The 7 Habits of Highly Effective by Stephen R. Covey: Summary and Notes

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One sentence summary: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book on the secret habits of some of the most successful people in America as retold by Stephen R. Covey. It all comes down to 7 key habits.

One paragraph summary: Like the title suggests, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey will help you become a more effective person. Covey wrote the book after studying some of the most successful Americans. What he found was that their approach to life was different from the rest of society. They were better at managing their emotions, relationships, perception, spiritual life, practicing self-care, and were more willing to learn. The secret was their habits which were being guided by a set of universal principles like the principle of service, affirmation of others, balance, and much more. Reading the book, will provide you with intimate knowledge of these effective people’s habits and ways.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People changed my life. I read it and was like, what have I been doing?

Reading a book that condemns your ways in broad daylight like the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is actually painful. It is like being scolded in a classroom full of laughing kids — you will never forget. But that’s the kind of pain we all need. It will help you grow.

A friend recommended the book, and I can’t thank them enough. I’m now part of the 7 habits movement, and it gives me great honor to share what I’ve learned. The 7 Habits is one of the best-selling books ever, and for a good reason. The book will teach you how to up your game in every way. You will never be the same after devouring it.

Stephen R. Covey first published the book in 1989 and has since sold over 25 million copies — I know it's crazy. Covey begins by noting that while it is hard to change habits, you can nonetheless do it. He gives the example of the moon landings and how escaping the earth’s gravity was the toughest thing to do. The energy spent in the first few minutes of lift-off was more than that spent in 7 days of travel in outer space. Similarly, abandoning old habits is difficult, but with enough lift-off, anything is possible.

We see the world not as it is but as we are.

Stephen says to change, you must change your perceptions first. Perceptions are how we see the world, and they guide how we react to the things around us. They also shape our actions and habits.

Habits arise from the intersection of our knowledge (What to, how to), skills (how to), and desire (want to). If you can find the right balance between these three aspects of your life, all would be well.

Underlying the 7 habits of effective people are timeless principles of personal, interpersonal, managerial, and organizational effectiveness. The principles include:

Like natural laws, these principles never change. They will always be the same, and sticking to them is a sure way of developing effectiveness.

Main Takeaways From The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

In this section, I will break down The 7 habits of effective people for you. They are:

  1. Be Proactive

  2. Begin with the end in mind

  3. Put first things first

  4. Think win-win

  5. Seek first to understand, then be understood

  6. Synergize

  7. Sharpen the saw

Lesson 1: Be proactive

Being proactive means having a bias towards action. Proactive people stick to plans and have a vision for the future. They approach things with optimism because they believe they have the power to shape the world. As Covey says, they see themselves as being response-able.

On the other hand, reactive people see the world as happening to them. They are likely to use phrases like: “There is nothing I can do,” and “That’s how it has always been.” As a result, reactive people often feel victimized and powerless because of their self-defeating view of the world

What makes reactive people this way is because they are driven by their feelings and the state of their surroundings, while proactive people are guided by carefully selected, and internalized values

To be effective, you must cultivate a proactive mentality. Start by developing a set of values that will serve as the blueprint behind every action you take. Covey implies that a well-lived life is a set of good ideas that are consistently applied.

Lesson 2: Begin with the End in Mind

“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there” — Lewis Carrol

Begin with the End in Mind is a habit that involves imagination. It requires that you create a compelling vision of the future and forge a path to get there. If you don’t begin with the End in Mind, you cede power to people and circumstances to shape your life. The habit requires that you start each day, task, or project with a clear end goal.

Covey says it is extremely easy to get caught up in the ‘busyness’ of life and forget your destination. You may climb higher and higher in your success ladder only to find yourself leaning against the wrong wall, which is sad really because you only get to live once.

One of the surest ways to begin with an End in Mind, is to create a personal mission statement. Such a mission statement will answer the question of what I’m here for. This will be your plan for success and will guide every activity you do. Remember that your actions and habits flow from your thoughts, and there is no better way to articulate your thoughts than to refine them into vision and mission statements.

