Stephen Covey would have been the first person to make sure you knew that the ideas and instructions in his book were not anything new or groundbreaking. He was simply building on the work others, like Dale Carnegie, had done before him.
Even the number seven wasn’t specifically chosen or divined. In an interview for the Daily Telegraph, Covey once said “there was nothing esoteric or special about why I chose the number seven…It just happened to turn out that way.”
So why read this book? Why does it still resonate so strongly with readers more than thirty years after its first printing?
Because the way Covey presents his information and theories just make sense. Instead of focusing on quick tips that have worked for others, Covey focuses his arguments on personal approaches (habits) that he encourages his readers to develop if they want to succeed in, well, whatever it is they want to do.
What is a Habit?
In his book, Covey defines a “habit” as: “the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).”
If you’re missing any of these three things, presumably, a habit just won’t stick. And if a habit isn’t sticking, that’s because there is something in you that needs to be addressed. As for the actual habits he’s talking about? Here’s a quick rundown.
Covey is talking about being proactive in a personal sense. You control your actions and reactions to stimuli. Instead of simply waiting for something to happen and then figuring out how to react to it, you must take responsibility (or “response-ability, as Covey puts it in 7 Habits) to make things happen for yourself.
For example: Instead of blaming your boss for not promoting you quickly enough, ask your boss what you can do to be considered for the next round of promotions and let them know that you want to move up.
In spite of what you learned from Maria in Sound of Music; the beginning is not the very best place to start. If you want to be successful, writes Covey, you must start at the end. In other words, first you need to figure out what you want. Then you can figure out how to get it.
You’ve likely heard this idea said in a dozen different ways already. That is because it works. You have to know where you’re going before you can figure out how to get there. When you open up your GPS, what do you type in—your own address or the address of your destination?
Habit 3: First Things First
When organizing our days, it is important to figure out which tasks are urgent and which ones are not. It is also important to categorize those tasks as important and unimportant. Covey does this by introducing and emphasizing the importance of the Eisenhower Matrix. You’ve likely seen versions of this quadrant before (there are even apps devoted to it!)
What is surprising about Covey’s approach, however, is that the most important quadrant is not the Urgent and Important quadrant. It is the Important but Non-Urgent quadrant that deserves most of our attention and energy.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
This habit has a lot to do with personal relationships. In order to achieve successful and lasting interdependent relationships, you must figure out how to make situations “Win-Win” or how to create a positive outcome for everyone involved.
To do this, of course, you have to figure out how to overcome the Scarcity Mindset that has become so ingrained in our culture and ourselves. Don’t worry. Covey will help you out with that, too.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
This habit is all about empathy. Before you can effectively fix a problem, you have to develop a deep understanding of what the problem really is for the person experiencing it.
Most of us approach a problem autobiographically, Covey says. When we are presented with a problem or issue, we use our own experiences as the criteria against how we evaluate the problem. If something isn’t problematic for us, we might not agree that the problem exists at all.
According to Covey, the best way to achieve this habit is to learn empathetic listening. Instead of listening with the intention of coming up with a reply, listen to people with the intention of learning and understanding their points of view. Walk a mile in their shoes, and all that.
Habit 6: Synergize
Habit 6 builds upon everything you’ve learned in Habits 1-5. In order to “synergize” you have to be able to come together with others and figure out how to pool your desires to reach a collectively satisfying outcome.
It might help to think of this like a cooperative board game, where it is in everyone’s best interest to act together to achieve a common goal. Each player is valued for what they bring to the table that can help achieve that end and while that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody gets exactly what they want, when they solve the game together, they are all satisfied with the accomplishment.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Stephen Covey is adamant that, in order to be effective, you must continue practicing the habits and improving yourself. You aren’t ever really going to be “done.” This is why the last habit in the book talks about making sure that you are the very best you that you can be forever. To do this, Covey says, you need to focus continuously on your four primary dimensions:
- The Physical Dimension
- The Spiritual Dimension
- The Mental Dimension
- The Social/Emotional Dimension
How These Can Apply to Your Life
What makes Stephen Covey’s book so indelible is that it doesn’t just apply to business or financial success. The habits Covey highlights in his book will help readers be more successful in their personal and creative lives as well!