7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is a self-help book for regular people in a workplace and business owners alike. The author Covey penned down the book in 1989 and the instant success of the book was credited to the “true north” principles laid down by him – a characteristic that would make one more productive at work to accomplish their goals.
The success associated with the book helped Covey be named one of the 25 most influential people by Time magazine in 1996. The definition of ‘effectiveness’ as given by Covey is a measure of the desire to attain a goal (P) and the concern of that which helps one achieve the goal (PC). The ratio of these two traits (as Covey puts it, the P/PC ratio) determines the effectiveness of the person.
The book is planned under Covey’s concept of Maturity Continuum – a concept that the path of success mirrors the path of life through the three stages of dependence, independence, and interdependence.
Dependence (one which is observed during infancy) is the wholesome reliance of a person on another person, such as an infant being unable to survive without their parents. In a professional set-up, dependence on colleagues is a crucial step in team building. Some rely on others for intellectual and emotional support. Covey defines dependence in a classic statement as – Dependence is the attitude of ‘you’.
Independence is achieved when the reins of our lives are in our hands. As we are free from social influence and can sustain ourselves without the support of others, we achieve independence. However, independence is not the highest level of the maturity continuum since Covey believes independence from the world and its products does not guarantee success. To define independence, the author pens – Independence is the attitude of ‘I’.
Covey believes the authority of success is attained when people inculcate the art of interdependence. While dependency and independency can propel lives further, interdependency is a powerful surge of combined forces. Everything from governments to content marriages relies on the presence of interdependency. Teamwork is the straight path to success since it greatly improves the efficiency of a workplace and encourages unity. As Covey puts it, interdependency is the attitude of ‘we’.
The organization of the parts of the book also follows the footsteps of the Maturity Continuum. The first three habits of Covey trace the path of independence, while the last three impart interdependence. The last habit, a crucial one, is aimed at ensuring that the goals achieved by the first six habits are maintained and the line of success increases linearly.
THE SEVEN HABITS
PART ONE – INDEPENDENCE
1. Be Proactive
Covey includes proactivity as the first habit since it is what makes humans special. With the ability to choose and taking decisions, humans are indeed the most intelligent forms of life. By planning out our actions and plans, we can track a path to our success. Proactiveness is the habit of being accountable, taking responsibilities, and shedding the trait of passiveness. As people tend to imagine that the solution to a problem is out of their hands, they are limiting their abilities and underestimating their potential.
By inculcating the characteristic of being proactive, a person grabs the opportunity present and tries to work on it until they succeed. Covey builds an analogy of the Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern. Positive energy, as obtained when we adopt a proactive nature, tends to expand our Circle of Influence – which improves our morale as well as those working alongside us.
On the flip side, sheer negative energy is emanated when we choose to not be responsible. As a result, the Circle of Influence shrinks, and the Circle of Concern expands. Negative energy is generated as a result of resorting to a reactive nature instead of a proactive nature. Proactiveness paves a way for success since it promotes hard work and focus. If a person is focused, their efforts are reflected in their work and are at a higher chance of attaining their goals.
2. Begin with the End in Mind
The journey to being productive and efficient is not the one without any distraction or the occasional thought of giving up. However, Covey explains that the best way to triumph over these thoughts is to begin a task by focusing on the result – be it a finished product, a token of appreciation, or a monetary reward. There is a distinction in staying busy and being efficient – efficiency is a product of having an objective, while busyness may not be.
In the professional and personal life, thinking about what someone expects out of their work is a good way to optimize their efforts and not get diverted. People should know what their energy is being spent for, rather than believing their efforts are going to waste. Even a manager at a workplace expects his colleagues to have something to attain at their office and not just while away their time and collecting their salaries at the end of the month.
Each person has a center in their life – something or someone they are working for. Having a center helps the person focus on their work for their center. Some of the types of centers are –
- Enemy-centered etc.
Prioritization of the goals is also crucial. A person is multifaceted and would like to engage in numerous activities, but they must prioritize which activity deserves a bigger chunk of their energy since the expenditure of so is limited.
3. Put First Things First
To optimize one’s productivity, they must organize the events for the day. While many people may not realize it, 24 hours a day is not a small amount of time. Sometimes, being busy the entire time may amount to no actual work being done, which is why inculcating the habit of putting first things first is necessary. An efficient person does not prioritize according to the urgency of a task, but rather the importance of the same.
Strictly speaking, pouring our energy into an urgent but unimportant task is not considered productive. Since the second habit has got one accustomed to working toward their goal, the third habit can help them turn into reality. If actions pertaining to the immediate goal are prioritized, the attainment of the goal will be quicker than chasing other tasks that offer little to nothing.
The expenditure of one’s energy must follow the scheme seen in the table above. Having such a picture in the mind can monitor the expenditure of energy and store it for the more important tasks. One can conform their tasks to this table since it considers two factors – urgency and importance – and nearly every action can be defined according to this.
