

Later I realized that in one of my favorite podcasts, there was an episode in which the two hosts were talking about the book and I relistened to the episode. Here is is, Cortex by, Episode #59 – Myke Hurley and CGP Grey discussing the book. Spoilers, they don’t like it.

The criticisms they offer are definitely justified. Many parts of the book are cringy at best, startling, or plain insensitive. And then some more parts are filler examples, like in a lot of business books. It could have been an essay, explaining the 7 Habits each in one page, and that would have gone 80% of the way.

When you give the book a chance with an open mind, and overlook the atrocities like the mention of Viktor Frankl’s holocaust death-camp experiences in this business context, or the suggestion that heavily traumatized people could just easily get rid of their trauma by simply choosing to act like the better person, there is a good chunk of a useful core in here. Especially the first three Habits, categorized as “Private Victory” Habits, can change a lot for the better when applied and are well explained.

Habit 4 and 6 (Win-Win and Synergy) are somewhat self-explanatory, and Habit 5 (Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood), while hugely important, can just be this one sentence and be left at that.

Habit 7, “Sharpen the Saw”, categorized as an all-encompassing virtue improving all the other six Habits, resonates with me quite well – its content is basically what my blog is about. It’s literally mentioned how daily exercise and reading books are at the core of this Habit. We’re on the same page here, getting the message out, and that’s always nice. No news for me, but certainly for many others.

Back to the Bible comparison: As the suggestion would be to reduce the 7 Habits to a concentrated core, I couldn’t help but remember legendary comedian George Carlin’s routine about reducing the 10 Commandments to a useful core. Check out what he came up with. Funnily enough, the author himself provides us with an extremely condensed version of the 7 Habits at the end:

You can pretty well summarize the first three habits with the expression “Make and keep a promise.” And you can pretty well summarize the next three habits with the expression “Involve others in the problem and work out the solution together.”

🍀 How the Book Changed Me

  • Early on in the book, the gap between stimulus and response is mentioned. This idea isn’t new, although it might have been when the book came out, and it’s great. Whenever something from the outside seemingly triggers us into a reaction, meaning mainly the emotional reactions we tend to respond with, we need to be mindful of this gap and our power to respond in a way of our choosing. Take a breath, prolong the gap if necessary.
  • The notion of the Circle of Influence. Covey explains that our reaction to events outside of our control which have negative consequences for us, shouldn’t be negative. Another way of putting it would be “control what you can control”. He introduces the idea that our Circle of Influence is expandable, which I think is a smart idea. Can we find ways to change the things currently out of our control which negatively influence us? Maybe!
  • For me personally, as CEO of a company with a handful of employees, the boundaries between leadership and management are often unclear and I don’t know much about it. The book “The E-Myth Revisited” helped a bit, but not much. Covey put it really well: The difference between management and leadership is doing things right vs. doing the right things.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  1. We are responsible for our own effectiveness, for our own happiness, and ultimately, I would say, for most of our circumstances.
  2. “Leadership is communicating to another their worth and potential so clearly they are inspired to see it in themselves.”
  3. It’s better to be trusted than to be liked. Ultimately, trust and respect will generally produce love.

📔 Highlights & Notes

Part One: Paradigms and Principles

“Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or evil—the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what man really is, not what he pretends to be.” (William George Jordan)

The more aware we are of our basic paradigms, maps, or assumptions, and the extent to which we have been influenced by our experience, the more we can take responsibility for those paradigms, examine them, test them against reality, listen to others, and be open to their perceptions, thereby getting a larger picture and a far more objective view.

Kuhn shows how almost every significant breakthrough in the field of scientific endeavor is first a break with tradition, with old ways of thinking, with old paradigms.

To relate effectively with a wife, a husband, children, friends, or working associates, we must learn to listen. And this requires emotional strength.

When relationships are strained and the air charged with emotion, an attempt to teach is often perceived as a form of judgment and rejection.

Is getting more things done in less time going to make a difference—or will it just increase the pace at which I react to the people and circumstances that seem to control my life?

I find that long-term thinking executives are simply turned off by psych-up psychology and “motivational” speakers who have nothing more to share than entertaining stories mingled with platitudes.

It says if you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person who generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it.

Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily express our character and produce our effectiveness… or ineffectiveness.

Happiness can be defined, in part at least, as the fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually.

Independent people who do not have the maturity to think and act interdependently may be good individual producers, but they won’t be good leaders or team players.

always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.

Too much focus on PC [Production Capability] is like a person who runs three or four hours a day, bragging about the extra ten years of life it creates, unaware he’s spending them running.

Thomas Paine, “That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.

Part Two: Private Victory

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Unaware, we will project our intentions on their behavior and call ourselves objective.

His [Viktor Frankl] basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him.

Frankl described an accurate self-map from which he began to develop the first and most basic habit of a highly effective person in any environment, the habit of proactivity.

It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives.

Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance.

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.

Whenever someone in our family, even one of the younger children, takes an irresponsible position and waits for someone else to make things happen or provide a solution, we tell them, “Use your R and I!” (resourcefulness and initiative).

