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Free Book Summary - 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Posted on 1/19/2023, 9:27:07 AM

Key Insights

Highly effective people incorporate these seven habits into their lives, which will increase their efficiency, help them cultivate strong relationships, and improve their chances of success. Effective people are able to focus on important priorities and understand which assets should be nurtured to yield the best long term results.

Effective people are proactive. They choose to act on things they can control while understanding that there are circumstances that are not under their control. They are not reactive, but prioritize what is important over what is merely urgent, and act with their end goal in mind. They are also effective communicators, cultivating win/win relationships where both parties benefit. They are empathetic listeners and practice synergy, which ensures the team will be stronger working together than any individual would be alone.

Lastly, effective people take time to take care of themselves. They care for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of their lives, to ensure they are healthy and are able to sustain an effective, productive life in the long term.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Highly effective people are proactive. They acknowledge that they are the ones in control of their own actions. Even if they are not in control of their circumstances, they can choose how they decide to react to their circumstances. Proactive people choose to act in accordance with their own personal missions and philosophy. 

People, unlike other animals, are able to control and even reprogram their response to external situations. They can influence external circumstances if they proactively choose to. However, many people’s first response to circumstances is still to be reactive instead of proactive. Reactive people allow external circumstances to control their emotions and actions, rather than understanding that their own actions and feelings are within their control, and do not have to be dictated by external forces.

Proactive people also take initiative. They acknowledge the limits of their circumstances but also look for what is possible to do within each circumstance. For example, instead of thinking a certain trait is an immutable part of themselves, they understand that they are in control of changing themselves. Similarly, they understand they cannot control others, but they can control how they react to other’s behavior and how they let it affect them.

A good way to visualize this is to imagine two circles, a smaller one inside a larger one. The outer circle is the Circle of Concern, which houses all the things someone might be concerned about, from bills and relationships to politics and war. Inside that circle is a smaller circle, which is the Circle of Influence. This circle contains all the things that are inside an individual’s control. 

Effective people focus their energy on working to improve the things that are inside their Circle of Influence and do not waste time and energy worrying about things that are outside that circle. On the other hand, reactive people spend too much time worrying about things inside the larger Circle of Concern, without spending any time working to improve the things that are within their control. By choosing to take responsibility for their actions, proactive people become mentally stronger and eventually are able to change more and more about their life and the world around them.

For example, the psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, but he recognized that even though his circumstances were horrible, he could still control his own thoughts and actions, even while imprisoned. He proactively decided not to let the circumstances of the camp control him, and he helped other prisoners do the same by honing their own mental strength.

Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind

Before an action can be completed, it must first be visualized. For example, building a house first requires the builder to visualize the kind of house they want and plan the layout before they even begin the process of building. People’s lives are similar. Before they can achieve their goals, they must first visualize what they want their lives to look like. Highly effective people know that the more detailed, realistic, and well thought out their visualization is, the better their chances are of achieving the outcome they want.

Highly effective people think about their goals before taking action. Not every goal is worth pursuing. Effective people spend time thinking about what kind of person they want to be, how they want to be remembered and choose to pursue goals that align with their values and personal mission. 

They not only visualize their desired outcome, but they also think about the required steps they will take along the way. They outline a personal mission statement, which documents their hopes, aspirations, values, and principles they want to live by. A personal mission serves as a kind of roadmap, which provides a sense of direction and lets them see their goals and understand what they need to change in order to achieve these goals.

Effective people are self-reflective. They understand when their habits are standing in the way of their success, and commit to changing them to better align with their mission. They also understand that these personal mission statements and goals are not static, but will be subject to change as their life changes and they grow as people. Therefore, they should periodically review, update, and even rewrite their mission statement to ensure it still aligns with their current values and goals.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Highly effective people understand that changing their actions is the most important step to changing who they are. They understand their priorities and act in accordance with them. But acting in accordance with one’s priorities requires good time management skills. 

