“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is the definitive self-improvement book written by Stephen R. Covey. It’s one of the best success literature I have ever read and has changed my life in a positive way. The purpose of this article is to provide a short summary of the book and show you how the seven habits can greatly enhance the quality of your life. Do make sure you read the entire book to get a complete understanding!
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
Your character is basically the sum of your habits. Therefore, to become successful, you need to cultivate good habits in your life. This book teaches you how to acquire the seven habits of truly effective people.
The foundation of your success and character should be based on universal moral values such as integrity, honesty, humility, courage, patience, justice, the Golden Rule, etc. This is known as the “Character Ethic”. In the long term, it is easier to be motivated by such principles of integrity and goodness. Your character should not be based on a false public image, hypocritical attitudes and behaviors, or superficial techniques for human interaction/manipulation. That would be known as the “Personality Ethic”. If your principles were based solely on the “Personality Ethic”, you may achieve short-term success, but people will eventually see through your dishonest motives and cease to trust you. You will not enjoy long-term success and happiness.
Habits 1 to 7 develop your character in a progressive manner. Learning the first 3 habits will help you achieve “private victory”, where you learn to move from dependence to independence by taking responsibility for your own life. Habits 4 through 6 teach you how to get “public victory, by moving from independence to interdependence and succeeding through creating synergy with other people. Habit 7 involves the renewal and balance of your mind, body and spirit.
Habit 1 – Be Proactive
Be proactive. Remember that you are responsible for what happens in your life. It is not controlled by external elements. You CAN make a difference in your life.
If you feel that you are unpopular or have no friends, be proactive and organize outings. If you dislike your current job, start thinking about alternative career options, and simply search for another job. If you can’t get along with your boss, try to understand your boss’s motives (habit 5), and/or develop a win-win strategy (habit 4).
Reactive people complain frequently and always feel that they are “powerless” or “stuck” in a situation. They tend to talk in the following manner: “I have no choice” (not true, you can always choose your own action), “I can’t do it” (then find out how to do it!), “I am poor because my parents were poor” (that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy). Not surprisingly, these people seldom achieve success with their negative mindsets.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Begin with the end in mind. This means that you should live your life in accordance with a firm set of life goals and values. These goals and values should be consistent with your “character ethic” of integrity and fundamental goodness.
Create your personal mission statement to clarify these goals and values. This will help you deal with the challenges of life because it helps you to retain a sense of who you are and what you value. Below is my Mission Statement:
Be Mindful, Grateful and Detached.
Be surrounded by Love, Family and Friends.
To excite, challenge and enjoy myself through Music, Health and Knowledge.
If you were to pass away two years from now, what would you want others to think of you at your funeral? What kind of person do you want your family, friends, colleagues and fellow members of your religious organization to remember you as?
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Put first things first. You should manage and plan your schedule so that you prioritize and deal with the most important tasks first.
Basically, your tasks fall into 4 Quadrants:
1. Important and Urgent (last minute changes, late inputs from team, crises that could have been prevented)
2. Important but Not Urgent (productive meetings with agenda, setting of goals, creating mission statements, family time)
3. Not Important but Urgent (phone calls, emails, unproductive meetings, random interruptions)
4. Not Important and Not Urgent (gossip, watching tv, idling, web-surfing)
You should always manage your schedule such that you have ample time for quadrant 2 activities. This will GREATLY enhance your effectiveness and help you achieve long-term success. Most people get so caught up in quadrant 1/3 activities that they do not have time to do anything else. Effective people have to deal with quadrant 1/3 too, but by planning their schedule properly, they reduce the number of these activities.
How do you minimize quadrant 1/3 activities? Well, apart from managing your schedule, you should also learn how to delegate. Teach other people to handle some of your tasks. By doing so, you will free up precious time for yourself. Secondly, learn to say the magical word: “No”: master the art of rejecting people tactfully. Finally, always plan for the week ahead. Schedule your appointments and tasks for each of the seven days and make sure you have ample time for quadrant 2 activities. You will be surprised to see how much time is left over after you’ve finished allocating all your activities. That is the magic of planning!
The first three habits will help you achieve “private victory”. It is now time to move on to gaining “public victory”.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Think Win-Win. You should always aim for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Remember: If a deal hurts them, it will hurt you. Everyone benefits in the long term if you go for a win-win approach.
If you are honest, kind and helpful in your relationships, you are building up your level of trust with other people. This is known in the book as depositing into your “Emotional Bank Account”. By depositing into this “account” regularly, you build strong and authentic relationships in which the interactions are mutually beneficial. This applies to both your work and personal life. Think about it: if you are constantly manipulative and trying to engage in win-lose strategies, would people still trust you in the long term? You would basically be self-sabotaging all your relationships.
