The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Management by James1 Comment

Imagine. You’re at your funeral. You stand next to the casket which holds your body. You look into the crowd of people who have come to mourn your passing. How many people have come? What are they thinking? What is the legacy you have left? Your son approaches your casket then turns to the people in attendance. He’s going to say something about you. Something about the kind of person you were. What is he going to say? Are his words going to be genuine and inspiring, or forced and manufactured? Begin With The End in Mind is habit two in Stephen Covey’s classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If your son speaks truly of the type of person you were he’s going to speak about the virtues and values that you chose. Virtues and values are not innate, they are chosen and developed over time. Often they are chosen subconsciously, but they can and should be chosen consciously. It’s the individuals who consciously choose and recognize their virtues and values that are according to Stephen Covey the most effective and happy people. I’ve come to this same view myself in recent years, and the more I educate myself the more confirmation I get on this particular viewpoint.  Part of beginning with the end in mind is creating a personal mission statement. A personal mission statement says in words, your own words, who you are. Not what you want from life, but the virtues you want to live your life by – the things you want your son to talk about at your funeral. The concepts “virtue” and “value” are abstract, so to clarify in your mind what I mean when I say these words, a value is something a person seeks to gain or keep. A value asks two questions: To whom? and For what? It presupposes a person acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. For example, do you value living in an urban, suburban, or rural setting? Do you value surrounding yourself with people who are like-minded and practice similar virtues, or do you keep any company that comes your way? Virtue is the action one takes in order to gain and keep their values. The virtues I strive for are rationality, honesty, integrity, productivity, independence, pride, and justice. For example, if I value owning a business and I am dishonest (selling damaged goods) and lack integrity (I make a regular habit of selling damaged goods) I will quickly gain a reputation as an untrustworthy business owner and in effect my reputation will be ruined and I’ll have no customers and no business. By not practicing the virtues of honesty and integrity I will have lost my value of owning a business. In the coming weeks I’ll be working on my personal mission statement and will post it here along with a guide on how to create one of your own. Being conscious of who you are, i.e., self-knowledge, is the foundation to success and happiness in life, but it takes work to achieve it.  We will be the writers of our own story or be actors in someone else’s. These are our two fundamental options in life, and the more we’re aware of who we are, who we want to be, and consistently work to achieve it, the more likely we are to write our own story, have the kind of funeral we hope for, and leave the inspiring legacy people with healthy self-esteem aim for. If Socrates was correct when he said “reason plus virtue equals happiness” then identifying the virtues you want to strive for is a great way to begin your path of success and happiness. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book about time proven principles.  A principle is like a law of nature – for instance, gravity. Principles are not optional subjective things that work for some people and don’t work for others.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is accepting the idea that what is true for one person may not be true for another. This rational is called relativism, its roots go back to ancient Greece to a group of philosophers called the Skeptics, it’s the dominating mindset in today’s culture, and has had devastating effects. I  can’t go into the details here, but if you’re interested as to why relativism is so destructive please leave a comment in the comment section and I can answer you there. Principles are universal, and it’s the universality that gives them their power.  Surely there are more principles one can live by than the 7 listed by Covey, but after decades of research looking back hundreds of years into the literature and letters of great men and women he has chosen the top 7 that he noticed time and time again.

What’s in the Book?

The primary substance in the book is of course the habits. Listed below are the habits and their brief summary taken from the 7 Habits website. I do however recommend listening to or reading the book because the book ties the abstract principles to real life examples which will help you understand the principles in a way to make it easier to incorporate into your own life.

Habit 1 – Be Proactive

Be Proactive is about taking responsibility for your life. You can’t keep blaming everything on your parents or grandparents. 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. Reactive people, on the other hand, are often affected by their physical environment. They find external sources to blame for their behavior. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance, and they blame the weather. All of these external forces act as stimuli that we respond to. Between the stimulus and the response is your greatest power–you have the freedom to choose your response. One of the most important things you choose is what you say. Your language is a good indicator of how you see yourself. A proactive person uses proactive language–I can, I will, I prefer, etc. A reactive person uses reactive language–I can’t, I have to, if only. Reactive people believe they are not responsible for what they say and do–they have no choice.

Habit 2 – Begin With the End in Mind

The ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen. One of the best ways to incorporate Habit 2 into your life is to develop a Personal Mission Statement. It focuses on what you want to be and do. It is your plan for success. It reaffirms who you are, puts your goals in focus, and moves your ideas into the real world. Your mission statement makes you the leader of your own life. You create your own destiny and secure the future you envision.

Habit 3 – Put First Things First

Habit 1 says, “You’re in charge. You’re the creator.” Being proactive is about choice. Habit 2 is the first, or mental, creation. Beginning with the End in Mind is about vision. Habit 3 is the second creation, the physical creation. This habit is where Habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment-by-moment. It deals with many of the questions addressed in the field of time management. But that’s not all it’s about. Habit 3 is about life management as well–your purpose, values, roles, and priorities. What are “first things?” First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth. If you put first things first, you are organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities you established in Habit 2.

Habit 4 – Think Win Win

Think Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration. Most of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone else failing–that is, if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life becomes a zero-sum game. There is only so much pie to go around, and if you get a big piece, there is less for me; it’s not fair, and I’m going to make sure you don’t get anymore. We all play the game, but how much fun is it really? Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good! A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:

  1. Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  2. Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others
  3. Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone

Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood

 Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right? If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar? “Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way.” “I had that same thing happen to me.” “Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation.” Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:

Evaluating: You judge and then either agree or disagree.
Probing: You ask questions from your own frame of reference.
Advising: You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
Interpreting: You analyze others’ motives and behaviors based on your own experiences.

Habit 6 – Synergize

 To put it simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one.” Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. But it doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experience and expertise to the table. Together, they can produce far better results that they could individually. Synergy lets us discover jointly things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves. It is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one equals three, or six, or sixty–you name it. When people begin to interact together genuinely, and they’re open to each other’s influence, they begin to gain new insight. The capability of inventing new approaches is increased exponentially because of differences.

Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw

 Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Here are some examples of activities:

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

As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life. Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. Not a pretty picture, is it? Feeling good doesn’t just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It’s all up to you.

 Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer 

In many ways this blog is about dreams, and the pursuit of them.  “Just do it” is not helpful advice, unless of course you’ve designed the plan carefully and it’s time for action.  But one could say “just do it” in reference to starting the work necessary to design the plan.  The further I go down this journey to pursue my dream I look to people who have pursued and achieved theirs. I look for the principles that have enabled them to get what they wanted. It’s true as the quote says at the top of this website “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” But it’s equally true that once you’ve dreamt the dream nothing will happen unless the dream is followed by principled actions. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, no human is born with this knowledge, it is learned. And lucky for us successful people want to share how they achieved their success. When I say success I mean success in life, not just business, although they do go hand in hand. I hope you will begin the journey to self-knowledge, which is the journey to realizing your dreams.

Below is a fantastic 8 minute animation that summarizes the 7 habits