Reading Notes on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

January 13, 2019

5 min read

Broadly speaking, this book answers the question, “How can one achieve their best?” Stephen Covey argues that you must learn to be independent—able to progress towards your best self. Then you must learn to be interdependent—able to combine your efforts with others.

The first three habits address private victory—being effective in your personal life. They are to live by the belief that you determine your life, to find out what things are supremely important, and to do those things consistently.

Covey invites the reader to visualize their own funeral and the effect they will want their life to have had 1. The purpose is to begin thinking long-term, to uncover your values, to think about who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.

By keeping that end clearly in mind, you can make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole.

Covey offers the advice of writing a personal mission statement with an outline of your values. You might write that you refuse to lie in matters small and large or that you’ll give people your full attention. Covey keeps his mission statement within reach and reviews it regularly 2.

The next three habits concern public victory or being effective in relationships. They are to seek outcomes where everyone wins, to understand before being understood, and to value others’ differences.

What does it mean to be effective in relationships?

To receive the best in your relationships, people have to want to give their best. We are each driven by our own agendas, our own motivations, and our own desires.

What is important to another person must be as important to you as the other person is to you

If you can build trust, if you can deeply empathize and understand, if you can seek outcomes that are truly win-win, then people will volunteer their best.

You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain. That’s where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness. … [treat] employees as volunteers just as you treat customers as volunteers, because that’s what they are. They volunteer the best part—their hearts and minds.

The final habit is renewal. Covey lists several dimensions of life that require constant investment. One of the dimensions is education. He offers the advice to read—a lot.

The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.

This was a realization for me. When you read a book, you can experience in eight hours, what took someone thirty years to piece together. If you don’t like a book, move on. If the book is confusing, move on. There are more good books than you can read in a lifetime.

Covey mentions an idea at the onset, which doesn’t belong to any specific habit.

We must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as at the world we see … the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.

Covey describes a lesson he learned parenting, which illustrates this idea. He and his wife were at a loss about one of their children. Their son was performing poorly in school and having trouble socializing. Their attempts to help him were failing. He could sense this too and exhibited low self-esteem.

Their child’s low self-esteem caught their attention. They traced this back to their belief that he was a failure. Further still, they felt like failures as parents. From a place of their own insecurity, they had encouraged insecurity in him. They questioned their beliefs. They decided their worth should come from internal sources. He was not a failure. They viewed him as capable and stopped protecting him. While the change was neither painless nor immediate, he began to develop into himself.

Their beliefs about their son profoundly affected how they saw him.

Some books can be represented by a few quotes and ideas. I think it’s unfair in this case. This post doesn’t communicate the Covey who is vulnerable, humble, and earnest. The Kindle sample on Amazon includes the entire book. Give it a read and send me your thoughts.

1. In the past, when I've thought of death, I've imagined someone walking into my room and cleaning out my possessions, handling them carefully but with indifference. I'm reminded that possessions and their quality are insignificant.

2. I was surprised at first, isn't this too much work? It was encouraging to see Covey's dedication to something so important.