The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Siim Land

Whatever you do habitually is a part of you and is constantly shaping your destiny. Your results in anything you do depend highly on who you are as a person. This article talks about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and how you can become one.

The Outline of This Article

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is the bestselling book of Stephen Covey – it is a fundamental piece of literature in personal development, management, business and leadership.

This is going to be quite a thorough overview of Covey’s book and a meta-article about how you can implement the 7 habits into your life to become more effective.

Table of Contents:

The 7 habits are blueprint characteristics to becoming a high performing individual in any area. What’s more, they’re not only important for developing the traits for your personal growth but to also achieving the results you’re after in your life today.

Before you can start implementing the 7 habits, you have to understand a few concepts that lay the groundwork for truly becoming effective and embodying it with no faking.

Let’s get to it!

Understand Your Paradigms

The word “paradigm,” coming from Greek (ˈparədʌɪm), was originally coined as a scientific term, but is used today as an agreed-upon model, a theory or frame of reference. In a general sense it means the way we perceive and interpret the world.

Remember this: The way we see things is the very reason for why we think and act in a certain way. We must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as at the world we see, and realize that the lens shapes how we interpret the world.

The paradigm shift is the “Aha!” or “Eureka!” moment when we finally see things from another perspective and “get it.” Thomas Kuhn, who introduced the term in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolution, showed that almost every significant breakthrough in science breaks traditions, smashes old ways of thinking and swaps out paradigms. As Covey says: “The way we see the problem is the problem,” (Click to Tweet) which means we have to change ourselves and our perceptions to come up with a new solution.

Your ways of thinking and behaving are like the branches and leaves of the tree, whereas paradigms are the roots from which our attitudes and behavior stems from. It’s obvious that the root cause of everything we do depends on our perception of the world and how we decide to behave based on those world-views.

Principles and Practices

Principles are natural laws that are woven into the fabric of nature, culture and society. They are deep fundamental truths that can be applied universally in almost any situation. Practices on the other hand are specific actions or activities. What makes someone a master isn’t the practice itself but understanding its principles.

Covey also studied over 200 years’ worth of literature on success and personal development. He discovered a very important change in the way people perceived those two concepts over the course of time.

In the past, achievement was held high by Character Ethic (traits like integrity, humility, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity and modesty). But after the 1920s, the view of success shifted to what Covey calls Personality Ethic (governed by public image, attitude and feeding one’s ego).

Today most people are looking for “get rich quick schemes” and “shortcuts.” They want to game the system and get what they want without putting in the effort. Even if they do get a chance to exploit the loopholes or get lucky, they would still eventually fail because of not understanding the principles. They have no idea how true growth and development works in any area.

To make things permanent, you have to go through each step of the progression. It starts by deciding to change who you are and aiming for developing a Character Ethic. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu “…and can be taken only one step at a time.”

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Covey defines a habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. All three are quintessential components to making something a habitual part of ourselves.

  • Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why.
  • Skill is the how to do certain practices.
  • And desire is the motivation, the want to do.

Highly effective people also follow a progressive continuum of maturity and growth.

The Maturity Continuum

  • Dependence is the paradigm of YOU – you take care of me, you come through me, I blame you for the results. (The victim mentality)
  • Independence is the paradigm of I – I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose. (Self-mastery)
  • Interdependence is the paradigm of WE – we can do it: we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together. (Collective union)
The Maturity Continuum as in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The Maturity Continuum as in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The Structure of the Seven Habits:

  • Habits One, Two, and Three are about self-mastery that move a person from dependence to independence.
  • Habits Four, Five, and Six are focused on developing teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills, and moving from independence to interdependence.
  • Habit Seven is the habit of renewal – continuous improvement of yourself and regular refinement of your skills. This one circles and embodies all the other habits.

The Seven Habits are not separate quick-schemes. They create a sequential and highly integrated approach to the development of personal and interpersonal effectiveness that move a person from dependence to interdependence. It’s a natural growth of the maturity of your character and work.

Habit One
Be Proactive

In principal, we’re in full control – we’re the boss. Being proactive means that you don’t let your situation dictate your reality. It’s about taking extreme ownership over one’s life and rising above circumstance.

This whole concept stems from meta-awareness, which is the ability to think about our own thought process. We can create models of ourselves from an external perspective. Such heightened self-consciousness is uniquely human and distinguishes us from the animal kingdom.