“My friend, love is a verb. Love—the feeling—is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”

No control problems involve taking the responsibility to change the line on the bottom of our face—to smile, to genuinely and peacefully accept these problems and learn to live with them, even though we don’t like them.

Changing our habits, changing our methods of influence, and changing the way we see our no-control problems are all within our Circle of Influence.

We are responsible for our own effectiveness, for our own happiness, and ultimately, I would say, for most of our circumstances.

We are the creative forces of our lives, and we are free to choose. But we have to be reminded of this all the time.

Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind

Whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole.

People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty, successes that have come at the expense of things they suddenly realize were far more valuable to them.

If you carefully consider what you wanted to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

A personal mission statement based on correct principles becomes the same kind of standard for an individual.

You have the power of a written constitution based on correct principles, against which every decision concerning the most effective use of your time, your talents, and your energies can be effectively measured.

When we are dependent on the person with whom we are in conflict, both need and conflict are compounded.

There is only phantom security in such a relationship when all appears to be going well. Guidance is based on the emotion of the moment. Wisdom and power are lost in the counterdependent negative interactions.

When my sense of personal worth comes from my net worth, I am vulnerable to anything that will affect that net worth. But work and money, per se, provide no wisdom, no guidance, and only a limited degree of power and security.

If my sense of security lies in my reputation or in the things I have, my life will be in a constant state of threat and jeopardy that these possessions may be lost or stolen or devalued.

The pleasure-centered person, too soon bored with each succeeding level of “fun,” constantly cries for more and more.

It ensures that a person’s capacities stay dormant, that talents remain undeveloped, that the mind and spirit become lethargic, and that the heart is unfulfilled.

Paying attention to the development of self in the greater perspective of improving one’s ability to serve, to produce, to contribute in meaningful ways, gives context for dramatic increase in the four life-support factors.

We discovered that the nature of the visualization is very important. If you visualize the wrong thing, you’ll produce the wrong thing.

Just as breathing exercises help integrate body and mind, writing is a kind of psycho-neural muscular activity that helps bridge and integrate the conscious and subconscious minds.

Many families are managed on the basis of crises, moods, quick fixes, and instant gratification—not on sound principles.

The core of any family is what is changeless, what is always going to be there—shared vision and values. By writing a family mission statement, you give expression to its true foundation.

The very process of writing and refining a mission statement becomes a key way to improve the family.

“Leadership is communicating to another their worth and potential so clearly they are inspired to see it in themselves.”

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Management, remember, is clearly different from leadership. Leadership is primarily a high-powered, right brain activity. It’s more of an art; it’s based on a philosophy.

Effective management is putting first things first. While leadership decides what “first things” are, it is management that puts them first, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Management is discipline, carrying it out.

We react to urgent matters. Important matters that are not urgent require more initiative, more proactivity. We must act to seize opportunity, to make things happen.

To paraphrase Peter Drucker, effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded.

What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life? Quadrant II activities have that kind of impact. Our effectiveness takes quantum leaps when we do them.

In the words of the architectural maxim, form follows function. Likewise, management follows leadership.

Remember, frustration is a function of our expectations, and our expectations are often a reflection of the social mirror rather than our own values and priorities.

Management is essentially moving the fulcrum over, and the key to effective management is delegation.

Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people. But it takes time and patience,

Planning a family trip to Germany three years in advance is a Quadrant II activity, as are exercising, changing your oil, planning your week, going to lunch with a colleague, and doing proactive work—that is, work that is important but not yet urgent.

The key to saying No is to have a deeper Yes burning inside of you. Clarify the few things you do well, and then start saying No to everything else.

Part Three: Public Victory

Remember that a quick fix is a mirage. Building and repairing relationships takes time. If you become impatient with his apparent lack of response or his seeming ingratitude, you may make huge withdrawals and undo all the good you’ve done.

Our tendency is to project out of our own autobiographies what we think other people want or need. We project our intentions on the behavior of others.

We create many negative situations by simply assuming that our expectations are self-evident and that they are clearly understood and shared by other people.

Honesty is telling the truth—in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words—in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

Win/Lose people love Lose/Win people because they can feed on them. They love their weaknesses—they take advantage of them. Such weaknesses complement their strengths. But the problem is that Lose/Win people bury a lot of feelings.

In the long run, if it isn’t a win for both of us, we both lose. That’s why Win/Win is the only real alternative in interdependent realities.

The cost of that impact needs to be carefully considered. If you can’t reach a true Win/Win, you’re very often better off to go for No Deal.

People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit—even with those who help in the production.

The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody.

In the Win/Win agreement, the following five elements are made very explicit:

  • Desired results
  • Guidelines
  • Resources
  • Accountability
  • Consequences

I am always amazed at the results that happen, both to individuals and to organizations, when responsible, proactive, self-directing individuals are turned loose on a task.

The spirit of Win/Win cannot survive in an environment of competition and contests.

First, see the problem from the other point of view. Really seek to understand and to give expression to the needs and concerns of the other party as well as or better than they can themselves.

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

If you want to interact effectively with me, to influence me—your spouse, your child, your neighbor, your boss, your coworker, your friend—you first need to understand me.

