‘The 7 Habits’: an overview

Decades after it was first published, the book still has relevance, and answers, about excellence, success, effectiveness values and principles


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“There is no real excellence in all this world which can be separated from right living.” Dr. Stephen Covey appropriately begins his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” with this quote from David Starr Jordan.

What does it mean to be excellent? What is “right” living, and does it change from person to person?

Covey, an internationally respected leadership and family expert, teacher, organizational consultant and author, dedicated his life to teaching principle-centered living and leadership to build both families and organizations.

“The 7 Habits,” first published in 1989, was named the Most Influential Business Book of the 20th century and one of the top 10 most influential management books ever. It seeks to answer those questions about excellence, success, effectiveness, values and principles by relaying seven habits that can help set you on the path to success, both professionally and personally, and lead a fulfilled life.

In the chaos of life, it’s easy to get swept away by challenges that plague one’s day-to-day happiness.

In Jim Collins’ foreword to Covey’s book, he explains the relevance of the 7 Habits in combating these life challenges: “The greater … our challenges, the more relevant the habits become. The reason: Our problems and pain are universal and increasing, and the solutions to the problems are and always will be based upon universal, timeless, self-evident principles.” Success is attainable by acting in accordance with the principle to which the success is tied.

The 7 Habits can help you overcome challenges while promoting personal growth, health and happiness. Covey defines a habit as “an intersection of knowledge, skill and desire.” In order to form productive habits that lead to success and happiness, we must have all three.

Here is a brief overview of the habits:

1. Be proactive: Proactivity means that, “as humans, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions…We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.” We can choose whether something that happens to us will have a positive or negative influence on our lives.

2. Begin with the end in mind: This habit begs you to consider the ultimate end — the end of your life — to put into perspective the life that lies before you. When you consider the end, what kind of character would you like people to have seen in you? When you consider all the questions of what it would be like to look back on your life, you are better able to ensure that whatever you do on a given day does not violate the criteria you set for a life well-lived.

3. Put first things first: One of the most important issues in Habit 3 is that of time management. The true challenge of time management is not actually managing one’s time, but managing oneself; rather than focus on things and time, we now come to understand the importance of focusing on relationships and accomplishing results.

4. Think win-win: This frame of mind constantly seeks mutual benefit for all human interactions. Agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial. Win-win sees life as cooperative, not competitive. Win-win is based on the belief that one person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others.

5. Seek first to understand, then be understood: If you want to interact effectively with anyone, you need to understand them. If you demonstrate that you are of sound character — that you value the other person and want to understand them — they instinctively begin to trust you, which will inevitably lead to effective communication.

6. Synergize: Synergy is what becomes of all the other habits put into practice. It is the essence of principle-centered living and leadership. Simply defined, synergy means that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

7. Sharpen the saw: This habit makes all other habits possible. It means you take the time to preserve and enhance your greatest asset — yourself. Habit 7 renews the four dimensions of your nature: the physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental. “Sharpening the saw” is revisiting and exercising these four dimensions, regularly and consistently in wise and balanced ways.

Covey concludes with the idea that “by centering our lives on correct principles and creating a balanced focus between doing and our ability to do, we become empowered in the task of creating effective, useful, and peaceful lives … for ourselves, and for our posterity.”

Steve St. Pierre of Manchester, a financial advisor with LPL Financial, can be contacted at steve@sfspllc.com.

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