The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey: Notes12 min read

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The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People teaches you both personal and professional effectiveness by changing your view of how the world works and giving you 7 habits, which, if adopted well, will lead you to immense success.

If you haven’t at least heard about this book, I’d be shocked. It has sold over 25 million copies. That’s as if the entire population of Venezuela had gotten a copy.

I’m not sure if Stephen R. Covey had any clue about what a success this book would be when he published it in 1990, but even 4 years after his death it’s still the bible of leadership and modern management.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Do the funeral test.
  • Learn how to say no.
  • Practice active listening.

Lesson 1: Do the funeral test.

This is the habit that Covey calls “Begin with the end in mind”. He issues a warning that plowing away and getting a massive amount of tasks done in a preferably short time (i.e. being efficient) is only useful when you’re plowing in the right direction.

The classic analogy here is the ladder you’re climbing furiously, only to find out it’s leaned against the wrong wall when reaching the top.

Only if you’re clear about your major, long-term goals can you align each and every single one of your decisions with them.

The by far best way to become VERY clear about those goals is to do the funeral test. I learned about this from Tai Lopez, and assume he’s gotten it from the book.

Ask yourself:

What do I want people to say about me at my funeral?

As what sort of person do I want to be remembered?

For what do I want to be remembered?

Depending on your number of relationships (family, friends, clients, partners, customers), you can also ask yourself how many people will be there to mourn your death.

As Steve Jobs said: all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Truthfully answering those questions will make you realize you might not want that out-of-the-suitcase, business class lifestyle, or that really all you ever wanted to do was dance.

So be bold and ask them.

Lesson 2: Learn how to say no.

Knowing exactly where you want to go makes it easy to find out what’s important to you, and what not. When you know your final goal, you’ll at least have an inclination for each to-do on how important it actually is.

You’ll often find that the important things aren’t urgent and vice versa. That means some things don’t deserve to be done at all.

Note: A great tool to learn more about the difference between urgent and important is the Eisenhower Matrix.

That means you’re gonna have to learn how to say no. It’s not easy, especially if money’s involved.

Sometimes tempting rewards will be dangled right in front of you, which is when it’s time to pull out the funeral test again to see whether those rewards deserve to be chased.

I’ve tried to learn from Derek Sivers in this regard, who says it’s either a hell yeah, or a no. He’s incredibly focused on a few things, but those things create all the meaning he needs in his life.

Lesson 3: Practice active listening.

The good thing about saying no to doing a lot of things is being able to spend a lot more time actually listening to others.

Active listening is part of our “Coaching 101” on, and it is a 3-pronged approach to communication:

You’re listening to understand the person you’re listening to, not primarily to give advice or respond.

You make sure you understand by repeating back to them what they said and mirroring their emotions.

You help them structure their own thought process.

This was one of the major lessons I learned during my first 6 months as a coach: A good coach is determined much more by the quality of his questions, than by the quality of his answers.

Covey calls this “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” and it is a call to practice active listening and empathy.

Just like you get suspicious of your doctor when he prescribes you hefty antibiotics after hearing you cough just once, we don’t tend to trust people, who we think don’t really understand us.

So make an effort to listen to understand, instead of listening to respond. A good way to start this practice is by simply talking less.

My personal take-aways

When I went through the summary to pull out 3 things, I counted 8 I wanted to share. The best lessons in these blinks are not necessarily the 7 habits themselves (which you can find in tons of videos and infographics around the web), but the little sentences at the end of the paragraph here and there, which show you how to implement them.

This isn’t a how-to book and the lessons will take you a while to implement, since they are general principles. Therefore, they’re all the more helpful once you get them right. Covey could have been Tim Ferriss’s grandfather, the message is conveyed differently, but remains the same. Whatever you do, be effective, not efficient

The Book in Three Sentences

Success encompasses a balance of personal and professional effectiveness.

Before you can adopt the seven habits, you need to change your perception and interpretation of how the world works (see: paradigm shift).

Between what happens to you and your response to it is your freedom to choose that response.

The Five Big Ideas

  • Proactive people work on the things they can do something about.
  • Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
  • A paradigm is the way we “see” the world.
  • We see the world, not as it is, but as we are conditioned to “see” it.
  • To make relatively minor changes in your life, focus on your attitudes and behaviors. To make significant, quantum change, work on your basic paradigms.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Put first things first
  • Think win/win
  • Seek first to understand then be understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the saw

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary

“Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”

The Character Ethic teaches that there are basic principles of effective living and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.

