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7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Stephen R. Covey’s incredibly successful book is a pathway to wisdom and power… So it must be good then?

Most of us have learned habits through our culture, upbringing or environment that tend to make us ineffective.  For example, we can often catch ourselves focusing on problems, getting caught up with ‘negative’ campaigning, or behaving competitively.

Covey argues that just as these ‘bad’ habits have been learned and become ingrained, we can learn and develop ‘good habits’ that increase our chances of being effective within our lives, and in achieving both personal and public ‘victory’.

The book is a step by step guide to break the patterns of self-defeating behaviour that keep us from achieving our goals and reaching our fullest potential, and describes how to replace them with a principle-focused approach to problem-solving.

Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.” 

- Stephen Covey

In a nutshell, the book shows us that success encompasses a balance of personal and professional effectiveness.  And that before you can adopt the seven habits, you need to change your perception and interpretation of how the world works.  How do you do that?  By recognising that between what happens to you and your response to that “happening” is your freedom to choose a response.

We don’t use this word often, but it is a profound book and we’re yet to meet anyone whose life hasn’t changed as a result of reading it.  So let’s take a quick peak at the seven habits before we encourage you to get a copy…

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Being proactive is more than just taking action. In this first habit Stephen Covey tells us we are responsible for our reactions to people or events. We are Response-able and have Response-ability because we have the ability to consciously choose how we respond to any situation.

Stephen Covey makes the point that humans can think things through and don’t need to be caught up in simple stimulus / response patterns like Pavlov’s dogs. To be proactive is to choose your response rather than relying on instinctive reactions.

The image below highlights that there are things we are in control of, really only including what we do, say, think and feel.  Then there are things we can influence, i.e. other people and our environment.

Most things we waste our time worrying about are out of our control.  Being proactive means moving our focus to the inner two circles, “I don’t like this, what can I do to influence it?” or “there is nothing I can do about this, so how can I change my thinking about it to avoid feeling frustrated?”

Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind

This is essentially about planning so that we know where we are going all the time instead of being busy with day to day activities that actually take us nowhere. Taking the time to see the bigger picture, to plan where we are heading, leads to personal effectiveness.

It’s a simple idea really and is about making an effort to start with a clear understanding of your destination and where you are going. Making sure your ladder is up against the right wall before you start climbing.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Covey recommends that you identify what is important to do in order to keep you heading towards your destination, and then do those things.

The third habit asks you to organise yourself around your priorities.  We all have a lot of things to do every day but when carefully analysed, we find that most of them are not as important as we think they are.  Spending hours on smart phones doing nothing but browsing isn’t as important as your one thing…

Covey suggests a system – a matrix, also known as Eisenhower’s Urgent-Important Principle, which makes use of four different quadrants that allow you to prioritise tasks in relation to their importance and urgency, helping you to decide whether you need to address a task immediately or if you can postpone it.

Habit 4: Think Win Win

Win-win sees life as a cooperative, not a competitive arena. Most people tend to think in terms of dichotomies: strong or weak, win or lose. But that kind of thinking is fundamentally flawed. It’s based on power and position rather than principle. Win-win is based on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody, that one person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others.

So look for mutually beneficial relationships where everybody benefits. Think co-operation not competition, not just as a happy side effect in some situations, but as a fundamental core value in all dealings with others.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Covey believes this principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

This habit is about communicating with others. It’s about developing the habit of listening carefully and really understanding the other person BEFORE giving your thoughts.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

- Stephen R. Covey

Habit 6: Synergise

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is the essence of leadership. It catalyses, unifies, and unleashes the greatest powers within people. Synergy is exciting. Creativity is exciting.

It’s phenomenal what openness and communication can produce.

Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw

Covey tells the story of a woodsman he met cutting down a tree. The man was exhausted and straining away with a saw that was getting blunter and blunter. Covey said, “why don’t you stop to sharpen your saw?” The man replied breathlessly, “I can’t, I haven’t got the time…”

Covey reminds us that to be truly effective we have to have ‘balanced self- renewal’, paying attention to self care in areas such as spiritual, mental, emotional and physical development.

As always, if you fancy getting a copy of this wonderful book, feel free to follow the link below!