The 7 Habits summarized

I just finished reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and thought it’d be nice to have a short blog post to look back on to remind me what the book’s maxims actually mean. The 7 habits are:

Be proactive.

Accept control of your life and focus on the things that you can control (your “circle of influence”) rather than the things that affect you (your “circle of concern”). Make and keep commitments to yourself and others; by doing so, you grow your circle of influence and build sense of personal honor that helps you to keep commitments even when you don’t feel like it.

Begin with the end in mind.

For all important projects, clearly define what success looks like and keep that definition at the center of your work. Life is your most important project: it’s critical that you do define what success in your life means. Imagine how you want others to describe you at your funeral and write a constitution describing the characteristics that would merit such a description. Memorize and strictly adhere to that constitution. Spend time each day to review it and visualize the minutiae of life under it. Following these steps will ensure that you aren’t making progress towards the wrong goal.

Put first things first.

Now that you’ve clarified your principles and values, effective self-management around them is the primary determinant of whether you’ll reach your goals. A key component of this is to distinguish importance from urgency. Ineffective self-managers often fail to prioritize non-urgent but important tasks and decline urgent but unimportant tasks.

A good strategy to focus on what’s important each week is:

  • Determine the roles that you need to fulfill for the week.
  • Determine when you’ll fulfill each of those roles.
  • As things come up, rearrange your schedule around those roles.
  • Follow your schedule.

Delegation is also key to accomplishing these goals, but effective delegation requires growing stewards rather than drafting gofers.

Think win/win.

In every negotiation involving another party, seek a solution that’s mutually beneficial. Try not to view problems as having binary solutions or being zero-sum; often times, there are less obvious paths that are ultimately more agreeable. Finding these paths requires a clear understanding of what each party wants. If no such mutually beneficial solution can be found, walk away.

Remember that public victory does not mean success over other people; it means moving towards a mutually beneficial results.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Sincerely aim to fully understand the viewpoint of the person that you’re communicating with. Listen empathetically. Their concerns are valid - figure out why. A great way to do this is to rephrase content and reflect emotion. It sounds like:

“Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds!” “Ah, you’re feeling really frustrated about school.”

When doing this, let the other person speak. Don’t just look for an opportunity to respond. Avoid giving advice unless asked. Instead, try to help the other person to find their own solutions. If the other person is in a position where advice would be useful, they’ll ask. Lastly, if you find yourself in a conversation in which you’ve violated these rules, apologize and ask to restart.

Presentations are a great opportunity to use these skills: allow the person you’re trying to influence to fully explain their viewpoint, and then rephrase it back to them, confirming that you understand where they’re coming from. They’ll be much more likely to accept whatever solution you propose if they know that you understand and respect their concerns. Accept that this means you’ll be influenceable; this is key to being influential. Logic is surprisingly unimportant in influencing others.


Seek out moments of synergy, when things take a turn for the unexpected and fantastic. These experiences often begin with someone extreme honesty, authenticity, and courage and end with immense creativity and a close brush with chaos. Empathy is key to creating these situations; you have to allow someone else’s world view to influence your own. This creates a new and potent idea cocktail. And when trying to create synergy, “Seek not to imitate the masters, rather seek what they sought.”: look for new synergistic experiences rather than trying to recreate past ones. Find others that have different viewpoints and try to understand how they see the world. And, when trying to communicate these people, don’t be defensive or even just respectful: be empathetic.

Sharpen the saw.

Constantly focus on improving the primary areas of life:

  • Physical: Eat healthily. Exercise regularly and sustainably. Find ways to manage stress.
  • Social/emotional: Live your life in service of others. Practice empathy. Synergize. Rely on instrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.
  • Mental: Allocate time to learn new things. Read good literature. Write frequently to practice crystallizing your thoughts. Live deliberately through planning. Grow your mental discipline.

By continuously learning, committing to worthwhile things, and meeting those commitments, you get caught in an incredibly beneficial upward spiral.

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