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

When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand.

When it comes right down to it, other things being relatively equal, the human dynamic is more important than the technical dimensions of the deal.

Seek first to understand is a correct principle evident in all areas of life. It’s a generic, common denominator principle, but it has its greatest power in the area of interpersonal relations.

If I’m trying to communicate with my son, can he feel free to open himself up to me when I evaluate everything he says before he really explains it? Am I giving him psychological air?

Can you see how limiting our autobiographical responses are to a person who is genuinely trying to get us to understand his autobiography?

Children desperately want to open up, even more to their parents than to their peers. And they will, if they feel their parents will love them unconditionally and will be faithful to them afterward and not judge or ridicule them.

I really care about you and I want to understand. I hope you’ll help me.” Affirming your motive is a huge deposit.

The next time you communicate with anyone, you can put aside your own autobiography and genuinely seek to understand.

Go out with your spouse on a regular basis. Have dinner or do something together you both enjoy. Listen to each other; seek to understand. See life through each other’s eyes.

Dacher Keltner coined the term the “power paradox” to describe how leaders gain influence through empathy and other practices that serve others, but lose those skills as they gain influence and power. In fact, the further you go up the ladder, the less empathy leaders tend to have.

The use of technology strips out the tone of voice and facial expressions that help us empathize. So anytime you’re dealing with an important, emotional issue, do not email or text.

“Let negative energy fly out open windows. Don’t take it on.”

Habit 6: Synergize

The synergistic position of high trust produces solutions better than any originally proposed, and all parties know it. Furthermore, they genuinely enjoy the creative enterprise.

So they pool those desires. And they’re not on opposite sides of the problem. They’re together on one side, looking at the problem, understanding the needs, and working to create a third alternative that will meet them.

But I realize that you see something else. And I value you. I value your perception. I want to understand.

If two people have the same opinion, one is unnecessary.

When you see only two alternatives—yours and the “wrong” one—you can look for a synergistic third alternative.

The two college guys who founded Google rarely agreed on anything. What would have happened if they had always seen eye to eye?

“Sure he has weaknesses just as you do. Don’t build your emotional life around the weakness of another person. Instead, run with his strengths and try to compensate for his weaknesses. Complement him.”

So the next time you are in a meeting and someone says something that strikes you as being way off the mark, say out loud, “Good. You see it differently!”

Part Four: Renewal

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Habit 7 is personal PC [Production Capability]. It’s preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you. It’s renewing the four dimensions of your nature—physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.

Exercise is one of those Quadrant II, high-leverage activities that most of us don’t do consistently because they aren’t urgent.

Most of us think we don’t have enough time to exercise. What a distorted paradigm! We don’t have time not to. We’re talking about three to six hours a week—or a minimum of thirty minutes a day, every other day.

Even if it’s raining on the morning you’ve scheduled to jog, do it anyway. “Oh good! It’s raining! I get to develop my willpower as well as my body!”

the public victories—where you tend to think cooperatively, to promote the welfare and good of other people, and to be genuinely happy for other people’s successes—

By reading books, you can get into the best minds that are now or that have ever been in the world. I highly recommend starting with a goal of a book a month, then a book every two weeks, then a book a week.

Quality literature, such as the Great Books, the Harvard Classics, autobiographies, National Geographic, and other publications that expand our cultural awareness, and current literature in various fields can expand our paradigms and sharpen our mental saw,

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live.” (George Bernard Shaw)

Goethe taught, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”

Your economic security does not lie in your job; it lies in your own power to produce—to think, to learn, to create, to adapt.

Moving along the upward spiral requires us to learn, commit, and do on increasingly higher planes. We deceive ourselves if we think that any one of these is sufficient.

Have you ever been too busy driving to take time to get gas?

Don’t ever feel guilty about taking time for yourself. On flights, they tell you that if the cabin loses pressure, you should put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. You won’t be much use to your three-year-old or best friend if you are unconscious from lack of oxygen.

Inside-Out Again

I personally struggle with much of what I have shared in this book. But the struggle is worthwhile and fulfilling. It gives meaning to my life and enables me to love, to serve, and to try again.

All change starts with you. Anytime you start thinking the problem is out there, that very thought is the problem.

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!” (Goethe)

Afterword, Q&A with Stephen R. Covey

I have come to believe that humility is the mother of all virtues. Humility says we are not in control: principles are in control, therefore we submit ourselves to principles.

You can pretty well summarize the first three habits with the expression “Make and keep a promise.” And you can pretty well summarize the next three habits with the expression “Involve others in the problem and work out the solution together.”

When we prioritize being loyal to a person or group over doing what we feel to be right, we lose integrity.

It’s better to be trusted than to be liked. Ultimately, trust and respect will generally produce love.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Retirement is a false concept. You may retire from a job, but never retire from meaningful projects and contributions.

You may get satisfaction from past accomplishments, but the next great contribution is always on the horizon. You have relationships to build, a community to serve, a family to strengthen, problems to solve, knowledge to gain, and great works to create.

How do you feel after reading this?

This helps me assess the quality of my writing and improve it.

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