The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey goes right to the root cause where change needs to happen if we were to live a fulfilled life.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. (Aristotle)

One Sunday morning as Stephen Covey was riding the subway in New York, an interesting thing happened. People were sitting quietly. Some were reading their papers. Others were lost in thought. There were some who had their eyes closed.

At one of the stops, a father entered the subway car. The father sat down next to Stephen Covey. His children were running around the car, disturbing people. They were being loud.

After some time, not taking it anymore, Stephen Covey addresses the father, who seemed not to notice the whole situation. He told him that he should take some attitude regarding his children, who obviously were disturbing the people in the car.

The father said something that would change everything. He told the author they were coming from the hospital. One hour before, his wife and the mother of their children had passed away. He thought he should take some attitude as well. Obviously, the children were so confused about the situation that they didn’t know how to behave. He didn’t either.

At that moment, Stephen Covey had a paradigm shift.

What’s a paradigm

The word paradigm comes from Greek. It was originally a scientific word. Today, we use it to describe a model, a theory, a perception, or an assumption. In layman’s terms, it’s the general way in which we see the world, in terms of perceiving, understanding and interpreting.

We can look at paradigms as maps. They help us to better understand the territory.

Each of us has many maps in our heads. However, we can divide them into two categories.

  • Maps of the way things are or realities
  • Should be or values

We interpret everything we experience through these maps. It’s seldom that we question their accuracy. Most of the time, we’re not even aware we’re using them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way things actually are or should be.

As a result, our actions and behaviors are the results of those assumptions. The way we see things influences the way we think and act.

Why it’s important to become aware of our paradigms?

“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” embodies the principle of human effectiveness. However, they will not be effective if we first don’t understand our own paradigms.

We all have greatness in us. We just need to understand that we need both, primary and secondary greatness to become successful individuals. Our main purpose behind our actions should be to make a difference in our lives and that of others around us.

Primary greatness is also referred to as the goodness in our character. It’s the character that communicates more eloquently. These are those people we trust because we know their character. It doesn’t matter if they’re not social wizards or lack the skill to have human relations techniques. We simply trust them and work successfully together.

Secondary greatness is about the social recognition of our skills and talents. These are the people who can charm others and pretend to be interested in other people, while their intentions are not genuine. They are secondary because they cannot last unless there is character and integrity behind them. Secondary greatness is nothing but a quick fix without primary greatness.

Primary and secondary greatness are our paradigm.

The character and the personality paradigms


Nowadays most literature on self-development and popular psychology books is adapting to our fast-paced world. It offers more of a Band-Aid solution than a deeper evaluation of the root cause of our problems. They are the aspirin to our headaches, dealing with the acute problems but ignoring the chronic ones. They are the Personality Ethic.

However, it wasn’t always so.

Before the Personality Ethic emerged, the Character Ethic was the primary greatness. The problem we’re having nowadays is that we tend to forget the Character Ethic ever existed and concentrate more on the Personality Ethic. In doing so, we forget that the Personality Ethic is only second greatness. In fact, we should pay attention to both in an equal manner, and concentrate on one while ignoring the other.

The character paradigm

It incorporates those qualities that are thought to be the foundation of success:


The Character Paradigm teaches us that we can have an effective living. People can truly experience success and happiness if they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.

The Personality Paradigm

After World War I, the paradigm shifted from the Character Ethic to the Personality Ethic.


           Catchphrases as “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can conceive” became popular.

The Personality Paradigm is encouraging people to use techniques to get other people to like them or to fake interest in their hobbies to get out of them what they wanted. How about using the power look or intimidating their way through life?!

The Personality Paradigm doesn’t have to be necessarily negative. As Dale Carnegie says in his “How to win friends and influence people”, the key to successful human relationships is sincerity. We cannot pretend to be interested in other people and proclaim to have a solid Character Ethic.

If we say we are something but act contrary to our nature, people will pick up on our lack of sincerity.

Honesty should be the stepping stone of human interactions. Otherwise, it’s just smoke and mirrors. And something which is “smoke and mirrors” is not bound to last.

The road to change comes through habits

 A habit is the crossroads where knowledge, skill, and desire meet.

Knowledge refers to what we need to do and why. Skill refers to how we need to proceed. Desire represents the desire to do it in the first place.

There is no habit without all three.

Habits are based on principles. Therefore, when developed, bring a superior level of effectiveness.


Private Victory and Public Victory

Private victory


Just as with “Emotional Intelligence”, the starting point is private victory. This means an introspection that takes time.

When we wonder why we get the results we get, there’s no better place to start than to figure out which type of person we are.

Habit 1 – Be proactive!


Proactivity means more than taking initiative. It means we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is the result of our decisions, not our condition.

Nothing gets to you and your objectivesYour mood and performance depend on a lot of external factors, even the weather.
You bring the good weather with you no matter how sunny or rainy it’s outsideIf the weather is sunny, the mood is great.
You don’t let other people’s treatment of yourself decide your state of mindWhen people treat you alright, your mood is alright too. When not, you become defensive.
You don’t let your impulses decide your actions. You take your time and analyze the situation when things settle downYou’re a slave to your own impulses, feelings, circumstances
You condition your environment and not the other way aroundBasically, it’s the environment that conditions you and not the other way around

This is the step to our understanding of our freedom of choice. Now it’s time to choose differently.

