The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
By Stephen R. Covey
7 Habits is one of those books that now has its own mythology. Even if you’ve never read it, you have probably heard (or made fun of) “synergizing”, “sharpening your saw”, and “thinking win-win”. It’s become so much a part of the culture that there are parodies of it everywhere. If you’ve never read it, you may think you already know what’s in the book. If so, you, like me, are most likely wrong.
Covey starts out by saying that self-help, communication, and managerial advice is of little use. The reason is that they deal with superficial and outward behaviors without examining your underlying character, motives, and values. First one must focus on these factors before even considering their relation to other people.
With that in mind, the first three habits fall under the heading of “Private Victory”. Habit 1 is to be proactive. Recognize that you are responsible for your response to any given stimulus in your life and adjust those responses to fall in line with your principles. Additionally, learn to discern what you can actually change or influence and focus on that rather than what you can’t. This is good advice, but it doesn’t take in to account things like trauma, abuse, and circumstances beyond your control. Proactivity is certainly good, don’t get me wrong. It does have to be developed of time, though.
The second habit is to begin with the end in mind. This means to consider how you want your legacy to last beyond you. Consider your underlying principles and how those affect your daily life and views. Then take those principles and values to create a personal mission statement for yourself. This can help you focus your attention on the things that you truly value as well as help you recognize places that you want to improve upon.
The final habit on private improvement is to put first things first. Prioritization and time management both get addressed in this section. The idea is to focus your time on things that are important, but not urgent. Urgency can’t always be ignored, but more often than not it results in a lot of busy work that doesn’t really accomplish anything. Instead, one should focus on that which will minimize urgent things in the future by doing that which is important now.
Now Covey moves into the section he calls a “Public Victory”. This is in regard to your relations to other people, allowing the habits you’ve instilled in your inner life to have an impact on your day-to-day life. Habit 4 is to think win-win. In other words, shift your personal view of interactions to where your main goal is for everyone to benefit. This doesn’t have to mean that everyone gets everything they want. It does mean that your goal is focused on the people around you as well as yourself. The relationships you have with other people are more important than the problem or conflict you are presented with.
Paired with Habit 4 is Habit 5: seek first to understand, then to be understood. Truly empathetic listening is very, very hard. This is a habit I’ve tried to instill in my life for many years, and it is highly frustrating to me. I want people to get to whatever point they want to convey quickly. But if you are seeking to understand someone else’s perspective without probing or projecting, it takes what feels like forever. However, empathetic listening is one of the best ways to deeply connect with another human being. It takes patience, but it is certainly worth it in the long run.
Now, synergize! Seriously, that’s Habit 6. When you have achieved high levels of both trust and communication, your interactions can become synergistic, meaning that the whole is greater than the sums of its parts. The problem with this section that I found was while there were a number of examples given of synergy, there was little in the way of practical advice to achieving it.
Finally, the last habit is to commit to personal renewal on a daily basis. This includes physical, mental, spiritual and social areas of life. The idea is to maintain a mentality and practice of continual improvement. You are never complete as a person and should therefore never stop working on yourself as a person.
I would highly recommend this book. It has solid advice and is useful to people in nearly any stage of life.