Key Takeaways from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”
After researching the concept of success across 200 years Stephen Covey — a prominent American professor and best-selling writer — identified a very important change in the way that humans have defined success over time. In earlier times, the foundation of success mostly rested upon character ethic such as integrity, humility, fidelity, courage, justice, patience, and modesty. But starting around the 1920s, the way people viewed success shifted to personality ethic like personality, public image, attitudes, and behaviors.
Throughout the book Covey introduces a couple of interesting concepts. One of them is the maturity continuum which is about three successive stages of maturity: dependence, independence, and interdependence. Dependence means you need others to get what you need. Independence means you are pretty much free from the external influence. Interdependence is all about cooperation and it is the choice of successful leaders.
Offering 7 distinct habits Covey mentions each of the first three habits is intended to achieve independence while the next three one are designed to help about interdependence. That’s why he calls the first three “habits for private victories” and the next three “habits of public victories”. The final, seventh habit is intended to help maintain these achievements.
The 7 Habits
1. Be proactive
What is the difference between proactive and reactive people? Well, Covey says we have two circles around us. One — the bigger one — is the circle of concern which consists of things like politics, weather, economy, and other’s opinion that concern us heavily but we have zero control over them. The second, smaller circle is called circle of influence which on the other hand consists of the things under our control such us our attitude, skills, education, habits and hobbies.
Reactive people focus on “circle of concern” and always seek the reason outside themselves. Whereas, proactive people ignore the things that they can’t control and focus solely on the things they can influence to. Proactive people constantly working on expanding their circle of influence.
2. Begin with the end in mind
Highly effective people always act thinking the end in mind. If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction. If your ladder isn’t leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.
Everything is created twice. You first create something in your mind. It then becomes a physical reality. So think wisely about the final outcome even before you take the first step.
In this chapter Covey also highlights an importance of being “principle centered”. Most people do have multiple centers. People can be family-centered, money-centered, work-centered, or self-centered. Many of these centers are acceptable. But to be an effective person, you need to have a “principle” center. Your principle center should be based on timeless, unchanging values. The principle center puts all these other centers in perspective.
3. Put first things first
Prioritization is a vital skill for any successful person and it is all about focusing on what’s important — things that bring you closer to your vision of the future. Don’t get distracted by trash.
Meet the matrix from the 34th president of the United States Dwight Eisenhower. Using the tool, you can divide your tasks into four boxes based on the tasks you’ll do first, the tasks you’ll schedule for later, the tasks you’ll delegate, and the tasks you’ll eliminate.
“The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
An effective time manager spends as much time engaging with activities that are important before they become urgent. The more time you spend adopting this approach, the less time you will spend doing tasks that aren’t urgent or important.
4. Think win-win
In our interactions with others we can pursue different strategies. One of them is Win-Lose where we egotistically seek the victory on the price of others’ defeat. When two such people interact, there is little room for team improvement and they usually end up in Lose-Lose situation. Win is another strategy where your sole purpose is victory and you are not interested in neither you opponent’s victory nor a defeat.
The best strategy without a doubt is Win-Win. But why should we care others’ wins too? Why not to think only about winning? Because your win is not sustainable as long as your opponent is unsatisfied. They will constantly seek revenge or the reasons to come back and negotiate again and again until they get what they need. To go for win-win, you not only have to be nice, you have to be courageous as well.
To escape unproductive mindset and have the win-win mindset we must develop integrity (staying true to your values and commitments), maturity (expressing your ideas with confidence but also considering the views of others) and abundance mentality (believing there is plenty for everyone).
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
If we want to interact with people effectively we must first try to understand them. But what we do instead is being concerned with being understood and giving unsolicited advices.
In this chapter Covey presents his four levels of listening which are ignoring, pretending to listen, attentive listening and empathic listening. Among them the most important one is empathic listening. It involves experiencing someone else’s frame of reference by “listening” to their body language, tone, expression and feelings. It is about putting yourself in their shoes.
Synergy is achieved when 1+1 makes more than 2.
Covey challenges the hype on individualism and independence. He believes that independence creates obstacles to teamwork. He describes synergy as something that may be impossible to understand unless you have experienced it. Synergy happens when a group of people enters a simultaneous and cooperative state of flow. Covey defines this as the “peak experience” of group interaction.
Synergy allows us to create new alternatives and open new possibilities. It allows us as a group to collectively agree to ditch the old scripts and write new ones.
7. Sharpen the saw
Once upon a time a woodcutter was struggling to cut down a tree for hours. A young man who was watching suggested the woodcutter take a break and sharpen his saw so he could cut the tree down far quicker. The woodcutter replied that he was too busy to stop.
We need time to recharge ourselves. Making time for activities that restore our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional states is essential.
- Mental: read good literature, keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences.
- Physical: eat well, get sufficient rest, and exercise.
- Emotional: make contributions to meaningful projects that improve the lives of others, maintain an Abundance Mentality.
- Spiritual: practice daily meditation, communicate with nature, immerse yourself in music.
Balance is key. When you neglect any one area, you damage the rest.