The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — Book Summary

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Book Cover

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

by Stephen R. Covey

Published: 2013 | 432 pages
Rating Amazon:  stars rating 4.7 
Rating by reviewer:  stars rating 4.7 
Author of the article: Grace Thirikwa
Date of the summary: Jul 22, 2020

Be ready for a transformative journey with Stephen Covey as he reveals the secrets behind personal and interpersonal development.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Book Cover

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Life is given meaning by the interactions that we have with one another. When examined with a more critical eye, our interactions involve the exchange of ideas and perspectives between two or more individuals who are self-aware. You would consider this to be common knowledge. What this book does is to give you a more detailed look into what life can offer through two concepts.

The first concept is the mastery of self. In truth, this is one of the most ignored aspects of life. The individual, the self, character, values, personality. There are a lot of synonyms that can be used. Most people are quick to point out the fault in others while the same fault can be seen in them. Sometimes these faults can be found in greater degrees in them. But this is where it all starts, working on your character.

It is only after that we have this knowledge can we move to the mastery of interaction with others. The author builds on the aspects learned earlier to provide the secrets for human interaction. He then brings it to a close by reminding us that this is a journey that will require us to create a long-term lifestyle geared towards the principles written here.

Interesting quotes from the book

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

— Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.

— Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

But 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 R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Summary of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Habit 1: Be Proactive

This is our unique human ability that no other creature on earth has. The most basic habit of a highly effective person, the habit of proactivity. We are not talking about the common definition in the business place of just taking initiative. Our definition is the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.

Let's start and address taking initiative. Basically put, it is to act and not to be acted upon. It empowers us to create circumstances for ourselves by recognizing our responsibility to make things happen. You would not wait for an event to occur in your life. When presented with a scenario or a problem, you do not let someone address such issues. But people who end up on top, are those who are solutions to their own problems and seize, not problems themselves. People who take the initiative are considered obnoxious, or even rude. But such thinking is not to be considered here.

Responsibility. There are two words meshed in one. "Response-ability". Having the ability to decide or choose your response. Highly effective people have response-ability. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice and based on their personal values. There is no room to blame the environment or circumstances. Proactive people do not exist in a vacuum. They still interact with other people and are influence by stimuli either in a physical, social, or psychological way. The difference however is in their response. Their response to the stimuli is based on a value-based response.

Remember the words of Gandhi, "They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them." A person willingly responds and consents to what happens to them. No one can affect your response. The decisions that we willingly permit to what happens to us hurt us far more than what happens to us in the first place.

It is said that out of the mouth, the heart speaks. Our language and mode of communication is a real indicator of the degree to which we portray ourselves as proactive people. In comparison, a reactive person's speech will seek to absolve themselves of responsibility. Consider the following statement made by a reactive person: There's nothing I can do. He makes me so mad. I have to do that. If only. On the flip-side, proactive language communicates: I can choose a different approach. I can control my own feelings. I will choose an appropriate response. I prefer. The difference is in the transfer of responsibility.

Bringing it home, an excellent way to become more self-aware is looking at where we focus our energies. We all have concerns in our lives. Separate them into things we have no control over i.e. the Circle of Concern and things we have control over, the Circle of Influence. Proactive people focus efforts on things in their Circle of Influence. A proactive person focuses on things that they can influence. Remember that.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

The end of our human lives is marked by our funerals and that is how Stephen Covey begins this new chapter. Imagine you are at your funeral surrounded by your loved ones and colleagues from work. If you were in attendance and listening in, what the speakers would say about you? Would they speak of your impeccable character and values? The visualization allows us to focus on some of the values that should build our character.

In our workplaces and businesses, we usually talk about mission statements and goals as a company. You need a plan; an outline that would guide you in every decision you make as a company. We can dare say that most if not all things in life require a clear thought process and planning. So, why can't our lives follow the same principle? If we are following that school of thought, more intimate and precise thinking should go towards building our lives.

That set of values that you wish to immortalize you is your destination. And now that you know your destination, you can take small but sure steps in that direction. To kick start it, we need a personal mission statement. This would be our ultimate goal. Our epitaph. It is not something that you can think about in one sitting. It can take days even months, writing and rewriting it to a final version. This fine-tuning calls for you to daily dedicate yourself to proactively identifying and removing aspects of your life that draw you away from your mission statement.

As you adhere to it, your mission statement grows to be your personal institution. It is the code by which you make your decisions in life and the solid foundation that anchors your behavior in different situations. This habit also borrows quite some insight from Habit No. 1 since your behavior is based on a personal set of values and not on external factors that you may not be able to control.

Habit3: Put first things first

In the last chapter handling personal aspects, the book tackles a common issue that we all face as humans, prioritization. Put things first has always and will always be an issue of concern and conflict. It has nothing to do with the management of time but of ourselves. Self-management. We have been building towards this from Habit no. 1. In this chapter, we learn to take charge of our lives by daily implementing the set of values that now bind our lives.

The beauty whoever of it all is within our make up as humans. We were made conscious, self-aware of what we are doing wrong or right. Therefore, we can change.

The first and most important thing that we have to learn to do is to say "no" to items that are not within our priority list. But it goes without saying, that at times we are pressured to say "yes"to tasks that are not within our priority list. Such small but concise decisions bring you closer to your final goal which is your mission statement.

