“7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is Stephen R. Covey‘s wisdom of two decades of self-help, psychology literature, and personal experience working with successful individuals distilled into a book. It’s the result of him trying to understand the emptiness plaguing high achievers.
He discovered how success was attributed to two approaches in human psychology: character ethic, which focuses on the intrinsic qualities of a person, and personality ethic, which emphasizes extrinsic skills and practices.
It’s a goldmine of enduring lessons for sustainable success. There are many lessons to take away from it, especially if you lead a hectic personal life with no apparent goal in mind.
So in this complete “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” summary, we’ll break it down into manageable parts to help you start your journey to becoming a successful person!
- Understanding the Purpose of the Book
- The Structure of the Book
- The Seven Habits
- “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Key Takeaways
- Wrapping Up
Understanding the Purpose of the Book
To clarify, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” isn’t a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all solution.
This book is a framework that helps you develop your habits, character, and personal effectiveness based on your values and goals, not someone’s personal anecdotes or current trends disguised as motivational quotes.
It’s principle-centered, relying on universal, unchanging facts backed by research and wisdom from various fields and Covey’s personal experiences and opinions.
While some of his ideas may be biased or indifferent toward the diversity of human moral values and goals, they’re still valuable to anyone willing to improve their effectiveness.
Why? It doesn’t sugarcoat its words with nonsense. It helps you become successful and discover yourself through the fundamental truths about human interaction, relations, and nature.
This book can completely change your life if you’re committed and disciplined. It’s a must-read book if you’re tired of your current circumstances and are looking for a complete paradigm shift in your lifestyle.
The Structure of the Book
“7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is divided into four parts.
The first part is an introduction that explains a few concepts: paradigms, principles, and habits. It also describes how they affect our effectiveness.
The second part describes the habits that help you achieve independence. It emphasizes that we’re all interdependent by nature, but we must develop our visions and skills to cooperate with others.
The third part is all about human interactions and interdependency. It suggests that win-win is one of the possible outcomes of effective interpersonal relationships and how to achieve such agreements.
The final part covers the seventh habit that helps you maintain effectiveness: sharpening the saw. It’s also a summary of the main points and an invitation to a journey of continuous improvement.
The Seven Habits
Below are the vital things people struggle with in life. Adopt these habits to soar personally and professionally:
1. Be Proactive
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” — Henry David Thoreau.
Your effectiveness ties closely to your sense of proactivity.
Being proactive entails taking responsibility for your life and actions; you don’t blame external factors and circumstances for your behavior. Covey states that there are two types of people: reactive and proactive people.
Reactive people focus on their Circle of Concern. They’re driven by feelings and delegate their energy to things beyond their control, such as their circumstances.
The victimization and blame attitude they maintain give rise to negative energy that affects their mood and performance, preventing them from moving forward.
Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of Influence. Values are their driving force, and they understand that being proactive generates positive energy, which creates more opportunities for growth and improvement.
They’re always concerned about what they can control in life and consistently respond to their experiences with a growth mindset and positively and constructively.
To become proactive, begin by focusing on what you can control and influence—what’s beyond your powers is inconsequential.
That extends to your commitments, too. Don’t make any promises you’re incapable of fulfilling, as your word of mouth is the vessel of your integrity.
2. Begin With the End in Mind
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” —Oliver Wendell Holme.
Here’s a thought experiment Covey proposes: Imagine your funeral.
How would you like your loved ones to remember you? What difference did you make in their lives? What achievements would you like to be remembered for?
The habit “Begin With the End in Mind” means having a clear purpose and direction for your life. It’s an invitation to start each day with the result in mind and ensure that everything you do contributes to that vision.
It’s based on the principle that all things are created twice: a mental or first creation and a physical or second creation.
Once you know what’s important to you to merit living your life to serve it, you can plan and execute the steps to make it happen.
This entails rejecting subconscious beliefs and paradigms that threaten your potential for success. But, while doing so, you’ll also forge new values harmonious with what you want to be and do.
You can start by creating a personal mission statement and sticking to it to manage that.
Covey says it should focus on your ideal, end-goal character traits, contributions, achievements, and values to motivate yourself to become more proactive, effective, and fulfilled.