We are not our feelings, our moods nor our paradigms but the higher awareness behind them. Self-awareness is the fundamental perception of effectiveness because you have the possibility to choose to optimize your behavior.

  • Being reactive means that you take a passive stance towards life – the world is happening to YOU and the problem is somewhere out there. Such people say things like: “There’s nothing I can do,” and will simply stand there while getting beaten. Or when they fail miserably: “That’s just who I am – I have those failure genes.” Because of their own limiting beliefs and doubts, they start re-creating their own self-fulfilling prophecies over and over again.
  • Proactive people, on the other hand, realize that they’re in control – they have the responsibility and “response-ability,” which is the ability to choose how you’re going to react to a given stimulus or situation.

How to Become Proactive

The first principle of proactivity is initiative. Rather than waiting for the Universe to throw paint at you, you venture forth and make your own terms with life. It’s about acting or being acted upon – taking the first step yourself instead of waiting for the perfect moment or a divine revelation to hit you. At the same time, you don’t take uncalculated or disorganized action either. You’re grounded to the reality of the situation but you also realize that you have the power to choose your response.

Secondly, you have to pay close attention to the words you’re using. Language has a huuuge impact on the way we perceive the world and what beliefs we have. People who talk reactively take the responsibility off themselves and project it onto others or their circumstance.

  • Reactive language: There’s nothing I can do. That’s just the way I am. He makes me so mad. They won’t allow that. I have to do that. I can’t. I must. If only. Even if I did do it, I would fail.
  • Proactive Language: Let’s look at our alternatives. I can choose a different approach. I control my own feelings. I can create an effective presentation. I will choose an appropriate response. I choose. I have the discipline. I will.

Be very careful about how you talk to yourself – what words are you using to describe who you are, the circumstances you’re in and how you’re going to behave in any situation. Our thoughts and perceptions create our reality.

Choose Your Circle of Influence

The third way to become more proactive and self-aware is to look at where we focus our time and energy. Within our entire Circle of Concern (everything that concerns us) there lies another Circle of Influence (things you can do something about). There are some things we’re in control of and others which we are not.

  • Reactive Focus: Concentrate your efforts in the Circle of Concern – other people, problems in the environment and circumstances over which they have no control. Blaming, reactive language, and increased feeling of victimization creates negative energy that shrinks the Circle of Influence.
  • Proactive Focus: Concentrate your efforts in the Circle of Influence – work on the things you can do something about, such as your perception, your attitude, behavior and habits. This energy is by nature positive and starts to enlargen the Circle of Influence.
The Circle of Incluence and Circle of Concern
The Circle of Incluence and Circle of Concern

To determine in which circle our concern is in we have to distinguish between the have-s and the be-s.

  • The Circle of Concern is full of have-s: “I’ll be happy when I have my house paid off.” “If only I had more discipline.” “If I could just have more time.”
  • The Circle of Influence is filled with the be-s: “I can be more patient.” “I can become who I want to be.” “I have enough willpower to be the greatest person I can be.” This is the character focus.

A reactive thought paradigm is “outside-in” – what’s out there has to change before we can. The proactive one is Inside-Out: choosing to be different, and in so doing, to have a positive change on what’s out there.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Even though we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions. When we choose a response in any situation, we also choose the consequences that follow.

Sometimes we make mistakes and wrong decisions that cause consequences we would much rather live without. The feeling of regret belongs also to the Circle of Concern and the proactive approach acknowledges that. What’s in the past is in the past and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it right away, correct it, learn from it and prevent making it in the future again. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that you’re not ever going to fail. Much rather, it’s about turning failures into successes.

When you look at any great achievement then rarely can you see the case in which success happened instantly in one shot. Of course the exception enforces the rule, but most successful people pave their road to greatness with numerous failures. They’ve face-planted on the pavement so many times that they simply became numb to the pain, thus reached their glory through sheer repetition and pure willpower.

But this doesn’t mean you should aim for failure. Instead, focus on being proactive and acting, as opposed to being acted upon. Taking more action exposes you to more risk but it also grants you the possibility of achieving something extraordinary. Proactivity is about moving forward one fail after another and stepping over your past mistakes until you reach the desired outcome.

Action Steps Towards Becoming More Proactive

Actually following some actionable steps is especially important with proactivity because the term itself entails taking action. What can you do to implement Habit One into your Character Ethic?

