People like us are eager to learn how to improve in different areas of our life. Stephen R. Covey was one of us, so he set out to discover the habits of high-achievers. On his journey, he found 7 distinct habits that differentiate the mediocre from the great.
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” was named one of the most influential books about self-development, leadership, business, and management by several expert committees and has sold over 15 million copies. The seven habits cover a wide array of areas in our lives, and each habit has a different way that it can improve your well-being and levels of success today.
About Stephen R. Covey
The list of Stephen R. Covey’s achievements and activities is as long as it is impressive. He was a leadership and organizational expert, a speaker, an author, and much more.
He worked with top companies, organizations, and even presidents. Time Magazine named him one of the 25 most influential Americans and several of his books ranked as the most popular books in their field. When it comes to leadership and personal improvement, Stephen R. Covey is one of the most referred to experts, even after his death in 2012.
At the beginning of the book, Covey explains his idea about how we must move from a stage of dependence independence. The first 3 habits teach you how to become more powerful and in control of your life by eliminating the victim mentality from your brain, and taking 100% responsibility for everything within your sphere of control.
The next step is the transition from independence to interdependence. This step is explained in Habits 4-6. Covey explains the necessity of this shift as follows:
“Interdependence is more effective than dependence and even independence. But in order to reach interdependence, you will first have to become independent.”
Covey’s point that he tries to drive home with those habits is that everything works better when you are working with a team, however, to be a successful team member, you must be able to function as an independent entity.
The last habit is about continual improvement and gives us a blueprint for implementing the six other habits into our life.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
You can either be a victim of your circumstances or you can take full responsibility for your life. Your response to any given situation is entirely within your control. Covey describes this in a wonderful way as he explains that reactive people are driven by circumstances and proactive people are driven by values. The key is to become self-aware.
Covey furthermore recommends focusing on your circle of influence. We have a circle of concern and a circle of influence. Use your energy and time to capitalize on the things you can actually change and control directly or even indirectly. You can control your behavior, you have an indirect influence on the behavior of other people, but you cannot change the past or foresee the future or the stock market.
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
Before you start your journey to become the best version of yourself, you should actually have an idea of who you want to become. Covey wants you to imagine your own funeral. What is it you would like your family and friends to say about you? It is very likely they won’t talk about how much money you made or what car you used to drive. It will be about your character traits, your passion, your vision, and your personal life mission.
Beginning with the end in mind helps you to understand what is important to you.
You will come up with certain values and principles. Once you figured those out, you must stick to them.
These values and principles must be the center of your life. They must be more important than circumstances, emotions, or even people. They will help you in those moments when you face adversity and even animosity and they will be like a lighthouse on a cloudy night.
Habit 3: Put first things first
We all only have 24 hours per day. Nobody gets more and yet some people use those 24 hours better than others. So the question remains: If we want to make the most of those 24 hours, what things should we focus on and what things should we eliminate?
Covey gives a pretty clear answer. Imagine a coordinate system. The x-axis ranges from not urgent to urgent and the y-axis ranges from important to unimportant. Observe yourself for a couple of days and rate everything you do according to the coordinate system. You don’t have to be a genius to guess that you should stop doing not urgent/unimportant actions (note: relaxing in order to recharge is important and not the same as mindlessly wasting your time in front of the TV).
Sometimes you will have to do unimportant but urgent things but ideally, you can find a way to delegate those tasks. There is no question, however, that you will have to tackle the important and urgent topics in your life. This leaves us with one category.
Covey recommends focusing on the not urgent/important activities whenever we can!
This is where growth happens! Obviously, you cannot focus all your energy on those actions, but make sure you spend enough time in this part of the coordination system. These activities are about your long time goals. Start today and you will have another kind of life in a couple of years if you commit to this habit.
Habit 4: Think win-win
As we now enter the stage of our development where we want to go from independent to interdependent, we will concentrate on our behavior towards other people. How do we deal with business partners? How do we treat strangers? Covey’s answer is pretty simple but powerful: It’s either win-win or no-deal!
That’s correct. Even if you hold the longer end of the stick you will have to make it a win-win! Covey elaborates on the benefit of Habit 4 when it comes to long-time goals and names it as one of the key aspects of interpersonal leadership.
