The 7 habits of highly effective people

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One book that has touched the lives of millions of people is "The 7 habits of highly successful people" by Stephen Covey. It is one of the most famous success books out there.

What makes this book different?

Covey researched literature about success from the last 200 years. He found that in the previous 50 years, most books focused on achieving success based on your outward appearance: how you dress, your social skills, and your personality. 

Before then, authors and writers focused on the opposite. How to achieve success based on your personal qualities: your character, integrity, humility, courage, and justice.

"The 7 habits of highly effective people" brings back wisdom from before the 1920s. Developing your character is the basis for its foundation of success. 

Who are highly effective people?

Highly effective individuals can be described as influential and successful people. 

What are the habits I need to learn?

There are seven habits that Covey recommends. Here is a summary of each.

1. Be proactive

Are you reactive or proactive?

Reactive people are concerned about things they cannot control: politics, the weather, the economy, other people's opinions, and past mistakes. 

The negativity of reactive people:

  • They complain about circumstances out of their control
  • Their performance and mood are affected
  • They don't take ownership of the things they can control

On the other hand, proactive people have different mindsets. They realise that they have the power to be in control of their life, not to let their environment control them.

The positivity of proactive people:

  • They don't complain about things they can't control
  • They stay in a positive head space 
  • They take action to improve the things they can control

Instead of being wrapped up in circumstances around them that they cannot change, proactive people are concerned with things that they can control. These are their attitude, learning skills, enthusiasm, hobbies, who they spend time with, and healthy habits.

2. Begin with the end in mind

Covey says that everything is created twice. First in the mind, and then in the real world. To accomplish anything, you must first imagine it and then make it happen.

This applies to living a successful life.

How do you want to live your life? Where do you see yourself 5, 10 or 15 years from now? 

If you don't make a plan, you will wander aimlessly in life with no purpose. Or you could be so busy with activities that you don't notice that the goal you were striving for wasn't what you wanted.

How to apply this habit

  • Have purpose and intention in everything you do
  • Create goals for your personal, professional, and home life
  • Instead of asking what life has to offer you, ask what you can offer it

3. Put first things first

The third habit from Covey is to put first things first. This means priortising the steps you need to do to achieve the goals you created in habit 2.

What is the most important thing in your life?

It might be your significant other, your family, your faith, completing a degree or qualification. The most critical thing is not to check Facebook or Instagram. So why put this first each day instead of working towards what matters?

Question the hobbies, addictions, and things that get most of your attention. Everything you do should be help you become better. Remove anything that is trivial and wastes precious time.

How to prioritise 

The traditional to-do list is too long and isn't listed in order of priority. A weekly calendar is better but, one interruption and the list for each day is thrown off.

A better way to prioritise is with a quadrant designed by Covey: 

1. Urgent & Important

These are tasks to be dealt with immediately:

  • Work deadlines
  • A crisis
  • Pressing problems

2. Important but not urgent

Things that need and deserve your attention:

  • Planning and preparing
  • Relationships
  • Improve your health

3. Urgent but not important

Tasks to delegate or deal with as quickly as possible:

  • Interruptions such as phone calls and texts
  • Administration
  • Housework

4. Neither important nor urgent

Activities to delete or postpone:

  • Computer games
  • Scrolling through social media 
  • Watching series or movies

Success, balance, and growth are found in box 2. The tasks you place under "important but not urgent" are usually neglected but are a valuable use of your time. Your health, fitness, hobbies, family, and planning are all covered here.

4. Think win-win

Win-win is a term most of us are familiar with. Covey suggests that these are the types of relationships we should be looking for. 

Win-win is where both parties benefit from a deal. 

Win-lose, lose-win, and lose-lose, are all poor outlooks. In these situations, you may take more than you give. Consider if you are being selfish in relationships and failing to compromise. Likewise, consider if you are spending too much time with people that take a lot from you but don't provide value in your life.

This is related to having a scarcity mindset: believing that there aren't many choices out there and settling for something subpar. 

Instead, we should have an abundance mindset. We have a large number of excellent options available to us if we have the patience to find them. This works for relationships and business opportunities.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Covey tells a compelling story to describe this concept. He is having a talk with his son but can't get through to him about some issue they are having. Covey turns to a friend for advice and says, "I just don't understand my son and why he won't listen to me."

The friend said, "you can't understand your son because he won't listen to you? To understand someone, you should listen to them." And this is something to be aware of. Remember to truly listen to someone in order to appreciate where they are coming from.

Everyone has their own experiences in life, their own values, opinions, beliefs, and memories. To understand someone, you must first learn to master empathic listening:

  • Think about the other person's perspective 
  • Understand how they are feeling 
  • Think about why they feel this way
  • Make them feel safe to open up to you
  • Don't jump to give advice before sympathising

Most people don't listen with the intention of understanding. They listen only with the intent to reply.

6. Synergy

The idea behind synergy is that people bring a unique mix of opinions, ideas, perspectives, and strengths to the table. These should be celebrated and maximised instead of merely tolerated.

An example is when a CEO brings all his department managers and experts together. Each one has a different specialism, unique skills, and a business perspective. A CEO will consider all of his ideas to come up with the most appropriate solution.

In personal relationships, you can use the strengths of each other to face problems and to create amazing memories. Celebrate each other's uniqueness and work together as a team. 

The essence of synergy is to value the differences in others. Appreciating these will encourage a feeling of trust in others, creating openness and more drive to give.

7. Sharpen the saw

Imagine a man cutting a tree with a dull saw. Another man sees this and says, "You should sharpen that saw, otherwise, you will spend six hours cutting that tree."

The other man said, "I don't have time to sharpen the saw."

The onlooker responds, surprised, "If you spend half an hour sharpening your saw, it will only take 3 hours to cut down the tree. You don't have time to not sharpen the saw!"

This example can be applied to ourselves. We are like a saw. To sharpen it, we need to invest in four areas: physical, spiritual, education, and relationships.

To improve the physical:

  • Take care of your health
  • Attend the gym, play sports, walk more
  • Eat a healthy, clean, and wholesome diet
  • You only have one body in your life

To improve the spiritual:

  • Meditate and pray
  • Dedicate time to your faith
  • Music and art activities

To improve your education:

  • Continue to learn and explore
  • Expand your knowledge in your specialisms
  • Start learning new skills, new courses, read about a new subject
  • Teach others
  • Immerse yourself in another culture
  • Learn a new language

To improve your relationships:

  • Spend time socially
  • Strengthen your current relationships
  • Make new friends
  • Invest in your family

To summarise

Making these seven habits a part of your life will reap the rewards. Instead of just understanding them intellectually, apply them in practice. Live them. Make these habits part of your routine and teach them to others. It will be a challenge at first, but with patience, these ways will help you reach new heights and levels of effectiveness.

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