  • Take the initiative. Don’t wait for the world to happen to you but make your own terms with the world. Your dreams and plans won’t turn into fruition if you simply wait for them to fall into your lap. It’s much better to begin moving and make your adjustments along the way.
  • Start using proactive language. Be very careful what vocabulary you use to describe anything, especially yourself and what you think is possible. Change your paradigm.
  • Concentrate your efforts on your Circle of Influence and focus on what you can control.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, learn from them and turn your failures into future successes.

Habit Two
Begin with the End in Mind

Beginning with the end in mind means that you start with a clear understanding of your destination. You know where you are going and where you are currently so that you could be sure that the steps you’re taking are leading you in the right direction.

It’s too easy to get caught up with activities, people and commitments that don’t serve any significant importance to us. You can be busy – very busy – without being very effective. Most people keep working extremely hard but never stop to evaluate whether or not they’re on the right track. They don’t ask themselves if the things they do actually matter to them. Don’t distract yourself with the minutiae but stay macro-focused on your purpose.

Begin with the End in Mind” is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s the first mental construct or an idea and then the second physical or manifested creation.

An important point to remember in this is that not all first creations are by conscious design. If we lack self-awareness and proactivity then we become subject to the conditioning of other people, the society and our afflictive habits. Without us even noticing it we may potentially be following the path that has been laid before us by someone else. That’s why it’s essential you realize that you are the creator and in control of your own life.

Become the Leader of Your Life

Habit Two is based on the principles of personal leadership. It’s the first creation and not similar to management, which is the second one.

  • Management is bottom-line focus: How can I best accomplish certain things? Am I doing things right?
  • Leadership is top-line focus: What are the things I want to accomplish? Am I doing the right things?

You need to come to terms with what are your values as a person and what do you want to accomplish with your life. Based on that, you need to have a clear strategy that would lead you to the desired outcome without getting sidetracked.

Rescripting: Becoming Your Own Creator

Before you start setting any goals and achieving them, you have to identify what your values are in the first place. Because we’ve been unconsciously programmed ever since birth by everyone else, we have to re-write our own script.

Rescripting or Paradigm Shifting is changing some of the most basic paradigms we have. It’s about swapping out the faulty ones with ones that serve us.

To rescript yourself, you have to have enough self-awareness to withdraw from your analytical mind and to look at your paradigms objectively. Try to see whether or not your beliefs and values are beneficial or harmful to you.

  • One great technique for this is meditation. It’s a great method for developing greater meta-awareness. It also helps you in being more proactive by enabling you to not associate yourself with your thoughts or emotions.
  • Another one is self-enquiry. Knowing thyself is the essential component to living a life that’s meaningful to you. Keeping a journal, deep thinking and memorizing past memories can help you gain a better insight to who you truly are.

A Personal Mission Statement

For Covey, the most effective way to Begin with the End in Mind is to create a personal mission statement or creed. It’s based on what you want to be (character) and to do (contribution and achievements) and on your values.

A few examples of different personal mission statements:

  • “I will seek to balance career and family as best I can since both are important to me. My home will be a place where I and my family, friends, and guests find joy, comfort, peace, and happiness.”
  • “I will be a self-starting individual who exercises initiative in accomplishing my life’s goals. I will act on situations and opportunities, rather than be acted upon.”

Once you have a greater mission to pursue you become the essence of your own proactivity. Your values have already determined the direction you’re heading towards. Both your short-term and long-term goals are also set – it’s a system based approach that’s founded upon who you are as a person.

To create your mission statement, you can use creative visualization and imagination. In principal, you envision your life as how you want it to look like, empower that feeling and then write it down.

Your Source of Power

Rescripting your narrative and writing a personal mission statement begins from the center of our Circle of Influence, from which our most basic paradigms are derived. It’s the lens through which we see the world and the core essence of our vision and values.

Whatever lies at our center of life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom and power.

  • Security is your sense of self-worth, your identity, emotional anchorage, self-esteem and personal strength or lack thereof.
  • Guidance is the source of direction in life. It’s your internal frame of reference that governs your moment-by-moment decision making and acting.
  • Wisdom is perspective on life. You use it to understand how the different parts of the whole integrate with each other and how they apply with various principles.
  • Power is the faculty or ability to act – the strength and potency to make things happen. It’s pure energy that transmutes intentions into reality and is derived from your willpower.

These four factors are all interdependent and enable you to create a harmonious character out of yourself.

Your Center of Paradigms

Every one of us has a personal center or core paradigms through which our life flows. Let’s look at some of them and how they relate to our source of security, guidance, wisdom and power.

