The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey | Book Review and Summary | Free Audiobook
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StoryShots Summary of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey
About Stephen Covey
Stephen Covey was an internationally respected leadership authority. Time magazine recognized him as one of the 25 Most Influential Americans. He was also a family expert, professor, organizational consultant, and author. Each of these achievements were built upon his strong academic foundation. Covey became an eager participant in school debates and graduated early from high school. He then attended the University of Utah and got a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration followed by an MBA from Harvard University. He diverted his attention from business studies to doctoral studies in religion. Covey’s most popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1989.
Part I - Paradigms and Principles
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People challenges traditional self-help that encourages personality ethics, like image and attitude. Covey suggests that readers use a character ethic instead. A character ethic relies on timeless principles, like courage and integrity. To make this transition, you will have to go through what Covey calls a paradigm shift. An effective person has learned to make the paradigm shift from outside in to inside out. They have progressed along the growth continuum from dependence to independence and finally to interdependence. An effective person has also found the balance of production while increasing their capability to produce. To become an effective person, you have to encourage a paradigm shift in your worldview by adopting the seven habits of highly effective people.
The first three habits are habits of self-mastery, or private victories. These are:
Begin With the End in Mind
Put First Things First
These three must come first. After adopting these habits, you can use the three habits of public victories. These three habits are built on interdependence. These are:
Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
The last habit relies on continuous improvement and is key to the proper functioning and renewal of the first six. This habit is:
Sharpen the Saw
Part II - Private Victory
Habit 1: Be Proactive
“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.’” - Stephen Covey
Covey encourages you to reconsider your dictionary definition of proactive. You must also forget how you have learned to think about this word not only in your personal life but also in your work.
First, we cannot understand proactivity without understanding human behavior. The widely accepted paradigms of human behavior are:
1) Genetic determinism (you are who you are due to your genes)
2) Psychic determinism (your childhood and upbringing shaped your personality)
3) Environmental determinism (the things around you determine who you are)
The prevailing view based on these paradigms is that we are animals at our core. So, we are compelled to give a specific response to stimuli. That said, Covey quotes psychiatrist and Holocaust victim Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.” We are influenced by stimuli within our environment, like others’ words and actions, but we have the free will to choose our response.
This freedom to choose is fundamental to being proactive. The author defines proactivity (and the paradigm shift that comes with it) as exercising your freedom to choose self-awareness, imagination, conscience, or independent will. A paradigm is our subjective view of our environment. As an example, Covey explains that he experienced a paradigm shift one morning on a New York City subway. He and the other passengers were enjoying the peace of reading before a parent entered the subway car with their noisy children. Covey was annoyed by this family breaking the silence and asked the father if he could control his children. This father explained that he was trying, but they were all in shock because the children’s mother had passed away just an hour earlier. In this moment, Covey experienced a paradigm shift from annoyance to compassion. This example shows that paradigm shifts have the potential to make a powerful change in your life.
We can create our own paradigm shifts by challenging those accepted paradigms of human behavior. Your unhappiness and lack of success are based on a choice to let something make you that way. But we have a choice in the space between a stimulus and how we respond. So, we have to choose our response. The optimal response is being proactive.
Note that Covey’s idea of proactivity does not minimize the effect of genetics, upbringings and environments. But we must recognize our responsibility to shape our responses to these factors.
Proactivity is not simply optimism. Instead, proactivity is understanding the reality of a situation and taking ownership of it.
Circle of Influence
Covey explains that we all have a “circle of concern” representing all the things we care about. We can only influence a small portion of the events in our circle of concern. This small portion is called your “circle of influence.” Many people spend their time and energy worrying or complaining about the things they can’t control. The more you focus on factors outside your control, i.e. outside your circle of influence, the fewer features you will control. Covey describes this as being “reactive.” And as a result, your circle of influence will shrink. At the same time, by focusing on factors within your control, you will find that your circle of influence grows. Stephen Covey describes this as being “proactive.”
An example of an expanding circle of influence is when your productivity results in a promotion. You then have greater influence over your employees. But after the promotion, you must still be aware of where your circle of influence lies. For example, if you are given a management position, you will still have little influence over executives. In this instance, you can be proactive to improve your team’s productivity and find opportunities to grow your circle of influence to include executives. That said, you should not waste time worrying about the executives when you have little influence over them.
To shift your focus to your circle of influence, stop talking about “have/had.” An example of this kind of talk is “If I only had a better job.” Instead, start using “be,” as in “I can be more efficient.”
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
Everything is created twice. You first create something in your mind. It then becomes a physical reality.
But suppose you don’t consciously choose to control your mental creations. In that case, your life is being created by default. In essence, your life is shaped by random circumstances and other people’s expectations and agendas. Covey uses the example of a ladder to explain this point. If your ladder isn’t leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster. The lesson here is that without your end in mind, you will make progress in the wrong direction.
Starting with the end in mind means approaching any role you have in life with clear values and directions. Because we are self-aware, we can realize when we’re not in harmony with our values or not using a proactive design. So, place the outcome you want at the center of your life. Those issues at the center of your life will be the source of your security (your sense of worth), guidance (your source of direction), wisdom (your perspective), and power (your capacity to act and accomplish).