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, than to be understood
Have you ever been in a heated discussion and the other person was talking, explaining their point of view? Whenever I would find myself in such a situation back in the day, I would plan my next statement while the other person was trying to get his or her point across.
But they wouldn’t be able to, as I was all in my head, strategizing about my next “attack.” The goal was not to understand the other person, it was about winning. And this is where I went wrong for many years. Nowadays, I learned my lesson. Training your listening skills will be essential in order to have positive relationships with others.
We all want to be heard. Giving other people the chance to explain their ideas does not only give you the possibility to learn a lot, but you will often find a solution suitable for both people (remember: it is a win-win or no-deal!).
And this is not only true for emotional topics. You often hear that professional salesman doesn’t sell products, they sell solutions to problems. So how do they know what bothers the customers? Instead of trying to get the customer to understand why the product is so great, the salesman would take the perspective of the customers and offer them an answer to their problems by first understanding the issue.
Habit 6: Synergy
This habit is all about optimizing your interactions with other people. Covey explains the power of authenticity and courage.
Covey recommends managing with logic and to lead with emotions.
You want to create a space of creativity in order to achieve the best possible results. It sometimes is about finding the alternative to all the ideas you and your partner would have had on their own. And it is about understanding the value of having diversity within your group.
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw
The last habit is all about practicing and improving your skills. In order to play the long game, you will have to stay fit and sharp in different areas of your life. Covey focused on the mental, physical, social, and spiritual aspects. The mental part includes developing knowledge and continual education, while the physical aspect covers your workout, your eating habits, and your rest.
You can improve your social skills by applying the habits in your life on a daily basis and the spiritual part can be about your meditation practice, reading books about the topic, or just taking a walk in nature. If you really are into self-improvement, you will be in it for the rest of your life. This is hopefully a long time. In order to always stay on top of your game, you have to stay sharp in all of the above-mentioned areas.
Covey explains how private success precedes public success. We all should work on ourselves first before we even think about achieving external goals. Therefore we have to focus on our general behavior and, yes, our habits. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is nothing but a habit.
Another point Covey mentions is how integrity is the foundation of our self-esteem. This brings us back to Habit 2. Get clarity about your values and principles, stick to them even in difficult situations and self-esteem will be the reward.
Personal Thoughts and Putting Knowledge Into Practice
There is no point in reading books about self-improvement if we don’t apply what we read in our daily life. With “The 7 habits of highly effective people,” we have the choice to implement one, several, or even all seven of the habits into our life. I personally began with Habits 1-3 and 7. Nowadays, however, due to my job situation, Habits 4-6 have become more and more relevant.
I already mentioned that people often see Habit 3 as the most important one. I personally see Habits 1-3 as almost equally important. Knowing that you are responsible for your behavior and your reactions to external events (Habit 1) is unbelievably powerful and a great way to start. From hereon, having values and having a clear vision (Habit 2) will guide you on your journey.
Knowing your principles and sticking to them is part of what it means to be a man and unfortunately a trait a lot of people lack nowadays. And I can understand why, as we often find ourselves in situations where our values tell us one thing and our emotions the other. This is when we should remember Habit 1 as we are not our emotions, but we rather define who we are by our response to external circumstances.
Habit 3 is all about long-term improvement. It is about choosing the right actions for our personal goals. This can be reading a book, going out and approaching women, listening to Sean’s podcasts, or getting a mentor. It really depends on your goal, but the message stays the same: in order to grow, we have to make an effort.
Even if you only apply these three habits, you will make tremendous progress. Furthermore, I would also like to repeat what Covey said about success. Your level of success will seldom excel your level of personal development. Don’t start with being concerned about external forms of success and remember: Success is not having things but conquering oneself. With the knowledge about the 7 habits, you have very powerful tools to do so.
Now it’s just up to you to put this knowledge into practice and to crush it! I believe your success will then only be a matter of time.
Lenny Hu is a scientist at day and a self-improvement addict at night. He believes presence, gratitude, authenticity and continual personal growth are the four ingredients for living a fulfilled life. He is interested in fitness, meditation, neuroscience, psychology, studying languages and learning from everyone he meets.