  • Spouse centeredness. Your sense of security comes from the relationship with your partner. Direction is based on your own needs and those of your significant other. There is strong emotional dependence.
  • Family centeredness. Personal worth comes from family traditions and culture, which makes you vulnerable to changes in those domains. You don’t have a lot of emotional freedom or power to act because of family models.
  • Money centeredness. The same with money – if your net worth is the source of your self-worth then you’re vulnerable to anything that affects that net worth. This paradigm bases all of your decision making on creating profit.
  • Work centeredness. Your self-identity comes from your work e. “I’m a doctor, a musician, an actor.” You behave as a function of your vocation – your guidance, wisdom and power are limited to what you do and are mostly ineffective in other areas of life.
  • Possession centeredness. Your security is based on your material possessions, your reputation and social status. Because of comparing your worth with others, your self-identity is always fluctuating.
  • Pleasure centeredness. The decisions you make are motivated by maximizing pleasure and gain. You want to get more and more enjoyment without ever coming off the high. Such people have the danger of falling victim to too much TV, too many long-lasting vacations, binge eating and overall too much undisciplined leisure time with no greater purpose.
  • Friend centeredness. The source of your 4 factors is a function of the social mirror. You’re highly dependent on the moods, opinions and attitudes of others.
  • Enemy centeredness. You’re motivated to get at your enemy. Such people tend to be more defensive, aggressive, paranoid and over-reactive.
  • Church centeredness. All of your paradigms are determined by your religion and the community of your church.
  • Self centeredness. Often selfishness. There isn’t a lot of security, guidance, wisdom or power in the limited center of the self. However, it can be used to constantly change and shift your perspectives by seeing how decisions, events or circumstances affect you.

None of these centers are ideal nor optimal for increasing your effectiveness as a person. Instead, you should strive to be principle-centered. Principles aren’t reactive – they aren’t influenced by the moods of others, the economics; don’t scream at you nor bring you flowers. Principles are omnipresent. This centeredness gives the power to YOU, which is determined by your degree of knowledge and meta-awareness.

Action Steps to Begin with the End in Mind

To achieve something worthwhile, you have to begin with the end in mind. Follow these action steps to discover your destination and purpose.

  • Become the leader of your own life. Determine what you want to accomplish? What do you want to be remembered for?
  • Identify where your center of paradigms lies. Where do you draw your sense of security, guidance, wisdom and power.
  • Rescript your paradigms based on your core values and purpose. Determine whether something is helping you or not.
  • Write a personal mission statement using visualizations to give yourself a roadmap to follow.


Habit Three
Put First Things First

When Habit Two is the first creation – the ability to envision and imagine the potential to what could be – then Habit Three is the second creation – the physical manifestation. It’s the real world embodiment and actualization of your Character on a day-to-day basis, moment-by-moment.

Personal leadership is about beginning with the end in mind, but effective self-management begins with putting first things first. Once your course is set, you have to have enough discipline to do what’s most important as well.

To maintain focus on your path, you have to have an indomitable will – the ability to make decisions and to act according to them. Your willpower is one of your most powerful faculties. With enough mental toughness, it can carry you through hell and back. It takes discipline to cultivate but will give you the freedom to live.

Effective Time Management

Habit Three deals mostly with questions of time and life management. All of your activities can be categorized under two factors: urgent and important.

  • Urgent – requires immediate action. “NOW!” It’s the fire in your kitchen, the lion chasing you that’s right in front of you. Urgency acts upon us and is most of the time unimportant.
  • Important – based on your higher purpose and mission. You want to get as great results as possible because it contributes to your values and high priority goals.

This creates a four quadrant matrix of time management with appropriate responses for any situation:

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Quadrant I


·         Crises

·         Deadlines

·         Pressing problems

Do it now

Quadrant II


·         Planning

·         Relationship building

·         Seeking new opportunities

Decide when

Not Important Quadrant III


·         Distractions

·         Interruptions

·         Meetings


Quadrant IV


·         Procrastination

·         Time wasting

·         Max pleasure

Do it later

A reactive person does only what’s urgent – they begin to act once sh#t hits the fan and it’s all over their face. They also procrastinate and do stuff that aren’t actually important nor effective. Being busy does not mean you’re being productive or contributing towards what you want to achieve.

The best place you want to be in is Quadrant II. It’s the sweet spot where you don’t have to stress out on pushing deadlines or put out random fires. This is the realm of proactivity, where you’re free to do what matters most to you without feeling rushed.

