Adopt the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People


7 habits of highly effective people

What does more than 200 years of success literature teach us about highly effective people?

Success is a habit.

More precisely, success is the synergy of multiple habits.

And, highly effective people have several habits in common.  And, best of all, by adopting a small set of these habits, you can improve your personal effectiveness in exponential ways.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey outlines a set of attitudes and habits that help you improve your personal effectiveness and leadership skills:

  1. Be Proactive.   Act or be acted upon.  Don’t wait for things to happen.  Take action and exercise your initiative.  According to Covey, the difference between those who take initiative and those who don’t makes the difference in effectiveness “about a 5,000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware, and sensitive to others.”
  2. Begin with the End in Mind.    Figure out what you want to accomplish, before starting out.  Get a clear picture of the outcome or end result that you want to drive to.  Work backwards from this end in mind.  Covey says, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.   It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”   According to Covey, begin with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice.
  3. Put First Things First.    Habit #3, Put First Things First, is an exercise in self-management.  It’s the day-in, day out, moment by moment exercise of becoming principle-centered.  Habit #1, Be Proactive, is about taking charge.  Habit #2, is the mental creation of your ideal end in mind.  Habit #3, is the second creation, the physical creation.  It’s really the art of practicing effective self-management.  Your priorities and principles serve as the backbone.   Covey shares two questions to put habit #3, Put First Things First, into practice.  Question #1:  What one thing could you do that if you did on a regular basis would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?
  4. Think Win/Win.  Find a way for everyone involved to win.  According to Covey, “Win/Win is a belief in the Third Alternative.  It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.”
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.    Don’t listen with the intent to reply.  Listen with the intent to understand.    It takes consideration and courage.  According to Covey, “Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood requires courage.”  Covey recommends practicing empathic listening, which means to listen until the other person *feels* you heard them.
  6. Synergize.  The challenge of synergy is to apply the principle of creative cooperation.  According to Covey, “The highest forms of synergy focus the four unique human endowments, the motive of Win/Win, and the skills of empathic communication on the toughest challenges we face in life.  What results is almost miraculous.  We create new alternatives – something that wasn’t there before.”
  7. Sharpen the Saw.  Habit #7, Sharpen the Saw, is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.   According to Covey, taking time to sharpen the saw is the habit that makes all the other habits possible.   Covey recommends renewing the four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.

While you can certainly practice individual habits, the real power comes from the synergy of the habits.  They are “better together.”

Image by Varun Suresh.


  1. Re-visiting a Master, eh? Coincidentally, perhaps serendipitously, I have done the same. I’ve read the book twice, & starting two weeks ago I bought an audio version to accompany me during my half-marathon training. Not unexpectedly, seemingly new insights leapt out at me as if I were encountering them for the first time. Most gratifying, however, was the awareness during my listening that I’ve been successful in weaving the Habits into my day-to-experiences, into my life. As I review each of them, it’s clear that–to the extent that I’m able–I’m living them, each-&-every one. Yet, there’s always room for improvement, eh? Bring me that whetstone! Thanks for the excellent summary, J.D.

  2. @ Jimmy — I’m revisiting several masters, all with a fresh lens. I’m definitely noticing things I hadn’t quite noticed before, or wasn’t ready for.

    For example, I somehow missed Covey’s frame of the four generations of time management and how the 4th generation is about results and relationships.

    It’s a great time to sharpen the saw.

  3. I love this post. Sometimes when we don’t put first things first we put other people’s things first. This is a great list. Well stated.

  4. @ Kim — It feels good to get back to the basics, and Covey’s wisdom really stands the test of time.

    Now I’m exploring the most effective ways I can sharpen the saw, with so many educational resources at our fingertips, including

    These are truly exciting times.

  5. Hi JD,
    Interestingly, I attended a class on Monday four work that mentioned this book. It is really timely for me, as both my effectiveness and efficiency need to be increased. I would say that synergy is the one I need the most help with. I understand the importance of it, want it, but have allowed fear to prevent me from creating it. I dedicated 2012 as the year for fearlessness and am carrying that over to 2013. To be highly successful, I will have to break out of my box and do the very things I fear.

    BTW, Happy New Year:-)

  6. @ Lisa — Fear is insidious.

    It sneaks in, in so many little ways.

    The good news is that if you can catch it in the act, you can turn it into a choice. A choice of focus. Fear is often an undesired focus. If you have an inspiring vision, or compelling cause, you can use that to refocus. It’s a way to crowd fear out.

    A related technique is to focus on your hero or role model. For example, “What would XYZ do in this scenario?” It’s a great way to change your default response, simply by modeling other alternative responses.

    Happy New Year to you, too!

  7. I love that suggestion of substituting how another person would handle it. I can definitely see that working for me. I have used that technique before, but had forgotten about it. Thank you for the reminder. I really needed to be reminded of it again; especially today, as I am slightly changing the direction of my blog. Thanks again.

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