It’s not the events but our response to them, that’s crucial. Things can hurt us physically or emotionally. However, in the midst of all, it’s our character that has to remain intact.

Pay attention to the language you’re using. Whether it’s reactive or proactive.

Reactive means “He made me mad”, “I have to do these things”, etc.

Circle of InfluenceCircle of Concern
Direct controlIndirect control
Our behaviorOther people’s behavior

We should always act from a circle of influence, not letting other people decide our state of mind or our choice of action.

Habit 2 – Begin with the end in mind


Imagine driving to a chapel. You park your car. Step out of the car. You walk up the stairs. Familiar faces are there. It’s the funeral of somebody you loved. You go past the grieving people and go to pay respects to the deceased. When you bend over, you see that the dead individual it’s you.

You look around and see that people will be speaking at the funeral. They’re part of four categories:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Work
  • Community

What would you like these people to say about you?

Have you lived your life the way you would like to be remembered?

Beginning with the end in mind means to make a personal mission statement for your life and live the way you have designed it.

The moment you decide what sort of person you are and what are principles you stand by, don’t let things, circumstances, or people derail you from your path.

Not operating based on your mental creation means letting other people decide the outcome.

As Dale Carnegie says: “The now it’s the most important”.

Every moment it’s a good moment to change, even if it’s scary.

We are responsible to rewrite our personal scripts.

Habit 3 – Put first things first

“Things which matter most shouldn’t be at the mercy of things that matter least” (Goethe)

The way we organize our work has changed over the years. In the beginning, we had lists and notes. Then came calendars and appointment books. At the moment we are in the phase of setting goals – prioritization vs. time-consuming.

We move towards efficient control of time. However, we do that to the detriment of developing rich human relationships.

Now more than ever we need to understand that it’s our emotional intelligence that brings us to the spotlight.

Making lists and crossing our tasks is not bad. But it brings us a false sense of getting important things done.

Instead of making daily plans, we should make weekly plans. This way, we have some time to reschedule or rearrange things on the agenda in case we need to discuss some unexpected issue.

Our growth does from dependence in the early years of our lives. The goal is to win our independence. The moment we are independent, we are ready for the last stage: interdependence. Interdependence is the area where people come together and work in a harmonious way.

Private victory leads to Public Victory

Habit 4 – Think Win/Win

Win/Win is a frame of mind in which there is a mutual benefit in all human interactions.

Most people think in terms of dichotomies: win or lose, strong or weak, etc. But this way of thinking is based on power and position rather than on principle.

When we start with the Win/Win state of mind, we know we don’t achieve our success at the expense or exclusion of the success of others.

“The Secret of Selling Anything” by Harry Browne, “Never split the difference” by Chris Voss… They all teach us that only that the “Win/win” state of mind is sustainable and long-lasting. They also teach us not to be afraid to take the No Deal option.

When we think Win/Win we come from a place of abundance, where there’s enough for everyone. Let’s imagine we work in the same business industry. The fact that you go bankrupt doesn’t guarantee my success if I don’t know how to treat my clients and employees. Somebody else’s success doesn’t mean or failure and the other way around. All other variants: Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Win, etc. they come from a place of scarcity, believing there’s not enough out there. The moment we believe that we lose from the start.

Habit 5 – First understand then be understood


It must be an important one since we find it over and over again in most personal development books, from Dale Carnegie to Harry Browne. Harry Browne shows us that the best salesman is not the one talking the whole time, but the one asking the right questions to know his client’s needs. The above-mentioned “No Deal”, means, in Harry Browne’s eyes, passing on a sale if that means giving the client something he doesn’t need or really want.

Listen, listen and listen some more. Do it, not with the intention of answering but with the intention of really understand the other person.

Chris Voss says it best: practice empathy. Practicing empathy doesn’t mean agreeing with the other person. That’s sympathy. It simply means hearing them out and acknowledging their state of mind and feelings. Until we do that, we cannot begin to have a proper conversation and get to the bottom of things.

Most people cannot wait to answer and project their own biographies on the other person. “I understand how you feel”, “I’ve been through the same things some time ago”. However, we forget that we each experience in different ways.

Listening takes practice since it’s not really a skill we’ve been prepared for in comparison to writing, reading, and speaking.

Practice listening. The more you practice, the less the person feels he’s part of an experiment and starts opening up. Do it from a place of good faith to truly understand.

Habit 6 – Synergize

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

All people see the world not as it is but as they are.

Value the differences in people. Don’t be afraid of the people who have a different point of view than yours.

Respect other people’s views. As Caser Millan teaches us in “Lessons from the pack”, everybody’s role is not less or more important. We all have a place and without it, the whole wouldn’t be the same. Build on strengths to compensate for weaknesses.

Habit 7 – Sharpen the saw


Revise your principles and check to see they are in accordance with who you are. Do it constantly. Revise and improve on them. Improve yourself.

We develop on four major planes:

  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Mental
  • Social

We need to take care of our bodies just as we do with our minds. We must stretch those physical and mental muscles on a daily basis if we want long-lasting results. Improving on one plane brings change and improvement on all planes.

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier. Not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased”. (Emerson)

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