After creating your mission statement, break it down to the goals and roles that you want to accomplish in each area of your life. If you find this hard to do, I have a handy trick for you. It involves asking yourself: “I can’t possibly want nothing out of my life, can I?” You will find that there is something you desire. Now write it down and create a plan to accomplish it.

Also, involve other people in the determination of your life, as this will foster commitment on your part. This involves building authentic relationships with others and taking on your responsibilities without fail.

Lesson 3: TPut first things first

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities” — Steven R. Covey

What are the important things in your life? How often do you prioritize them? The habit of putting first things first is about prioritizing the things that matter the most. Covey emphasizes the power of saying no and recognizing that you don’t have to over-extend yourself. To make the kind of impact you want, be clear about who you are and what you want in this life

A concept that touches on putting first things first is the idea of the circle of influence. The circle of influence is the things that you can actually do. Can you stop the war in Syria or defeat ISIS? Chances are, it is probably outside your circle of influence, and you should therefore stop spending time worrying about some of these things and start focusing on what you can do. In other words, put first things first. You also need to adapt daily by responding to unexpected situations in your life in a meaningful way.

Lesson 4: Think win-win

Life is not a zero-sum game where some people win, and others lose. There is something for everyone. Covey says that when you create situations where others benefit by interacting with you, you also increase your rewards in the process.

A person with a win-win mentality possess a character with the traits of integrity, maturity, and an abundance mentality. They are both brave and considerate. They don't fear losing out when others get ahead because they also share in their victory. Covey argues that effectiveness is achieved through the cooperative efforts of two or more people. You can do some things alone, but some things will require the effort and contribution of others

Characteristics of people with win-win mentality:

Lesson 5: Seek first to understand, then be understood

Covey says that communication is the most important life skill. He notes that most people listen or engage with others intending to respond and not hear what they have to say. This, he says, is wrong as the goal should be listening to make a connection with the other person

Empathic listening gives the other person psychological air or the need to be affirmed, validated, and appreciated. When this need is met, you can then focus on solving any problems or discussing any issues.

The three basic skills of empathic listening are:

Rephrasing content is about putting the meaning of what the other person is saying in your own words. By doing this, you are trying to see things their way. Reflect feeling is about concentrating on how the other person is feeling about what they are saying, while asking questions is about clarifying the things that are not clear to you.

Lesson 6: Seek first to understand, then be understood

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Covey says that the essence of synergy is to value differences and to respect them. It is about building on strengths and compensating for weaknesses.

When you engage synergistically with others, you are opening your mind and heart to new options. The habit of synergy brings together all the other habits and opens a world of possibilities for everyone

It is about creative energy but the kind that you only get by building genuine relationships with others. Synergy releases the creative powers in everyone

Lesson 7: Sharpen your saw

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” —Abraham Lincoln

Sharpening the saw is about maintaining a healthy balance between the spiritual, physical, mental, social, and emotional aspects of our lives. It involves eating the right food, exercising, learning, and growing

All four dimensions are interconnected. A good physical shape will give you the mental energy needed to get things done. A sound mind will guarantee quality in your decisions, while stable and dependable relationships will provide you comfort and peace of mind.

Sharpening your saw is the most critical habit because your overall effectiveness would be adversely affected if any of the four dimensions were out of balance. Covey considers sharpening the saw as a form of investment from which we can continually reap dividends as time progresses. It is a form of self-care.

Go to the gym, find something to read, eat healthily, develop a spiritual side, and work on your relationships. If you do that, it will be easier to practice the other habits.

Wrap Up

With time and much like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has many excellent lessons, and while I’ve tried, it is impossible for any summary to do justice to the book. Best is to read it yourself. That said, the main lessons are clear; they are about increasing your effectiveness in every area of your life. They will help you create a template for a better, more fulfilling life.

Who would I recommend the Book To?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is the kind of book that everyone reads. There is a reason it has sold 25 million copies and counting. People trust its advice and follow its teachings. This is the kind of book I tell people to go read and thank me later.


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