Published by Free Press on August 15, 1989
Genres/Lists: Career, Non-Fiction
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
Where does one start when reviewing one of the most popular self-help books in recent memory? For me, I’ll start with why I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey in the first place. Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a rut and decided I needed something to help me refocus, primarily with regard to getting things done. I have all of the usual excuses, such as blaming others for their behavior affecting my own, being too busy, and having too many things on my plate. I’m also prone to multitasking, which means everything takes twice as long and I sometimes have a hard time prioritizing, which leaves me spending a lot of time doing a lot of things that achieve nothing. I picked up this book for the first time only to realize that my Kindle had saved my place at 7%, which means I picked it up sometime in the past and wasn’t ready for it. This time, I was ready.
A simple Google search will tell you what the 7 habits are all about, so rather than discuss their details, I’m going to discuss each one in terms of how they resonated with me. It’s a bit unconventional but for a book that has been read and broken down a million times, I wanted to offer a more personalized approach. How to implement the habits is different for everyone but perhaps you will gain a little insight into your own life and be inspired to pick up the book because it truly is deserving of its popularity.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
This habit title is a bit misleading because it’s primarily about how we see the world through certain lenses and how those lenses affect our behavior. These lenses are called paradigms and I learned early on that I need a major paradigm shift. This realization was tough to swallow because I learned things about myself that I would have denied had it not been laid out so simply. For example, I sometimes allow the weaknesses of others to influence how I react. So, if someone else doesn’t do what they say they are going to do, I may respond by doing the minimum because I don’t want to be the one doing all of the work. Or, if someone else is lashing out because they are insecure/having a bad day/insert-reason-here, I may take it personally and be less motivated to go all-in. After all, it’s so much easier to walk away and make up excuses than to power through.
But then there are these things called values, and Covey details why we should act in accordance to our values (hard work, integrity) and not allow ourselves to feel victimized or devalued because someone else has their own issues. In other words, we are not free of personal responsibility simply because someone else exists in the same space. This was a major epiphany for me because I never thought I played this game, but upon further reading, I knew that I had. In the words of Covey:
It’s easy to say that other people’s stuff is their stuff and let it go, but the reality is that other people’s stuff can affect our own behavior and this needs to stop. Instead, we should all focus on what is in our circle of influence and, frankly, other people’s stuff isn’t in that circle. I’m pretty good at not letting things get to me in my personal life but professionally has always been much harder and varies based on the situation. When I had a sexist boss, I had no problem calling him out on it. If a coworker is lazy, I’ll usually pick up the slack. But give me someone who treats me as if I matter less and I may just live up to their lowered expectations. This was the toughest section of the entire book and while part of me wanted to throw it away and continue blaming others, I know I can’t do that and be effective, happy, or proud of my output. And really, we all want to be proud of ourselves and that means not letting others dictate how we feel about ourselves.
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
Habit 2 asks the hard questions about what you want people to say about you when you die and whether you’re living a life that will lead to that end. For example, I’d like for people to say that I persevered, changed lives for the better, made a positive difference, and was passionate, to name a few. But is everything I’m doing leading to that end? Probably not. If I’m being reactive and letting the behavior of others affect my own, then I’m not as hardworking as I could be. If I’m donating money rather than time, I’m not making as much of a difference as I’d like to be (which doesn’t mean everyone needs to do this, of course – donating does a lot of good). But if I’m not doing that, then I’m likely not changing lives or showing the world that I’m passionate in many ways. This habit also delves into where your “center” is, such as whether you’re work-centric or money-centric. This one is tricky because everyone has a little bit of all of them wrapped up in their goals but the key is balance. That said, I might be a bit more money-centric than I’d care to admit….
Habit 3: Put First Things First
I loved this habit because it recommends a planner. I’m one of those people who has to-do lists of to-do lists. I tried the Getting Things Done in Evernote method and it was so easy to add tasks to my digital manager that I ended up with hundreds of them pretty quickly. So, I decided to mix things up by buying a paper planner and sitting down every Sunday to put pen to paper to plan out how to tackle my top priorities from my digital to-do list. It’s working well, which is not surprising considering Covey recommends planning weekly, not daily or by task. This way, you can leave room for things that come up (both fun and obligatory) and forces you to prioritize. Working and running The Book Wheel means I’m constantly thinking of little things I need to do and this method forces me to evaluate them regularly. It also recommends categorizing your to-do list in terms of what end they achieve, which is easier said than done because I happen to think everything on my list is important.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Life is not a zero-sum game and it’s okay to walk away from a situation that is not beneficial to both parties. This is great advice in the professional world but also applies to personal relationships. I like to win, but I also like it when others win and this one reminded me that no matter what the conflict, there’s a compromise or the ability to walk away. I think we forget that sometimes, especially given the political climate we live in.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
You know that line about how everyone is going through something so always be kind? This habit reminds me of that because it tells us to listen, really listen. Covey offers a scathing criticism of modern-day communication techniques, partly because we often spend more time trying to appear to be actively listening than to actually listening. So instead of focusing on having a conversation and thinking of how we can interject our own stories into someone else’s, we should be quiet and listen. I know that I have a nasty habit of wanting to insert my own experiences into other people’s stories in order to foster camaraderie, but I’m working on being more aware of it and finding appropriate times to do so.Here's how @thebookwheel is incorporating the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People into her daily life. #7habits Click To Tweet
Habit 6: Synergize
This is that beautiful place where all of the other habits fall into place and you’re effective and happy. I’m still working on getting here, so in the meantime, check out this story: The Animal School by Dr. R. H. Reeves.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw (renewal)
This one is pretty easy. Even when you’re synergized you have to work at it and flex your mental muscles. Once I figure out where my synergetic place is, I’ll get to this one, too.
Recommended for: Anyone looking to boost their effectiveness at work or at home.