Book Review: The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

In his bestselling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ Stephen Covey presents an approach to creating powerful, lasting change in our lives. He defines effectiveness as the balance between what he calls production (P) of desired results and caring for production capability (PC), the ability or asset that generates those results.

The book in a nutshell

Covey maintains that we create our reality and the way we see the world is based on our perceptions. Any change that is to manifest in the external environment is ultimately driven from the internal when we change our perceptions. Making meaningful change, however, will depend on whether we seek to fundamentally change ourselves or simply want to alter our behaviours and attitude.

Key takeaways

1. The Character Ethic vs the Personality Ethic

In earlier years it was taught that true success and long lasting happiness was dependent on our character. The Character Ethic says that there were basic principles of effective living like courage, humility, integrity and that we created success by incorporating these into our lives.

More recently, however the Personality Ethic has become more popular. With it, success is now based on public image, personality and behaviours. These principles Covey believes do not get to the core of who we are and are not a true measure of success or effectiveness.

Covey believes that to be truly effective we need to revert to the ‘old ways’. Instead of looking for quick fixes that don’t address the underlying issues we should instead align ourselves with the principles of the character ethic.We need to delve below the surface to seek the answers to the following: Who are we fundamentally? What do we stand for? What is at our unshakeable core regardless of what happens outside of us?

2. Moving from dependence to independence. Habits 1 to 3 show us how to improve ourselves and achieve mastery

Habit 1 – Be Proactive

Being proactive means more than merely taking the initiative. It is an awareness that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. That our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. With this self-awareness we take responsibility for our choices and our actions.

Proactive people therefore understand that they have the ability to choose how they respond to the world.

Reactive people are passive and always feel at the mercy of the world.

How can you put this habit into practice?
One simple way is to replace reactive language with proactive language. For example: ‘There’s nothing I can do’ becomes ‘Let me consider the alternatives.’

Habit 2 – Begin With the end in mind

This means that our desired vision for our lives becomes the frame of reference by which everything else is measured. Everything we do is therefore examined in the context of the ‘big picture’. We become clear on what really matters most to us and in so doing are able to ensure that we act upon what does not violate the criteria we’ve defined.

We can go through life being very busy yet not stop to ask ourselves whether any of it really matters to us. Starting with the end in mind ensures that our values and the things that truly matter are always at the forefront of our minds. It ensures that any steps we take are in the right direction.

‘It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.’ -Stephen Covey.

How can you put this habit into practice?
Think about how your priorities would change if you only had 30 more days to live. Make those things your priorities.

Habit 3 – Put first things first

Habit 2 helps us figure out what our values are and what it is we want to achieve. Habit 3 teaches us how to prioritise our day-to-day actions in order to go after those goals that really matter to us. In order to do that we need to exercise willpower in going after the things that line up with our values but not necessarily our desires. We need to be able to take action when we really don’t feel like it.

Urgent vs. Important

Covey makes the point that all activities can be categorized as either urgent and important. What usually happens is that we constantly react to what is urgent but not necessarily important. Key to becoming effective is identifying what the important things are and then doing those first. Urgent matters usually end up taking care of themselves.

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

What are some important matters that we neglect? We miss out on developing our relationships and become blind to new opportunities.

How can you put this habit into practice?
Identify an important activity that you know you’ve been neglecting. Write it down and commit to doing it now.

3. Developing interdependence

Habits 4, 5 and 6 describe how to improve our capabilities in the area of teamwork, communication and collaboration.

Habit 4 – Win/Win. Covey describes this as a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. With a win/win solution all parties feel good about the decision and solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying.

Habit 5 – Seek first to understand then to be understood. Covey makes the point that most people typically listen with the intent to reply. Instead we should listen to first understand by practising empathic listening where we get inside another’s frame of reference to truly see the world the way they see it.

Habit 6 – Synergize. Covey describes this as the crowning achievement of all the previous habits as it highlights our effectiveness in interdependent interactions. It focuses on using these interactions to create unite and creativity with others.

4. Self care and renewal

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw. Here we learn the importance of taking care of our greatest asset, ourselves. We learn that it is only by enhancing and renewing ourselves that we can make true sustained effectiveness a possibility. We learn that we need to take care of all aspects of ourselves: physical, mental, spiritual and social/emotional.

Who this book is for

If you’re tired of feeling like a victim and want to take responsibility for your future, if you’re trying to figure out who you are, what you stand for and how to dramatically improve the quality of your life, then ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ is required reading.

Final thoughts

The beauty of this book and the seven habits is that they each new habit builds on the previous one and as we improve in one area we see the impact that has in other areas. Identifying your core values, for instance, will affect what you prioritise in every area of your life. This is not a book you read once and then put back on the shelf. It is a manual you will go back to time and time again as you incorporate its principles into your life a little at a time.

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