The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey: Summary

7 habits of highly effective people summary

“But until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”

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Related: The 8th Habit, First Things First, How to Win Friends and Influence People

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Short Summary

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is a principle-centered, character-based, “inside-out” approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness. The ultimate book on personal development, I re-read it from time to time.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Executive Summary

7 habits of highly effective people summary

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or, as we are conditioned to see it.

Part I: Private Victory (Independence)

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive (Personal Vision)
  • Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind (Personal Leadership)
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First (Personal Management)

Part II: Public Victory (Interdependence)

  • Habit 4: Think Win/Win (Interpersonal Leadership)
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood (Empathic Communication)
  • Habit 6: Synergize (Creative Cooperation)

Part III: Renewal

  • Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw (Balanced Self-Renewal)

Paradigms and Principles

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or, as we are conditioned to see it.

We can only achieve quantum improvements in our lives by working on the root, the paradigms from which our attitudes and behaviors flow.

While practices are situationally specific, principles are deep, fundamental truths that have universal application.

The way we see the problem is the problem.

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”—Einstein

Our character is a composite of our habits. Habits are the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.

effective habits

Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.

True effectiveness is a function of two things:

  1. Production: What is produced (the golden eggs)
  2. Production Capability: The producing asset or capacity to produce (the goose)

Effectiveness lies in the balance—the P/PC Balance. P stands for production of desired results, the golden eggs. PC stands for production capability, the ability or asset that produces the golden eggs.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Part I: Private Victory (Independence)

Habit 1: Be Proactive (Personal Vision)

Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.

It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. What matters most is how we respond to what we experience in life.

A serious problem with reactive language is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

7 habits circle of influence

Proactive vs Reactive People:

  • Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values—carefully thought about, selected, and internalized values
  • Reactive people focus their efforts on the Circle of Concern. They focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Proactive people focus their efforts on the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about

Our response to any mistake affects the quality of the next moment. It is important to immediately admit and correct our mistakes so that they have no power over that next moment and we are empowered again.

The commitments we make to ourselves and to others, and our integrity to those commitments, is the essence and clearest manifestation of our proactivity.

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind (Personal Leadership)

Start with a clear understanding of your destination. This helps you understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster. We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.”

By centering our lives on timeless, unchanging principles, we create a fundamental paradigm of effective living. It is the center that puts all other centers in perspective.

Develop a personal mission statement. This is your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life. 

Break it down into the specific role areas of your life and the goals you want to accomplish in each area.

One of the fundamental problems in organizations, including families, is that people are not committed to the determinations of other people for their lives. Without involvement, there is no commitment.

Habit 3: Put First Things First (Personal Management)

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”—Goethe

  • What one thing could you do (you aren’t doing now) that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?
  • What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

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

The Time Management Matrix

7 habits time management matrix urgent important

Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. It’s where the 80/20 rule lives.

Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because they aren’t important. They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II.

How to organize your life on a weekly basis:

  1. Identify Roles. Write down the areas you see yourself spending time in during the next week
  2. Select Goals. Think of one or two important results you want to accomplish in each role (these should be tied to your long-term goals)
  3. Schedule. Translate each goal to a specific day of the week, either as a priority item or as a specific appointment
  4. Adapt Daily. Respond to unanticipated events, relationships, and experiences in a meaningful way.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

Part II: Public Victory (Interdependence)

Effective interdependence can only be built on a foundation of true independence. Private Victory precedes Public Victory.

An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. 

Our most constant relationships require our most constant deposits. With continuing expectations, old deposits evaporate.

6 major deposits that build the Emotional Bank Account:

  • Understanding the Individual
  • Attending to the Little Things
  • Keeping Commitments
  • Clarifying Expectations
  • Apologizing Sincerely When You Make a Withdrawal

Every P problem is a PC opportunity—a chance to build the Emotional Bank Accounts that significantly affect interdependent production.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win (Interpersonal Leadership)

Win/Win is a total philosophy of human interaction. 

The 6 paradigms of human interaction:

  1. Win/Win. All parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the action plan
  2. Win/Lose. Win/Lose people are prone to use position, power, credentials, possessions, or personality to get their way
  3. Lose/Win. People who think Lose/Win are usually quick to please or appease
  4. Lose/Lose. Both will lose and become vindictive
  5. Win. People with this mentality thinks in terms of securing his own ends—and leaving it to others to secure theirs
  6. Win/Win or No Deal. If we can’t find a solution that would benefit us both, we agree to disagree agreeably—No Deal

High courage and consideration are both essential to Win/Win. It is the balance that is the mark of real maturity. If I have it, I can listen, I can empathically understand, but I can also courageously confront.

A true Win/Win agreement is the product of the paradigm, the character, and the relationships out of which it grows. In that context, it defines and directs the interdependent interaction for which it was created.

How to achieve Win/Win:

  1. See the problem from the other point of view
  2. Identify the key issues and concerns (not positions) involved
  3. Determine what results would constitute a fully acceptable solution
  4. Identify possible new options to achieve those results

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood (Empathic Communication)

To interact effectively with people, you first need to understand them.

“Seek first to understand” involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Empathic listening: listening with intent to understand

Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival—to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated. When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.

The 4 skills of empathic listening:

  1. Mimic content by listening to the words that come out of someone’s mouth and you repeat them
  2. Rephrase the content
  3. Reflect feeling
  4. The fourth stage includes both the second and the third

As you authentically seek to understand, as you rephrase content and reflect feeling, you give the person psychological air. You also help him work through his own thoughts and feelings. As he grows in his confidence of your sincere desire to really listen and understand, the barrier between what’s going on inside him and what’s actually being communicated to you disappears.

Habit 6: Synergize (Creative Cooperation)

Synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 1+1=3 or more

When you communicate synergistically, you are simply opening your mind and heart and expressions to new possibilities, new alternatives, new options.

Valuing the differences is the essence of synergy. And the key to valuing those differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.

Although you cannot control the paradigms of others in an interdependent interaction or the synergistic process itself, a great deal of synergy is within your Circle of Influence. Your own internal synergy is completely within the circle.

Look for the good in others and utilize that good, as different as it may be, to improve your point of view and to enlarge your perspective.

When you see only two alternatives—yours and the “wrong” one—you can look for a synergistic third alternative. There’s almost always a third alternative, and if you work with a Win/Win philosophy and really seek to understand, you usually can find a solution that will be better for everyone concerned.

Part III: Renewal

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw (Balanced Self-Renewal)

It is the habit that makes all the others possible.

We are the instruments of our own performance.

To be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw in all four ways:

  • Physical. Caring effectively for our physical body. Eating the right kinds of foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis
  • Spiritual. Your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. Meditating, reading, listening to music, and communicating with nature
  • Mental. Continually honing and expanding the mind through education. Reading good books, writing, journaling, organizing, and planning
  • Social/Emotional. Renewing ourselves socially to create better relationships

Balanced renewal is optimally synergetic. The things you do to sharpen the saw in any one dimension have a positive impact in other dimensions because they are so highly interrelated. 

The Daily Private Victory: a minimum of one hour a day in renewal of the physical, spiritual, and mental dimensions—is the key to the development of the Seven Habits and it’s completely within your Circle of Influence. It is the Quadrant II focus time necessary to integrate these habits into your life, to become principle-centered

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