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Learning How to Apply "The Seven Habits": a Practical Summary

Sid's been a therapist and life coach for over 30 years. He seeks out the best ways to succeed in life.

Challenging Us to Think—and Live

The most challenging aspect of Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is also its greatest gift: He respects his readers. He encourages us to think for ourselves and transform ourselves into better people. He doesn't pander to our current self-image, where we may feel overwhelmed or helpless. Rather, he helps us see that feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and thinking in limited ways, is itself the problem.

If we accept this challenge, we come to live lives of ever-increasing self-awareness. We see how we see things. And we see that the way we have been seeing things is, itself, the source of the problems that we've had until now.

Covey's approach works, and it is essential. It is essential because Albert Einstein was right when he said "the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them" (Seven Habits, p. 42).

Do You Put Blinders on Yourself?

When we look at the world through our assumptions, we limit our options for growth.

When we look at the world through our assumptions, we limit our options for growth.

Or Do You Choose to Be Open, Aware, and Free?

When we take off our blinders, we are free to change our habits and our destiny.

When we take off our blinders, we are free to change our habits and our destiny.

Choosing to Be Open and Aware

I've worked my way through The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People five times, run a number of small classes, and coached many individual coaching clients through the book. I treat it as a workbook, and teach people how to use the tools that fill the book.

For everyone, I've found that the book gets easier as it goes. Each part is easier than the one before it. And the book has four parts:

  • Part 1: Paradigms and Principles is where Covey shows us how to see and change our perspective on life, our paradigm. But that paradigm defends itself and resists change. I work very carefully with my clients through this section, and they experience many challenges, and many eye-opening important victories.
  • Part 2: Private Victory introduces the habits that move us from dependence, where we live with frustration and failure, or need others to change or to help us, to independence, where we make our own lives work. We commit to success, define our goals, and work steadily to make them real with self-leadership and self-management.
  • Part 3: Public Victory teaches us the habits of effective leadership and service.
  • Part 4: Renewal teaches us the daily and weekly habits of self-care and self-renewal that allow us to continue to succeed and grow in our lives.

Although each habit is valuable in itself, I have found that the book definitely works best if we go from beginning to end. Every time one of my clients or students has run into a problem and gotten stuck, we've found that the solution was to go back to an idea in Part 1 that the person skipped over, to protect his old way of seeing the world. Dr. Covey did a magnificent job of including every essential step, and only the essential steps, all in the right order. We can take advantage of that by reading carefully and putting his Application Suggestions into practice as we go.

Part I: Character and Habits

Changing Our Character

Most psychologists will tell you that we can't change our character. Yet the truth—and the good news—is that we can. It just takes more than a superficial effort to do it.

Our character is held in our paradigm, our worldview. And our worldview is deeply unconscious. It governs our perceptions. And it pushes away or trivializes anything that would challenge it.

Most people only go through major life changes—changes of character—once, twice, or a few times. Getting out of school, falling in love, facing death, religious transformation: that is about it. But there is another way. If we are open to looking at the lens through which we see the world, we can heal cracks in that lens. That is the work of deep self-awareness, paradigm shifts, and self-transformation.

Changing Our Habits

Most people think that habits are hard to change. And, sometimes, they are. Other times, it's easy. Our use of self-awareness, imagination, healthy conscience, and independent will determine how easy or hard it is to let go of old, unhealthy habits and create new, effective ones.

Understanding and Action

If we want to become more effective, believe we can do it, and know how, we will do it. In fact, it is not so much a matter of learning how as it is a matter of unlearning our beliefs that we cannot change. All the ideas we need to begin self-transformation are in the first 62 pages of Seven Habits. But the openness to read, learn, and drop old ideas, and the willingness to take action must come from inside ourselves.

Self-transformation is a deep and personal journey. As Covey says, "Self-growth is tender; it's holy ground. There's no greater investment."

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And, when we do it, no greater reward.

Independence: Discovering Our Dreams and Making Them Real

Habits one, two, and three, which Covey calls the habits of independence, are much more than that. They are a process for discovering our unique life purpose or calling. Let's take a closer look. (You can use the link after each bullet to learn more about the habit.)

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive does not mean "jump in and get things done," though may people seem to think it does. It means to live truly from our own deepest understanding of life's principles and our values.
  • Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind calls on our imagination to take us on a deep journey to discover what matters most in our lives, what we truly want to achieve and contribute, and what kind of person we want to be.
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First builds on and challenges all earlier thinking about scheduling. We learn to create a life where, week by week, we move confidently towards our goals.

Interdependence: Leadership, Influence, and Service

In my experience, very few people ever develop the independence (practice of the first three habits) deeply enough to solidly engage true interdependence. Lots of people talk about win-win, but few get past the deep us vs. them or me vs. the world mentality.

  • Habit 4: Think Win-Win develops the idea that the only relationships worth having are those that make everyone involved better off.
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood guides us through an excellent course in listening. It shows us how to truly drop our own perspective so that, as we listen, we develop genuine understanding.guides us through an excellent course in listening. It shows us how to truly drop our own perspective so that, as we listen, we develop genuine understanding.
  • Habit 6: Synergize opens the door to the potential of the highest levels of human cooperation.

I find my own life deeply enriched when a client or friend develops interdependence. Two or more people working this way can create amazing works of art and acts of service. This is how we live transformative lives.

Self-Renewal: Steady and Growing

Knowing all the habits, alone, does nothing. We need to live them. More than that, as people with bodies, feelings, thoughts, and spiritual insights, we need to take care of ourselves and renew ourselves. In an interview with Zen Habits, Stephen Covey talks about how his day planning is spiritual prayer and meditation:

Then I go into my library and pray with a listening spirit, listening primarily to my conscience while I visualize the rest of my entire day, including important professional activities and key relationships with my loved ones, working associates and clients.