To focus on technique is like cramming your way through school.

“What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.”—Thomas Edison

We have many maps in our heads and each can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities, and maps of the way things should be, or values.

“We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we’re usually even unaware that we have them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be.”

“To try to change outward attitudes and behaviors does very little good in the long run if we fail to examine the basic paradigms from which those attitudes and behaviors flow.”

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

“Our paradigms, correct or incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviors, and ultimately our relationships with others.”

“If we want to make relatively minor changes in our lives, we can perhaps appropriately focus on our attitudes and behaviors. But if we want to make significant, quantum change, we need to work on our basic paradigms.”

“Paradigms are inseparable from character. Being is seeing in the human dimension. And what we see is highly interrelated to what we are.”

“Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world. The power of a paradigm shift is the essential power of quantum change, whether that shift is an instantaneous or a slow and deliberate process.”

On practices vs. principles: “Practices are situationally specific. Principles are deep, fundamental truths that have universal application.”

“Principles are the territory. Values are maps. When we value correct principles, we have truth—a knowledge of things as they are.”

“Admission of ignorance is often the first step in our education.”

“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.”—Albert Einstein

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”—Aristotle

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Stephen defines a habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do. To make something a habit in our lives, Stephen explains, we need to have all three.

Effective Habits

“Private victories precede public victories.”

True effectiveness is a function of two things: what is produced (the golden eggs) and the producing asset or capacity to produce (the goose).

Effectiveness lies in the balance—what Stephen calls 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.

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”—Henry David Thoreau

“We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from them and from the animal world.”

There are three social maps—three theories of determinism widely accepted, independently or in combination, to explain the nature of man:

Genetic determinism. This basically says your grandparents did it to you. That’s why you have such a temper.

Psychic determinism. This basically says your parents did it to you.

Environmental determinism. This basically says your boss is doing it to you—or your spouse, or that bratty teenager, or your economic situation, or national policies. Someone or something in your environment is responsible for your situation.

Between what happens to you, or the stimulus and your response to it is your freedom or power to choose that response. (Sam: this is similar to what Ryan Holiday posits in The Obstacle Is the Way.)

“Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.”

“Proactive people can carry their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shines makes no difference to them. They are value driven; and if their value is to produce good quality work, it isn’t a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not.”

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

“Proactive people are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social, or psychological. But their response to the stimuli, conscious or unconscious, is a value-based choice or response.”

“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”

Victor Frankl suggests that there are three central values in life:

The experiential, or that which happens to us

The creative, or that which we bring into existence

The attitudinal, or our response in difficult circumstances such as terminal illness.

“What matters most is how we respond to what we experience in life.”

“Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.”

The problems we face fall in one of three areas:

Direct control. Problems involving our own behavior

Indirect control. Problems involving other people’s behavior

No control. Problems we can do nothing about, such as our past or situational realities. (Sam: this is similar to what William B. Irvine writes in A Guide to The Good Life: “There are things over which we have complete control, things over which we have no control at all, and things over which we have some but not complete control.”)

“‘Begin with the end in mind’ is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation, to all things.”

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

“The two additional unique human endowments that enable us to expand our proactivity and to exercise personal leadership in our lives are imagination and conscience.”

“Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully, and to align your behavior with your beliefs. As you do, other people begin to sense that you’re not being driven by everything that happens to you. You have a sense of mission about what you’re trying to do and you are excited about.”

A good affirmation has five basic ingredients:

  • It’s personal
  • It’s positive
  • It’s present tense
  • It’s visual
  • It’s emotional.

An example of an affirmation: “It is deeply satisfying (emotional) that I (personal) respond (present tense) with wisdom, love, firmness, and self-control (positive) when my children misbehave.” (Sam: Jack Canfield writes about the power of affirmations and visualization in The Success Principles.)

“The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.”

“You simply can’t think efficiency with people. You think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.”

“Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.”

Recommended Reading

If you like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you may also enjoy the following books:

Awaken The Giant Within by Anthony Robbins

Eat That Frog! By Brian Tracy

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

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