We go back to our previous habits. We go back to the Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. Classify your habits into these two categories. And secondly, is it in tandem with my personal mission statement? All of these habits work in tandem. Thinking of them as parts of a larger cog would allow you to address issues wholesomely.

Habit 4: Think Win-win

Highly effective people are masters at interacting with others. This is the second part of the book dubbed "Public Victory". There are three habits that are to be gained: Think win-win, seek first to understand then to be understood and synergize.

The win-win solution is one in which two or more parties benefit from a circumstance. Be it with your employee or with a family member, we should seek to settle for an end result where both parties benefit. It is the best possible solution to ensure and foster that good and lasting relationship.

Most people think of their interaction with a win-lose mentality. And that's what is usually preached; that it's either your way or the highway. The book seeks to repair such thinking. A win-win solution is the only way to build that trust and cooperation that are fundamental for working as a team.

The way to do so is by making use of the Abundance Mentality. The paradigm flows from the recognition of alternatives and options in every situation. Once you have looked at the broad spectrum of possibilities available to every party, then one is able to realize that there is plenty for everyone.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Ask yourself this question. Do people share their problems and issues with you? When was the last time? The answer to these questions will tell you how much you need to work on this habit. You might have already filled in the dots for yourself. Good communication is the basis of this habit.

Communication is a two-way street. It therefore goes without saying that good listening skills are essential. Seeking to understand also increases the chances of arriving at a win-win scenario since you can empathize with a person's situation. And one of the most important tools in any communication is listening.

To improve on one's listening skills, Covey suggests making use of a skill called empathetic listening. The goal of this skill is listening to understand and listening with an aim of replying. You immerse yourself in the right frame of mind that will allow you to feel what others are feeling and be able to perceive the world as they do. To truly embody this skill, even your character should reflect so. You should be able to create a genuine and caring atmosphere that draws people in.

You would be surprised by the result of empathetic listening. People will start being more open with you once they realize you listen with the intent of understanding their particular situations. And once you are on the same plane of thinking or perception, you can be able to design creative solutions.

Habit 6: Synergize

In the world of synergize, one plus one is not equal to two but something more than one. The coming together of individual parts results leads to a more powerful effect. Synergy is all about cooperation and collaboration. Combined effort only becomes possible where there is a certain level of trust and understanding. Synergy is the effect of days and days of win-win scenarios and putting the needs of others before our won.

That sounds familiar, right? The ethos behind synergy is the desire to obtain a win-win situation (habit 4) and empathetic listening (habit 5). It is also the core of any effective leader; the power to draw out and unleash the capabilities of men. To apply synergy in our interpersonal relationships, Stephen Covey states the process requires a certain level of vulnerability and openness between people. It is the only true way to grow a team, create unity, and be able to compensate for individual weaknesses within the team.

Then and only then can there be true synergy.

Habit 7: Sharpening the saw

Bringing it to a close, we have the final habit: sharpening the saw. This habit is all about renewal of the body. As we have discussed, these habits are a lifelong process that might take a huge toll on the body. The body therefore needs its energies to be renewed.

There are four dimensions which are to be considered

  1. The physical dimension: exercise and nutrition. One needs to focus on regular exercises. And not just typical simple ones but exercises that increase your capacity to work and adapt to changes in your environment. In addition, aspects of diet and sufficient sleep and relaxation cannot be ignored.
  2. The mental dimension: empathy and synergy. The mental dimension involves increasing our capacity to take in more information. The mind is like a muscle like any other. Therefore, we must put it to the test by 'lifting heavy' mental weights. Challenge yourself by setting mental challenges for yourself either at work or at home.
  3. The spiritual dimension: meditation and study. The spiritual dimension is one that is ignored many times by. You may find inspiration by praying, listening to music, reading a book, or being with nature.
  4. The social one. Renewing our social/ emotional dimension is all about developing long-term meaningful relationships. Practicing habits four to six (a win-win situation, seeking to understand others before being understood and synergize) will go a long to providing us with a sense of security and meaning.

Review of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The author makes use of real-life scenarios and experiences that not only have affected him but other men and women throughout history. The reaction of these men and women towards their personal experiences gives more weight to the principles that Stephen Covey presents in his book.

One of the best elements of the book is its timeless applicability to our lives. Human beings are interactive and social species. Our higher cognitive functions dictate that we must interact with others in thought and speech. And this includes one major attribute: perception. Perception is brutally analyzed throughout the book as Covey seeks to unshackle us from the detrimental habits which we have learned over time. The lessons are presented in a clear manner that pushes you to not only learn but also seek to teach yourself on the seven habits.


The quality of the book 'The seven Habits of Highly Effective People' is in the depth at which it addresses the common issues that each man and woman on the face of the earth faces. The principles brought forth transcend age, culture, society, and religion. The book guides the reader through incremental steps that seek to answer the question that most people have had in life: what does true success look like?

Marilyn Ferguson observed, "No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside." This quote is the foundation of the laws stated here. If you are purposed to change, to act, to be different, change must start with how you perceive and react to elements in your surroundings. Once you have a deeper and more complete understanding of yourself, you will find it easier to build more meaningful connections with others. You will be able to understand how they perceive elements in their vicinity.

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