Day planning as a meditation and prayer - now that is a world away from rushing to check our calendar on the way out the door!

The essence of 7 Habits is daily. We do less. We are more, being present, being true to ourselves, reflecting, seeking insight. We do this daily, and we go deeper week by week. In doing this, we do more than heal. Through Habit 7, Self-Renewal, we create and serve. And we do more than create and serve: We become part of the healing of the world.

Where is 7 Habits in Your Life?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on March 19, 2013:

Thanks, Ash. I hope this helps you make the 7 Habits more active in your life. Keep an eye out for new hubs on Synergy!

Ashwin Kumar K V from Karnataka, India on March 19, 2013:

A very nice summary, most of them would've long forgotten what they would have got form this book, thanks for refreshing the memory! Voted as Useful!

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on January 26, 2013:

Drop me a line and join my coaching program, Jim, if you'd like!

Jim Miller from Wichita Falls, Texas on January 26, 2013:

Once again you have brought 7 Habits around to my awareness which strongly suggests the time is nigh for me to engage it.

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on January 05, 2013:

Thank you, Prasadjain! I hope you grow in the 7 Habits.

Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD from Tumkur on January 05, 2013:

A very good hub. I voted 'useful'

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on January 05, 2013:

Thanks, Eddy. I took a look at your success on HubPages, and I think I have a lot to learn from you!

Eiddwen from Wales on January 05, 2013:

A wonderful read which I vote up and share. I now look forward to so many more by you.

Have A great weekend.


Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on December 10, 2012:

Thanks, Gypsy. Rather than "plowing through," I encourage you to let go, forgive yourself, and make a fresh start.

We all slip up. We all restart. With 7 Habits, I've just finished going through it for the fifth time. I learn more each time.

You may find my other articles on the book helpful, too.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on December 10, 2012:

Hi Sid. Thanks for the inspirational hub. I shall certainly read the book now. Sometimes it's difficult to plow on after a setback but it is essential to do it to achieve success. Seasons greetings to you.

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on December 08, 2012:

Glad you made it! If you like "being present," be sure to check out my articles about Zen, too. And my holiday wish for you - may your browser be reliable! : )

Kerry43 on December 07, 2012:

Hi Sid, how are you? Thanks for writing this comprehensive review - I have popped open several other links on the side to go read shortly.

I think my favorite part of this hub was the reminder about "being present". I think that is one of the most vital steps to achieving anything we do, be it personal or otherwise.

I'm glad I made it back here today. I had your profile loaded yesterday to take a wander through your hubs and when my browser crashed I had to take s step back lol.


Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on October 01, 2012:

I look forward to working with you.

Charlu from Florida on September 30, 2012:

No I haven't but am definitely interested. It sounds like something that would help keep me on track, which is always a great thing! I will email you. Thanks

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on September 30, 2012:

Thanks, Charlu. Have you ever been part of a 7 Habits study group? Email me if you're interested.

Charlu from Florida on September 30, 2012:

Thank you so much for reminding me of this book and how it needs to be read again, and again because of the results it helps to bring forward. Definitely perfect timing for me especially when it comes to my morning beginning with a LISTENING spirit. Take care and thanks again.

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on September 28, 2012:

Thank you, Emanate Presence.

I really like your formulation of looking at both our shadows and our fixed ideas. You say it so simply!

And this profound work is part of the healing of the world.

Gary R. Smith from the Head to the Heart on September 27, 2012:

Opening to ourselves with love and awareness is certainly a key. The door that it opens may be personally defined. For me, the door leads to the path of conscious evolution. And it does begin with self-awareness and self-responsbility. If I choose to evolve, I must be willing to let go of fixed ideas and look at my shadows as well. There have been many of both over the years, such as judging, over-analyzing and becoming numbed by thought, having strong opinions, and so on. I still practice to avoid labelling, comparing, competing, applying my values to how others 'should' be. It is growing more natural for me to allow, accept, observe and simply be. I love living in the Happening and the magic of life. Thank you for sharing the insights you have gained, Sid.

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on September 19, 2012:

Thank you, VisionAndFocus! You are right on target. When we beat ourselves up, how can we safely heal the deep and tender pains within us around disappointment and failure. Let us open to ourselves with love and awareness.

visionandfocus from North York, Canada on September 18, 2012:

I love the book. Reading this hub makes me want to read it again. I have this saying of his that you quoted up on my wall : "Self-growth is tender; it's holy ground. There's no greater investment."

So many people beat themselves up when they don't achieve what they meant to. I used to be one of them. Now, I realise the importance of being kinder to myself. Self-care really pays dividends, perhaps not in obvious materialistic terms, but in ways that truly matter. After all, when you feed your soul, you cannot help but feel more serene and shine more brightly.

Will go on to read the rest. Thanks for taking the time to share.

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on August 07, 2012:

Thanks, KrisL! May you move from inspiration into action and find the benefits of effectiveness blossom in your life soon! :D

KrisL from S. Florida on August 07, 2012:

I have found this whole set of hubs to be truly inspiring.

Thanks, Sid.

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on July 26, 2012:

Excellent insight, Claudia! The challenge is, in part, that changing a paradigm requires unlearning something we know, and don't even know we know. That is, we need to let go of beliefs we don't know we have. That is why self-awareness is such a key element. And I find it essential that it be loving self-awarenes. When we judge ourselves, thinking "what do I have to change?" we only hide from ourselves, making change harder.

Claudia Tello from Mexico on July 26, 2012:

These habits sound like things we really should work on. Nevertheless, I can also tell that they are much easier read than done, especially in what changing our paradigms is concerned.... I find that part always the hardest part of life-changing endeavors: truly changing the way we think about life, that´s the challenge!

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