Truly effective people understand there is a difference between productive busyness, and busyness simply for the sake of being busy. But many people invest their time reacting to what is urgent, but not necessarily important. The urgent feel immediate but is not always important in the long term. Important priorities are the ones that will generate new opportunities, develop new relationships, lead to long term success, and prevent emergencies in the future. 

To be effective, people need to understand what is truly important, and plan their schedules so they can spend the most amount of time on their important priorities, rather than constantly reacting to whatever urgent emergency comes up. They think about all their responsibilities and arrange their schedule to ensure that each role receives the appropriate amount of time.

To identify their truly important tasks, effective people organize their responsibilities by placing them into a 2x2 matrix with two categories: the important and the urgent. The first quadrant is for tasks that are both important and urgent. These tasks are the highest priority and should be tackled first. The second quadrant contains tasks that are important but not urgent, like planning for the future. This is the quadrant that most often gets neglected, despite it being the second-highest priority in the matrix. While they are not urgent, completing them will have a huge positive impact in the long run. The most effective people set aside time to work on the tasks in this quadrant, and are not distracted by urgent but less important tasks.

The third quadrant contains tasks that are urgent but not important, like answering the phone. The fourth quadrant contains tasks that are neither important nor urgent and should be the lowest priority.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

Highly effective people practice interpersonal leadership. They value their relationships, whether they are personal or business relationships, and they understand that the most successful relationships are the ones in which both people are better off. They are cooperative and strive to achieve win/win relationships, in which both parties leave in a better situation than the one they started with. 

Unfortunately, many people see interpersonal relationships as competitions. In these win/lose situations, they believe that they can only gain something if the other person loses something. Truly successful people, however, understand that most relationships do not have to be competitions. The best outcome is the one where everyone wins.

Relationships that are a win/lose, or lose/lose leave at least one or both people in a worse position than they started in, which can lead to injury, hostility, and hurt feelings. This risks eventually poisoning the relationship. Effective people understand that the more positive relationships they have in their life, the better, so they work on cultivating allies, not enemies, by using the win/win method of interpersonal relationships.

A win/lose mentality runs the risk of leading to a lose/lose outcome, where two competitive people end up losing out because they fight and cannot compromise. Even worse, the relationship suffers. People who have a win/lose mentality cannot maintain beneficial long term relationships, because they constantly view other people as competitors instead of friends and colleagues. For example, if a business owner tries to beat their customers and “win” by getting a higher price, they may make more money in the short term. But eventually, their customers will end up taking business elsewhere, leading to a long term loss. Effective negotiation, therefore, should seek to try to find the most beneficial outcome for all parties. The most effective outcome is the one in which a positive and lasting relationship is developed and maintained.

Cultivating long-lasting relationships requires putting in the necessary time and effort to establish trust. This means keeping promises, committing to mutually beneficial solutions, being polite and sensitive, and practicing empathy. One of the most important factors in developing trust is maintaining loyalty and integrity. This means keeping confidence and never breaking the bond of trust once someone has placed their trust in you. Another key factor is to acknowledge and own up to one’s mistakes and apologize sincerely when they are made.

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

To cultivate win/win relationships, effective people know they first need to understand what a winning relationship looks like for the other person. They are able to do this through effective communication. 

Too often, people don’t really listen to understand, but only want to reply with their own solutions and advice. Often, many people do not want to receive advice, but only want to feel they have been heard and understood. The best listeners display empathy and are not quick to offer answers. Rather, they try to understand others, both intellectually and emotionally. 

Highly effective people are great listeners. They listen to understand, and do not assume they already know what the other person will say or how they feel. They do not argue, but try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and truly understand their position. Effective people also understand the power of body language. Spoken words only account for 10 percent of communication, while sound accounts for 30 percent and body language accounts for a whole 60 percent of communication. 

Therefore, effective communicators know it is not just what they say, but how they say it, that makes their words effective. They also understand they should look at other body language and tone when they want to truly understand the message they are trying to convey. By truly listening to understand, other people will be more willing to open up, and may even eventually seek out advice, once they can trust that their problems and concerns have actually been heard.

