The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

“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 Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

This is one of those books that I genuinely believe can change a person’s life forever. It is also the book that introduced me to the term “paradigm shift.” A paradigm is “a pattern or model; the generally accepted perspective.” 

As a metaphor, I like to compare our paradigms to the lenses in our glasses.  What we see isn’t a completely accurate reflection of reality, it is shaped by our attitudes and perceptions.  Paradigms are natural and inevitable, and they are useful to us in many ways.  However, sometimes our paradigms become so far removed from reality that they become dysfunctional.  A “paradigm shift” occurs when our paradigms change, allowing us to see the world in a new light.  Sometimes this happens suddenly, and sometimes very gradually.  Paradigms are part of what Stephen Covey describes, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Texas A&M University

Truth be told, had I not read this book and encountered the concept of shifting a paradigm, it is likely that I could never have concieved Throwing Clay. After all, what are we doing here if not shifting paradigms? In this book, Stephen, rather effectively in my opinion, shifts the paradigm as far as our ideas of effectiveness and our part to play in our own lives and the lives of others goes.

One of the foundational principles of the book is that one must be wary of self-help in the form of the personality ethic. The personality ethic tells us to look it and we will be it. He posits that the character ethic must come first otherwise the personality ethic will wither and let us down. Character makes changes to personality sustainable. A house is built from the foundation up. All the other pretty things we like about it exist because the foundation is solid. Without that foundation they would be blown over at the whisper of a breeze. So it is fundamental to root changes to yourself in character not personality with these 7 habits because there are no shortcuts to personal growth.

The 7 habits are on a maturity continuum. As you mature, you make your way further along the continuum until you reach the height of maturity. First comes dependence and personal responsibility then comes growth to independence and self-mastery (habits 1 to 3) then comes the ability to work with others or productively operate with other people or within teams (habits 4 to 6) and finally, the height of growth; interdependence. Interependence is when a person who is whole in themselves is able to work efficiently with others to achieve greater results.

Habit 1 – Be Proactive

Covey pulls no punches from page 1. I certainly felt a little warm under the collar reading this: “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.” Understanding that “you are in charge” allows you to see that you are in control of your life. When we do not accept responsibility for our lives, we become reactive. Reactive people believe that they are what they are, there is nothing they can do in situations and the world happens to them. Proactive people recognize that they are “response-able.” They don’t blame genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. They know they choose their behavior. This must be coupled with understanding the difference between your circle of control and your circle of influence. The former is made up of things you are concerned with but are not necessarily able to control. The latter is made up of things you are concerned with and can also control. The proactive person focuses on the latter and as they thrive there, their influence grows to reduce the circle of concern.


Habit 2 – Begin with the end in mind is the ladder against the right wall

If you start something without a clear understanding of the objective you may find that you have placed a ladder against a wall and laboured to climb all the way to the top only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall.

Habit 3 – Put First Things First

This habit is summarised in one statement: “How different our lives are when we really know what [and who] is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.” The only thing to this is the decision making quadrant that he so helpfully provides. In order to be effective, first do the things in quadrant 1 then 2 then 3 then 4.

Habit 4 – Think Win/Win

For you to win another person does not have to lose. That is a scarcity mindset. There is more than enough success to go around. That is the abundance mindset.

Covey explains that there are six paradigms of human interaction:

1. Win-Win: Both people win. Agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying to both parties.

2. Win-Lose: If I win, you lose.” Win-Lose people are prone to use position, power, credentials, and personality to get their way.

3. Lose-Win: I lose, you win.” Lose-Win people are quick to please and appease, and seek strength from popularity or acceptance.

4. Lose-Lose: Both people lose. When two Win-Lose people get together — that is, when two, determined, stubborn, ego-invested individuals interact — the result will be Lose-Lose.

5. Win: People with the Win mentality don’t necessarily want someone else to lose — that’s irrelevant. What matters is that they get what they want.

6. Win-Win or No Deal: If you can’t reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial, there is no deal.


Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand and then To be Understood

Covey was butting heads with his son. His attempts to communicate simply did not seem to land. In frustration, he vented to a friend, “I just can’t understand my son. He wont listen to me.” His friend’s reply shifted his paradigm: ” he won’t listen to you? I thought in order to understand someone, you had to listen to them?”

I have learnt the same lesson when engaging with fellow employees, no matter how high emotions and reactions are running, time taken to understand exactly where the other person is coming from and why is never wasted. I would say that there is no identifying a win/win without understanding what the other person considers a win. This is why the steps must be applied in order.

Habit 6 – Synergise

This can’t be achieved with everyone but it can be achieved with a lot of people. This habit may be illustrated as follows: If you write a book and a hundred thousand people are interested in it and I write a similar book and a hundred thousand people are interested in that, we could react in one of 2 proactive ways. I could pick up your book, read it and share it with my market of 100 000 becuase their interests lean that way. You could do the same. Suddenly, we both have doubled our market by synergising. Alternatively, I could act like every person who buys your book has been stolen from me and write bad reviews under a false name to discourage one or two potential buyers. The latter is the scarcity mentality at play. Being more effective would mean realising that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Even the most powerful leader is more influential when he can synergise… think Obama versus Trump.

Habit 7 – Sharpen the saw

Finally, to be effective, we must devote the time to renewing ourselves physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. We must also encourage our teams and loved ones to do the same. “Continuous renewal allows us to synergistically increase our ability to practice each habit.”

Habit 7 is focused around renewal, or taking time to “sharpen the saw.” It surrounds all of the other habits and makes each one possible by preserving and enhancing your greatest asset — yourself. Taking 10 minutes to sharpen a saw can halve the time required to cut the tree.

“We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.”

Stephen R Covey

He say sharpening the saw in respect of yourself can be divided into 4 broad areas:

Physical: eating healthy, exercising, and resting
Social/Emotional:Making meaningful social and emotional connections with others
Mental:Learning, reading, writing, and teaching
Spiritual:Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service

This was a TC Bookclub read and a half. The 7 habits can be adapted for your children too. Here is a pictogram to help with the discussion.

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