3. Put First Things First
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” — Goethe.
Covey starts this chapter just as he would the previous one, with two thought-provoking questions:
- What one thing could you do (you aren’t doing now) that, if you did regularly, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?
- What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?
The first question alludes to a straightforward habit: we are in charge of our lives and should behave as such.
It’s based on the four unique human endowments of imagination, conscience, independent will, and self-awareness, and it empowers us to distance ourselves from unhealthy actions and change for the better.
The second question is about mental creation. It refers to our ability to imagine, envision, and create what our eyes can’t see now.
It also allows us to detect what sets us apart from others: our uniqueness and the principles we feel most comfortable fulfilling it with.
“Putting first things first,” the third habit, is the practical fulfillment of both.
It’s about exercising independent will toward effective personal management and helps you prioritize your most important goals instead of constantly reacting to urgencies.
Both the first and second habit are prerequisites to it, as they enable you to take responsibility for your life and define your vision and values, which are the first step to making positive progress.
Once you define your visions and values, you can say “No” to things that don’t align with them; your focus shifts to what’s critical.
Then, you can manage time and energy accordingly to meet your goals.
4. Think Win-Win
“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.” —Edwin Markham.
Covey’s win-win philosophy of human interaction comes down to a straightforward frame of mind: seek mutual benefit in all human interactions.
He explains how this philosophy entails seeking agreements or solutions that are mutually beneficial to all parties, where each one would feel satisfied with their action plans and outcomes.
For this to be possible, life must be seen as cooperative, not a competitive arena.
This habit stands on the principle of trust, respect, and cooperation, which are pillars of interpersonal leadership traits.
Covey also uses the emotional bank account metaphor, where every time we do something positive or helpful for other human beings, we deposit it in their emotional bank account.
Differently, hurtful actions lead to withdrawals. The account’s balance dictates how we feel and act toward each other.
He explains that this mindset requires three character traits: integrity, maturity, and abundance mentality (There’s enough for everyone, and another’s success doesn’t threaten yours).
He also details how the win-win mindset involves five dimensions:
- Character: This is the foundation of this habit and, in general, all other habits. It means acting with integrity, maturity, respect, trust, and cooperation and adopting an abundance mentality mindset.
- Relationships: This is the focus of this habit. Successful and mutually beneficial human relationships are only possible when we nourish relationships with others and maintain high trust.
- Agreements: This is the expression of the win-win habit. It’s about making mutually beneficial arrangements with others, where everyone is aware and accepting of the results, the guidelines, the accountability, the resources, and the consequences of the actions.
- Systems: The support of this habit. It involves creating structures and processes that enable win-win outcomes. Covey uses a competitive workplace where employees were tired of working together as a negative example and argues that systems should reward cooperation and align with the vision and values of the involved people.
- Processes: Finally, processes are about the implementation of a win-win mindset. Simply put, the steps we take must allow for a win-win outcome.
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
“The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.” —Pascal.
Empathy. That’s this habit’s keyword.
Covey emphasizes the importance of understanding the situation before trying to make yourself understood, and he does it best by giving the example of an optometrist who tries to offer his glasses to help your eyesight.
He also explains how we spend years reading, writing, speaking, and listening, which make up our ability to communicate and are crucial to our effectiveness as human beings, but how rarely we receive formal training or experience in listening.
Not any listening, though.
Covey refers to empathic listening, which is listening deeply to understand people’s needs and perspectives, not to respond.
This enables you to build trust and rapport with the other person, see their situation from their perspective, and influence them to act positively.
Also, once you understand another person’s perspective, building trust, resolving conflicts, and reaching win/win solutions become easy.
However, according to Covey, this requires four skills, including empathic listening. They are:
- Empathic Listening: Listening with the intent to understand on a deeper level, not to reply or judge.
- Diagnosing: Identifying the underlying problem and the other party’s needs.
- Advising: Offering relevant and helpful suggestions or solutions.
- Influencing: Persuading or inspiring the other party to act or change positively.
The next step after understanding a person’s perspective is making yourself understood.
