I must start out by saying that The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has been a game changer for me and I would highly recommend it to anyone regardless of how effective you currently are (or at least believe you are).
It is one of those books that can be read over and over again yet speak to you in a different way each time. It truly is a book about how to be effective at life in general and is a brilliant resource that can be utilized frequently.
In a nutshell, it helps you to see the actual territory of life, rather than the flawed maps we all have based on our individual experiences and conditioning.
I could go on and on, but as the title says this is a quick guide. One which I hope will inspire you to go read the book for yourself. If you’ve already read the book, this can be used as a great way to brush up on what you already know and serve as a reminder to keep you on track.
So the first three habits are considered “Personal Victory” habits. These are habits regarding personal effectiveness, or in other words, the ability to effectively manage yourself.
These habits are: 1. Be Proactive 2. Begin with the end in mind and 3. Put first things first
The fourth, fifth, and sixth habits are considered “Public Victory” habits. These are habits regarding interpersonal effectiveness, or in other words, the ability to be effective with other people.
These habits are: 4. Think Win / Win 5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood and 6. Synergize
The seventh habit is about constant renewal and improvement: 7. Sharpen the saw
So without further ado, here is the essence of each of the habits and some quick tips about applying them in everyday life:
Habit 1: Be Proactive
The essence of this habit is personal accountability. It is about looking within and realizing that anytime you perceive the problem to be “out there”, then that thought is the actual problem.
A key concept from this is to develop the habit of working within your circle of influence. There are many problems facing all of us on a daily basis, but by choosing to focus on ones you can actually do something about and taking action, your circle of influence will grow.
For example, if you are stuck in traffic while on the way to an important meeting, does it do any good to curse, yell, and throw yourself into a fit of rage? Probably not. That won’t change the situation. You literally cannot do anything about the traffic at this point so dwelling on the traffic is simply wasting energy.
You could, however, attempt to call someone else who will be at the meeting and explain the situation. It might not change the fact that you will be late, but it will certainly take some of the pressure off. Below is a short reminder that I have for quick reference regarding habit 1:
“Work only in your circle of influence. Make commitments and keep them. Be a light, not a judge. a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Look at problems in terms of whether you have direct control, indirect control, or no control. Then, take the first step within your circle of influence.”
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind
The essence of this habit is about first making a mental creation prior to taking the necessary steps to make it a physical creation. It is the knowledge that ALL things are first created in the mind before they are created as a physical reality.
The more clear and detailed of a picture you can paint of your future, the higher the likelihood is that you will achieve that vision.
This habit is about becoming clear about what you want and why you want it. For example, if you are preparing for a basketball game and you tell yourself that you want to score 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists in a victory, that is more powerful than simply saying you want to win.
It is even more powerful if you visualize scoring the points, getting the rebounds, and making the assists. In the big picture perspective, it is about creating a vision of your ultimate purpose and then building your life around achieving it.
Below is a short reminder that I have for a quick reference regarding habit 2:
“Use the principle of mental creation. Write down the results you desire and steps you can take to get there.”
Habit 3: Put First Things First
The essence of this habit is to consistently try to do those things which are most important.
All too often in life, we are reacting to events rather than intentionally doing things with purpose. If we don’t strategically manage our time, it will be filled with many time wasters and things that aren’t congruent with achieving our goals.
The things that most often get left out are those activities which are important but not urgent. Since they aren’t screaming for our attention at the moment, we don’t end up doing them, and since we don’t do them, we don’t reach our goals.
A good example of this is diet or exercise. You probably rarely, if ever, feel urgency to eat a healthy meal or go for a run. Although there is no immediate impact, consistently eating unhealthy food and never exercising will have long term negative consequences.
There are many examples, but the point is to think about those things which, if done on a regular basis, would have positive long term benefits. Once identified, make it a point to schedule specific times to do these things and be very discerning about making any exceptions.
Below is a short reminder that I have for a quick reference regarding habit 3:
“Set out a specific time at the end of each week to determine your priorities for the week ahead. Once determined, schedule them and make it a top priority to keep your commitment to getting them done.”
Habit 4: Think Win / Win
This is the first habit related to interpersonal effectiveness. The essence of having a win / win mindset is the ability to reach solutions with others that are beneficial to both parties.
Win / Win is about mutual agreement where neither party feels like they are losing out on the deal. It is also not the same thing as compromising, which would mean both parties feel as if they are giving up a little of something in order to reach an agreement.
Win / Win involves deep communication and an honest effort to reach the best solution for everyone.
Below is a short reminder that I have for a quick reference regarding habit 4:
“When attempting to reach an agreement, always do your best to maintain a balance between courage and consideration. Courage to articulate your needs as clearly and tactfully as possible, and thoughtful consideration of the other person’s point of view.”
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
The essence of this habit is to practice empathetic listening. When communicating with someone else, we often don’t listen with the intent to understand the other person, we listen only long enough until we form some sort of response.
The other person may continue talking, but we are in our own world refining and preparing to deliver our response. We may completely miss a large portion of what they’re actually saying. And it goes both ways.
This isn’t true communication, but instead two people sharing autobiographical responses back and forth. If we instead make a true effort to deeply listen and put ourselves in another’s shoes, it puts us in a better position to deliver our own perspective.
Below is a short reminder that I have for quick reference regarding habit 5:
“When engaged in conversation with another person, make it your goal to be able to explain another person’s perspective even better than they can.”
Habit 6: Synergize
The essence of this habit is the culmination of all of the previous habits. This is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is where 1+1 = 4 or 5 instead of 2.
In a business sense, true synergy results in disruptive innovation. In a relational sense, synergy results in harmony and what seems like miraculous results.
Synergy is about the creative process and working with others until a solution appears that is exponentially better than any one of the individual ideas.
Below is a short reminder that I have for a quick reference regarding habit 6:
“Is your idea best, is their idea best, or is there a third alternative that blows them both away?”
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
The essence of this habit is about constant renewal in four the main dimensions in your life: Physical, Spiritual, Mental, and Social/Emotional. All areas are important and all need to be tended to on a frequent basis. Having a general feeling that ‘something is missing’ usually indicates some sort of deficiency in one of these areas.