If it seems that you have tried all methods and there is no way you can strike a “win-win” deal, remember this contingency rule: “Win-Win or No Deal”. “No deal” means to avoid or walk away from a deal/relationship. In the long term, this is definitely better than hanging on to a relationship or deal festering with politicking, backstabbing, and negative energy.
To build win-win relationships, you must have a certain level of maturity. “Maturity” is the balance between courage (working to achieve a win for yourself) and consideration (understanding your counterpart’s view and making a win for them). Aim to increase your level of maturity. This will not be easy but it will be a crucial asset in your daily interactions!
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Always listen to your wife, girlfriend, friends, colleagues, etc to fully understand their point of view.
The book defines listening and understanding as “Empathy”. When you master empathy, you will be able to fully understand someone intellectually and emotionally. Empathic listening is not just with your ears. It is with the ears, eyes, and heart – for feeling, for meaning of what the other person is trying to say.
Emphatic listening provides the other person with “Psychological Air”. This is an important concept in the book. If the air were suddenly sucked out of your room now, you would probably be running to get air instead of reading this article, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t care about anything else except for getting air and your survival. Therefore, psychological air is a metaphor that describes people’s basic instinctive need to be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated. When people are deprived of psychological air, they become aggressive and/or defensive because their emotional needs have not been met. Hence, emphatic listening is a powerful skill because it provides another person with psychological air. It is only when this need is met that the person will start to open up and engage in logical/meaningful discussions.
Therefore, emphatic listening provides psychological air and also allows you to fully understand a person. Through this understanding, you will know how to work out a win for the other party and build a win-win relationship.
Below is an example that embodies the concept of emphatic listening, psychological air, and win-win:
Let’s say you are unable to get along with your boss because you often argue with him over work-related issues. You feel that he tends to take things personally and fail to deal with matters professionally. You are on the verge of quitting because it seems there is nothing you can do about it (reactive behaviour). One day, however, you decide to practise emphatic listening. During one of your discussions with him, you simply listen without interrupting and sincerely try your best to understand his view. You give an understanding look (as opposed to your usual death-glare) and nod your head as he speaks. You can tell that your boss is a little caught by surprise, and he starts to go into a more relaxed demeanor. Suddenly, you have an epiphany and realize that the reason for your boss’s past aggressions is probably because he wanted your respect in the office. The aggressiveness in previous arguments was a weapon to protect his reputation. This is why you thought he was being “personal”. However, the moment your boss saw that you were sincerely listening and being respectful, the need for psychological air was met. As a result, he became a lot more logical and understanding. From then on, your discussions with him are always productive and mutually respectful; a win-win scenario!
Habit 6: Synergize
Synergize. Aim to work effectively within a team and create synergy with others. In this way, you will be able to achieve goals no one person could have achieved alone. Synergy is a wonderful thing. Therefore, the book highlights synergy as the highest activity of life.
Habit 6 is the culmination of the previous habits. First, you should strive to understand other people’s views (habit 5). After that, try your best to create a win-win strategy for everyone (habit 4) and let synergy happen (habit 6)! When you create synergy, you are taking advantage of the wonderful differences between people.
Habit 6 can also be used to create alternative solutions when there are seemingly irreconcilable differences in views or stands. For example, let’s say you disagree with your spouse over your vacation destination. You want to visit Europe while your spouse prefers a beach vacation in the Maldives. It seems there is no way to resolve this issue and for a moment you feel that that the holiday might be a lost cause. However, you decide to practise synergy and think of alternative solutions. Instead of sticking to Europe/Maldives, you speak to your spouse on her holiday preferences (habit 5), and try to think of an alternative destination suitable for the both of you (habit 4). After a short discussion, the two of you decide that you will visit the US. She will be happy to indulge in the Black Friday Sales, while you can also pick up some photography equipment (habit 6). This is the magic of synergy. Note that there is a large difference between compromise and synergy. Over-compromising will lead to an unhealthy relationship in the long term. Synergy, on the other hand, ensures that both parties are happy and will help to strengthen the relationship.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Sharpen the saw. Habit 7 involves the renewal and balance of four important aspects in your life: Physcial, Social/Emotional, Mental and Spiritual. This will ensure your body/mind is in a healthy and strong state to practise the other six habits.
Physical: Eat healthy and exercise regularly
Social/Emotional: Stay close to your family and maintain your friendships
Mental: Read more! Aim to read one book per week
Spiritual: You can maintain your spiritual health in many ways, and it is a matter of individual preference. These are some examples: Spend time with nature, practise yoga, engage in meditation, art, music, prayer, or service to your community.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. You should now have a general idea of the seven habits and understand how it can significantly improve the quality of your life. However, you will definitely need to read the entire book to get a complete and proper understanding. You can purchase the book here if you are interested. Thank you for reading!