Learning How to Apply "The Seven Habits": a Practical Summary
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?
Or Do You Choose to Be Open, Aware, and Free?
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."
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?
Where does the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sit 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.