The best way to do this is by relying on what you learned from empathic listening, as it’s how you’ll demonstrate respect and credibility and potentially reach a mutually beneficial solution. Here are a few tips:
- Use the same language and similar examples that the other person used
- Show how your ideas or solutions relate to their concerns or goals
- Acknowledge areas of agreement and disagreement
- Seek feedback to ensure clarity and accuracy
“I take as my guide the hope of a saint. In crucial things, unity. In important things, diversity. In all things, generosity.” —Inaugural Address of President George Bush.
The philosophy behind synergy is simple. It stands on the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s the habit of creative cooperation, where individuals work in unison openmindedly to skyrocket their production capability or their chances of resolving a problem.
It’s the highest activity in all life and the test and manifestation of all the other habits combined.
You’ll undeniably recognize that synergizing is the best path of action if you’re proactive, think win-win, are an empathic listener, and so forth.
Covey also stresses that it’s also different from compromising. Where compromising requires you to give up something to agree (1 +1 = 1.5 at best), synergy is an alternative that transcends the dichotomy in win/lose or lose/win and permits its adopters to achieve results that measure a hundred times what a single individual could do (1 + 1 = 100 or more).
But here’s the thing: synergizing is the profound result of two or more respectful individuals putting away their differences to meet a significant challenge.
This stresses the importance of humility, courage, and respect. Unison is all fine and dandy, but it can’t happen without open-mindedness, empathic communication, and a strong desire to reach win/win situations.
Highly effective people live life believing that unification can unleash unbound power from people.
7. Sharpen the Saw
“Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things… I am tempted to think… there are no little things.” —Bruce Barton.
Sharpening the saw means not being lazy and keeping yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually well. It’s a habit that enables you to practice all the other ones and perform at your best in other aspects of life.
Covey explains how this habit involves you focusing on four dimensions of renewal. They are:
- Physical: Take care of your body through exercise, nutrition, and stress management.
- Spiritual: Align yourself with your values and principles, and find purpose through prayer, meditation, or other forms of inspiration.
- Mental: Expand your mind. Reading is important and is a way to invest in yourself. Read books, learn new skills, write down your thoughts, etc.
- Social/Emotional: Forge new relationships or strengthen the existing ones through service, empathy, synergy, and security. The emotional bank metaphor, remember?
Dedication to your self-improvement and growth requires you to consistently pick courage over comfort and step out of your comfort zone.
Still, the best part of sharpening the saw is that every aspect you improve, whether physical or mental, enhances another dimension.
This is because they’re interrelated; you can create an upward spiral of growth and change, or continuous development, simply by starting on what you feel comfortable with the most.
Here’s an example: go to the gym. You’ll notice an improvement in your mental health if you focus on your physical dimension.
Once you’re mentally healthier, you’ll have the motivation and desire to move forward in other aspects of life: your job, your marriage, and so on.
Sharpening the saw is what keeps highly successful people in check. It’s the way to enhance your effectiveness and achieve a balanced life.
“7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Key Takeaways
The entire book revolves around these primary ideas:
- Take responsibility for your life and actions. Don’t be consumed by negative energy and a victimization mindset; focus on what you can control and respond to situations positively.
- Make a personal mission statement and stick to it. When acting, ensure that every decision and action you make aligns with your long-term goals.
- Don’t waste your time worrying about urgent but less important matters. Prioritize critical and meaningful tasks, and manage your time and energy efficiently to achieve them.
- Seek mutual benefit and cooperation in all interactions. Strive for win/win solutions that satisfy the needs of all involved parties.
- Listen to reach a deep understanding, not respond. Then, worry about making yourself understood. Empathic listening builds trust and respect and is vital to effective communication.
- Unison and unification allow for results better than what individuals can achieve alone. Work together and embrace the notion of teamwork.
- Continuously improve yourself in all dimensions: physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual.
Covey’s book abounds in invaluable advice stemming from personal experiences and years of studying highly successful people, self-help, and psychology literature.
It shows the values of proven philosophies while reminding us that some principles, such as self-renewal and dedication to personal mission statements, are the door to success.
Our summary should be enough if you don’t feel like sifting through ~381 pages to figure out how you can improve.
But hey, who are we to stop you if you’re a bookworm? The book’s always available on Amazon.
Let us know if you felt motivated to take charge of your life or learned something new in the comment section, and remember to share this summary with anyone who might benefit from it!