Effective listeners take the time to understand the other person’s wants and needs before bringing up their own objectives. They are then able to frame their own wants and needs in a way that also addresses the other person’s objectives.

For example, good lawyers practice this technique of active listening and understanding. Before they even begin drafting an argument for their side, they write out the best case that their opponent could make. Once they understand the opposing arguments, they can then start making their case in response.

Habit 6: Synergize

Highly effective people understand the value of creative cooperation. They realize that working together will yield better results than a single person working alone. Effective synergy means that everyone will be stronger through cooperation.

Effective people know that good cooperation requires strong communication. Everyone must actively listen, reflect, and address each others’ concerns, rather than becoming defensive or argumentative. Synergy requires active communication and cooperation to be effective. Highly effective people are able to synergize because they are able to communicate openly with others, but also understand that not every interaction will be under their control. They are open-minded enough to see the value of everyone’s contributions and perspectives and are confident in the value of their own contributions, as well.

Effective people are able to leverage the power of synergy. They understand that each individual’s different experiences, when combined together, will exceed the strength of each individuals’ contributions. Effective people utilize the power of synergy by understanding and valuing each individual’s strengths and contributions. They use their empathy and effective communication skills to empathize with their team members and work together to achieve a common goal.

For example, the attorney and public administrator David Lilienthal was appointed by the U.S. Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson to head the Atomic Energy Commission after World War II. Lilienthal understood this was a very important responsibility, so he assembled a group of the most highly capable people to work with him. However, each person also wanted to influence the group in their own way, so Lilienthal decided that his first task should be to schedule time simply for the group to get to know one another. By doing this, he allowed the group to establish trust with each other, which created a synergistic environment. The group was then able to use synergy to effectively solve disagreements and come up with creative and productive solutions because they had established genuine connections with each other and were working together towards a common goal.

Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw

According to an old tale, a man is sawing a log slowly and with great difficulty. The task is going slowly because he is using a dull saw, so a passerby suggests that he might have more success if he stops to sharpen his saw. The man replies that he does not have the time to sharpen his saw because he is too busy sawing. Highly effective people understand the value of taking the time to maintain and care for their tools. For people, this means taking time for self-care and valuing their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health.

Effective people take time to engage in physical exercise, which strengthens their body and improves their physical health. They also exercise their souls, with practices such as prayer, meditation, or engaging with the arts, like literature or music. They understand that nurturing their spiritual life is an important element of self-care. 

They also cultivate their mental growth by engaging in challenging practices that strengthen the mind, such as reading or doing puzzles and eschewing passive, dull entertainment, like watching television. Writing is also an important tool for staying mentally sharp. Lastly, they take care of their emotional health, by cultivating strong, loving relationships and making strong emotional connections with others. They value their relationships and strive to put others first. Taking time for these important self-renewal activities is essential for people to live balanced lives, recharge, and remain effective and productive over the long term.

The Main Take-away

Highly effective people practice these seven habits to improve their chances of achieving both private and public victories. They proactively take control of their life by prioritizing what is important and aligning each of their actions to ensure they support the achievement of their own personal mission and goals for the future. They also cultivate strong interpersonal relationships, are effective communicators, and embrace synergy and creative cooperation. Effective people also understand the importance of taking time to engage in self-renewing activities, which maintain their own physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. They cultivate a sustainable, renewable lifestyle which ensures long-term effectiveness and success.

About the Author

Stephen Covey was a speaker, educator, leadership consultant, and internationally bestselling author. He had written and co-written multiple bestselling books, including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, The Leader in Me, and The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life's Most Difficult Problems.

Covey was a professor at Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. Previously, he was a professor at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University. He was also the co-founder of the education and business consulting firm, FranklinCovey Co.

Convey was named one of TIME Magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans in 1996 and was the winner of the 1994 International Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He has received the Thomas More College Medallion for continuing service to humanity, and the National Entrepreneur of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership. He passed away in 2012.

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