“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” (‘seven habits’) is by Stephen R. Covey. And it is the best book I’ve read thus far in 2020. It’s broken into four parts: 1. Paradigms & Principles, 2. Private Victory, 3. Public Victory, & 4. Renewal. And it uses Covey’s personal & professional experiences with millions of people and organizations to illustrate the merits of having & sustaining proactive habits.
So, what does it mean to know and live by the seven habits? What does it mean to “Be Proactive (habit one),” “Begin with The End in Mind (habit two),” & “Put First Things First (habit three)”?
Well, the following paragraphs seek to shed some light on those questions. Additionally, these insights are a supplement to reading the book and act as a summary of what I consider to be its fundamental ideas, tools, and insights.
1. Be Proactive – Habit One (P. 73)
What to know – You have control over your actions; your actions don’t control you. “Man has the gift of self-awareness,” & it sets us apart from the animals. It helps us to imagine ourselves in countless situations that could help us overcome our barriers and improve the world around us. Reactive statements & actions don’t empower us or help us to shape our paths in the world. “It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens that hurts us.” Proactive phrases like, “I will,” “I prefer,” & “I choose,” empower us to increase the synergy around us & wherever we go.
What to do – Avoid reactive phrases such as “if only,” “I can’t,” or “I have to.” Start keeping commitments and exercise your freedom to choose & make proactive decisions. “When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, and learn from it immediately. Don’t get into a blaming, accusing mode.” Work on things that you control, like daily mindfulness & meditation – to strengthen your self-awareness & emotional/social intelligence. “Be a light, not a judge.”
2. Begin with The End in Mind – Habit Two (P. 102)
What to know – Life is about becoming the person that you want people to remember; goals help us to bring our visions, missions, and dreams to fruition. “The principle of mental creation” helps us to face events to come. Thus, “to begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”
What to do – Set goals that align with your principles & values. Ensure they are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based); e.g., I will jog 15 miles by the end of this week, or I will lose 15 pounds by the end of this month. Write a personal mission statement and align your yearly, monthly, and weekly goals to support your personal/professional principles and values. Make time to assess your beliefs and values, then write your mission statement, undisturbed for a minimum of 30 minutes – repeat as needed.
3. Put First Things First – Habit Three (P. 154)
What to know – “Effective delegation is perhaps the best indicator of effective management.” Effective management starts and ends with self-management. Thus, the “Quadrant II Tool” (QII) of Covey’s “Time Management Matrix” is the next generation in management tools and paradigms. “The objective of Quadrant II management is to manage our lives effectively,” from a center of sound principles, a combination of our values and beliefs.
What to do – Shift your self-management style into QII of Covey’s “Time Management Matrix.” Don’t live life in a crisis; prioritize your life according to your personal/professional principles, values, and mission statement. E.g., relationship building, recognizing new opportunities, planning, mentoring, coaching, fun, recreation, growing, & mindfulness. Explore operating out of QII mindset/perspective; don’t prioritize to-do lists and a crisis. Address them when they arise, then prioritize “principle-centered” actions like improving yourself/the world around you. Try using the “Bullet Journal” technique to help you put first things first; organize & track your thoughts, meeting notes, & goals/priorities.
4. Think Win/Win – Habit Four (P. 215)
What to know – “Win/Win is not a technique; it’s a total philosophy of human interaction.” “Win/Win is a belief in the Third Alternative. It’s not your way or my way; it’s [our way] a better way, a higher way.” Win/Win situations are never achieved by “Win/Lose or Lose/Win means.” “You can only achieve Win/Win solutions with Win/Win processes – the end and the means are the same.”
What to do – Follow the “Golden Rule” and treat others as you want them to treat you. When negotiating, brainstorming, or conversing, “separate the person from the problem to focus on interests” and not positions. Invent options for mutual gain, and insist on objective criteria – some external standard or principle that both parties can believe and support. Make a list of barriers that stop you from using the Win/Win paradigm, determine what’s in your control to eliminate your obstacles to Win/Win scenarios, then proactively remove your barriers to everyday Win/Win situations. Find a mentor that exemplifies the Win/Win model, then closely watch & learn from this person’s example.
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood – Habit Five (P. 247)
What to know – Habit Five is about strengthening your self-awareness – emotional intelligence and empathy. “When you listen, you learn. And you also give the people who work for you and with you psychological air [safety].” Empathy is not sympathy. “When we really, deeply understand each other, we open the door to creative solutions and third alternatives. Our differences are no longer stumbling blocks to communication and progress. Instead, they become the stepping stones to synergy.” 60% of human communication is body language, 30% is sound/tone, and 10% are words. “When you can present your ideas… specifically, visually, and most important, contextually, – in the context of a deep understanding of other people’s paradigms and concerns – you significantly increase the credibility of your ideas.”
What to do – Listen for understanding by comparing what you’re hearing to what you’re writing. Practice just listening; try to speak 20% less than you typically do in an everyday conversation. Use Ethos, Pathos, & Logos in that order to craft/present compelling pitches, feedback & insight. Don’t respond to others with probing, answers, & evaluations, just acknowledgment & empathy. Take the time to invest in deeply understanding the people you work with & love. “Make the human element as important as the financial.”
6. Synergize – Habit Six (P.273)
What to know – When you communicate synergistically, you are simply opening your mind, heart, & expressions to new possibilities. Synergy is the concept of creative cooperation. When you only see two alternatives, “right & wrong,” you miss the synergistic third alternative. There’s always a third option for your situation. If you work with the Win/Win mentality and genuinely seek to understand, you’ll find a solution that will benefit all persons involved.
What to do – Support conditions, environments, and cultures that value and create synergy (Win/Wins), professionally/socially. The next time you have a disagreement or confrontation with someone, attempt to understand their concerns. Then address those concerns in a creative & mutually beneficial fashion. Avoid looking at the world & others in terms of “Black” & “White”/”Right” & “Wrong,” start focusing on creating “Third Alternatives” & /Win/Wins (synergy). Create & support conditions where more exceptional teamwork & synergy thrive.
7. Sharpen The Saw – Habit Seven (P. 299)
What to know – “Habit 7 is taking time to sharpen the saw. It surrounds the other habits on the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible.” The seventh habit is the “principle of balanced self-renewal.” The seventh habit sees you like the saw – an asset with high capacity that one must continuously care for, sharpen, and enhance, by repeatedly leveraging the six other practices in harmony. The seventh habit is the consistent renewing of “the four dimensions of your nature [intelligence] – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.”
What to do – Make a list of activities that you can do to stay in “good physical shape” and make time to do them weekly. Set a SMART goal to track & improve one to three of “the four dimensions of nature [intelligence]” you consider to be worth growing in your professional/social life. Plan and execute against goals, priorities, and activities that will quantitatively (SMART) enhance & renew your physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional life. Continuously assess and improve “the four dimensions of nature” within your life & business.