PART TWO – INTERDEPENDENCY
4. Think Win-Win
Since Covey focuses on the trait of interdependency in the next three habits, “thinking win-win” refers to an instance of mutual advantages for allies. Although many people believe success is for one person, they do not consider the benefits that come with making allies in a workplace and personal life. The human nature is competitive – everyone wants to be at the victorious side of a field and wants everyone else on the losing side. However, this desire – called the win-lose situation – is unrealistic.
People tend to conform to waging a challenge even in places where competition is not required. A competition usually ends up as a lose-lose instance, which is ironic since both sides had half their desires fulfilled. Covey calls this the Scarcity Mentality. Although to inculcate the fourth habit and the general sense of interdependency, an individual must adopt an Abundance Mentality.
An Abundance Mentality refers to the general welfare of people, instead of willing someone’s downfall. Workplaces recognize the importance of this trait and hence, promote team-building skills. If several people work towards a common goal, it is beneficial for each of them and the company they are associated with. This is a win-win situation.
The author realizes that the feeling of competitiveness is inbuilt in humans. One of Covey’s aims is to break down the instincts of regular people and shedding the habits which slow them down – one of them being competitive. An easy way to access oneself is to ask, “Will I be happy to see someone succeed?” if the answer to this is yes, then the person has a win-win outlook.
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Most people are speakers and not listeners. To be efficient at their work, a person must have both qualities. By believing others’ lives are inferior compared to their own, people break the fifth rule. An efficient person must first assess the problem (or understand a person) before offering a solution. This not only saves our energy of giving out unwanted advice but also improves our communication skills.
A simple description of this rule being unfollowed is to imagine whether a doctor would prescribe a medication to a patient without diagnosing their problem. Not only would it be an insult to his medical degree but can also have adverse effects on the patient’s health. The doctor aims to understand the patient, not to just reply to the patient’s query. Similarly, a problem must first be understood before a solution can even be planned.
The fifth habit is strongly associated with that of the fourth one. Since a win-win situation can be brought about only when the goals of people align, the fifth habit enables an individual to listen to others and decide whether their aims are the same. Without doing so, miscommunication can result in a lose-lose situation. The benefit of being teams is to adhere to the thoughts and ideas of the numerous brains in there. If the thoughts of some are neglected, the team is missing a large portion of their collective power.
The aspect of communication has a role in determining our efficiency. Covey states that humans majorly communicate via their body language – which can be perceived by others. If one feels they are being neglected, the morale of the alliance can be dragged down. This habit also asserts the prevalence of empathetic listening. By focusing our energy on listening, we can be introduced to a world of ideas that would not have occurred to us.
The last habit to inculcate a sense of interdependency is to synergize. In basic terms, synergy is the teaming up of people. While the fourth habit (think win-win) and the fifth habit (seek first to understand) exhibit the necessity of having allies in professional and personal life, synergy is the habit that can facilitate the other two habits.
At the workplace, two colleagues want the same project. If they are to fight each other for the project (which can accommodate both), their energies are being spent on plotting against the other one. If they were to pool their resources, the chances of achieving success are greater. Teams open the arena for new thoughts, fresh ideas, and better approaches.
Being social creatures, it is easy for people to put their heads together to enhance their lives – that is what created civilizations! But by detesting company and wanting to be a lone wolf, they are damaging their chances at success. Having a go at synergy will be especially easy by inculcating the two habits before this one. By willing to join a group and inculcating the trait of empathetic listening, you become a more likable and productive person. The art of Covey’s writing is exhibited in this part since the habits are interdependent, just like the trait he is trying to inculcate in his readers.
7. Sharpen the Saw
The first six habits are to help one be productive. However, the inherent trait of people to slack off cannot be extracted from them. Understanding this, Covey wrote the seventh habit to help people to maintain the first six. To sharpen the saw refers to enhancing its ability, a trait required for a productive person as well. The author believes there are four dimensions of life which must be ‘sharpened’ to remain efficient.
- Physical Dimension – to focus on our body as a physical substance and ensure its health. By eating right, resting and engaging in exercise, our bodies can efficiently follow the first habit – be proactive.
- Spiritual Dimension – to concentrate on the elements which define life for us and to realise what drives our motivations. Practising meditation, enjoying music or literature and appreciating nature are ways to connect to any spiritual being we believe in. By committing to these tasks, we can rely on ourselves to follow the second habit of having our goals in our mind.
- Mental Dimension – to be mindful of our mental health and expand its horizons. Follow protocols which keep the brain healthy and positive, like reading and journaling. The focus on the mental dimension can aid us to effectively manage our time by prioritising.
- Social Dimension – to acknowledge those around us and value them, just like we do ourselves. The way to sharpening the social dimension is by engaging in community service, maintaining good relationships with everyone and adopting an abundance mentality. This helps in inculcating the fourth, fifth and sixth habit.
As we focus on the four dimensions, we can follow the six habits. The result of our efforts will soon start manifesting and we will come out of the experience being better people, employees and relative.