Most people do not take the time to align their values with their center. As a result, they have multiple centers. People can be spouse-centered, family-centered, money-centered, work-centered, pleasure-centered, or self-centered. Many of these centers are acceptable. But Covey explains that it is unhealthy to depend on any of these centers for security, guidance, wisdom, or power.
Instead, to be an effective person, you need to have a “principle” center. Your principle center should be based on timeless, unchanging values. The principle center puts all these other centers in perspective. It also allows you to see that, just like all the bricks in a house have a purpose, all of your actions have a purpose.
“The personal power that comes from principle-centered living is the power of a self-aware, knowledgeable, proactive individual, unrestricted by the attitudes, behaviors, and actions of others or by many of the circumstances and environmental influences that limit other people.” - Stephen Covey
Personal Mission Statement
The best way to make sure your life is aligned with your principles is to write a personal mission statement. Covey suggests approaching your personal mission statement from the perspective of roles and goals. Who do you want to be, and what do you want to accomplish? An authentic mission statement is a key part of becoming effective. You need to put in the time and effort to gain the right perspective and to set yourself up for the next habit.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 3 uses actions based on the mental changes associated with Habits 1 and 2. Covey characterizes Habits 1 and 2 as leadership. After establishing these two Habits, you can then begin considering management. Management is at the core of Habit 3.
Effective management involves putting first things first and doing what other people don’t want to do. From Habits 1 and 2, you must have a burning “yes” inside you. This “yes” should allow you to say “no” to other circumstances that don’t align with your principles and goals.
The author explains that there are four types of activities. Activities are urgent/non-urgent and important/non-important. You need to increase the amount of time you spend on important non-urgent tasks and reduce the amount of time you spend on urgent, non-important tasks. The outcome will be approaching things from the inside out. This means you are beginning with your solid core of principles. So when problems arise, you will see them as pieces of the whole rather than the whole itself.
To highlight this point, Covey talks about his time working with shopping center managers. He noticed that they spent less than 5% of their time building relationships with store owners despite knowing the positive impact of doing so. They were wasting their time on urgent non-important tasks that could be delegated. To challenge this, the managers allocated a third of their time to improving these relationships. The outcome was:
Increase in satisfaction among managers
Increase in revenue
You can see how time management is key to putting first things first. So, lay out a schedule for the week in advance while also maintaining flexibility for each day.
Covey describes four levels of time management:
Level 1: Notes and checklists (reducing your cognitive burden in the present so you can think about the future)
Level 2: Calendars and appointment books (looking ahead to arrange your future time better)
Level 3: Daily planning using goal-setting and prioritization. Most people never get beyond this level.
Level 4: Categorizing activities and intentionally excluding some of them
The Fourth Level of Time Management
This fourth level is where the author asks us to operate. He borrows the tool for this categorization from Dwight Eisenhower. An effective time manager spends as much time engaging with activities that are important before they become urgent. For example, they prioritize building relationships, long-term planning and preventative maintenance. The more time you spend adopting this approach, the less time you will spend doing tasks that aren’t urgent or important. Delegate or otherwise cut out anything urgent and unimportant or important and not urgent.
Most people generally focus on urgent matters that may or may not be necessary. This approach rarely lets us be effective. We try to get out of this vicious cycle by being more disciplined. But the author argues that our problem is probably not a lack of discipline. More likely, your priorities have not been rooted in your values.
Part III - Public Victory
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
When Covey tells us to think win-win, he doesn’t outline some unrealistically positive attitude. Instead, he defines a win-win mindset as always looking for a third alternative to the “me or you” approach.
Most people live in one of the following four unproductive alternative paradigms:
1) Win-lose (authoritarian or egotistical)
2) Lose-win (being a pushover, as you are accepting defeat so someone else can win)
3) Lose-lose (when two win-lose people interact, there is little room for personal or team improvement)
4) Win (focused solely on your results and not the success of the team)
To escape these unproductive mindsets, we must develop the three character traits essential to the win-win paradigm:
1) Integrity (the value we place on ourselves)
2) Maturity (the balance between courage and consideration)
3) Abundance (which comes from a sense of personal worth and security)
Try thinking about your relationships as emotional bank accounts. By proactively making deposits, you ensure that the emotional funds will be there when the time comes to make a withdrawal. Win-win is often challenging but is made much easier by creating a hefty emotional bank account. Things like being kind, keeping commitments and showing empathy are all ways to grow your relationship’s emotional bank account.
To better understand what a win-win decision is and how it is structured, Covey provides the following characteristics associated with the three essential character traits:
Integrity - Staying true to your values and commitments
Maturity - Expressing your ideas with confidence but also considering the views of others
Abundance Mentality - Believing there is plenty for everyone
Covey emphasizes that you should not sacrifice these assets that facilitate long-term productivity just for the sake of results. He retells a famous fable to explain this point. It tells the story of a farmer who kills a goose that lays golden eggs in order to get more eggs right away. But he soon realizes it was a mistake because now he won’t get any more eggs. The lesson from this story is that assets that support production (production capability) should be valued more than production itself. You also have to balance your production of desired results (P) and production capability (PC). Covey calls this the P/PC balance.
The three assets that support production are:
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