Learn to Say “NO” and “Yes”

To get to Quadrant II, you have to learn to say “no” to other activities that are sometimes even urgent. You have to decide what are your highest priorities and have enough courage to reject other things. There needs to be a bigger “YES” burning inside you that calls you towards your purpose.

To determine what’s most important, use the Pareto’s principle or the 80/20 rule. What 20% of my activities will give me 80% of the results? You would also want to via negativa everything in your life, starting from your material possessions, habits and ending with people and your energy.

Quadrant II managing is about planning one week at a time and involves 4 key activities

  • Identifying roles: write down your key roles as an individual – a parent, a son, a daughter, a partner etc.
  • Selecting goals: what are the two or three most important results you should accomplish in each role during the next seven days.
  • Scheduling: schedule your week with your goals in mind. Put first things first if it’s possible and focus on what’s most important.
  • Daily adapting: reviewing your progress every day and maybe making some necessary changes.

The paradigm of Quadrant II is seeing things through the lens of importance and not getting side-tracked by things that seem urgent. But I would still advise you to create some urgency in what you do. It will make you pick up your feet and makes life more exciting.

Action Steps to Putting First Things First

To actually accomplish your purpose that’s in an alignment with your core values, you have to do what’s most important first. This is achieved by following a Quadrant II meta-focus.

  • Identify an activity from Quadrant II that you’ve been neglecting in your life but what’s very important. Write it down and commit to it.
  • Create your own time management matrix and determine what percentage of your time do you spend in each quadrant.
  • Log your time for 3 days. How accurate was your estimate? Are you satisfied with how you spend your time? How much time do you spend in Quadrant I, II, III and IV?


Habit Four
Think Win-Win

When Habits One, Two and Three were supposed to teach you self-mastery and personal governance, then Four, Five and Six are all based on interdependence. They’re the paradigms of co-operation in the name of Public Victory.

Thinking Win-Win is not a technique but a philosophy of human interaction – one of its paradigms. Here are all six of them:

  • Win-Win: all of the parties win. Agreements and solutions are mutually beneficial to everyone involved.
  • Win-Lose: “If I win, you lose.” Win-Lose people tend to use their power, position, possessions and authority to get their way.
  • Lose-Win: the other way around – “I lose, you win.” This is the paradigm of people pleasing. Lose-Win people seek popularity and validation.
  • Lose-Lose: both people lose. This happens when two Win-Lose people get together both of whom are stubborn and ego-invested. It’s the philosophy of conflict and war.
  • Win: simply think win. People with the win mentality don’t necessarily want others to lose – it’s irrelevant. They just want to get what they want.
  • Win-Win or No Deal: if you can’t reach a mutually beneficial agreement, then there is no deal.

The best option is Win-Win because it also creates better relationships with other people. Win-Lose or Lose-Win undermines your future interactions.

Having an Abundance Mentality

When solving Win-Win situations you have to keep in mind two factors: consideration and courage.

High Courage Low Courage
High Consideration Win-Win Lose-Win
Low Consideration Win-Lose Lose-Lose

Character is the foundation to Win-Win and it involves three essential traits: integrity, maturity and an abundance mentality.

An Abundance Mentality is the paradigm that there is more than enough out there for everyone. Most people have the opposite mindset and see things as scarcity – it’s the zero-sum paradigm of life.

  • Scarcity Mentality: you can’t be genuinely happy for the success of others. Your sense of self-worth comes from possessing things or other people. Others should be the way you want them to be. You see resources as scarce and want to keep them to yourself.
  • Abundance Mentality: a deep flow of inner sense of personal worth and security. Sharing of prestige, recognition, profits and decision making. This paradigm turns the joy, satisfaction and fulfillment of Habits 1-3 outward into creating interactive growth and Third Alternatives.

Win-Win relationships are built and maintained on the foundation of character. It’s based on mutual trust, the emotional bank account, that’s shared and in constant interaction with others.

Action Steps to Thinking Win-Win

Start thinking Win-Win, following these guidelines.

  • Think about an upcoming interaction wherein you will be attempting to reach an agreement or negotiate a solution. Commit to maintaining a balance between courage and consideration.
  • Make a list of obstacles that keep you from applying the win-win paradigm more frequently. Determine what could be done within your Circle of Influence to eliminate some of those obstacles.
  • Select a specific relationship where you would like to develop a Win-Win Agreement. Try to put yourself in the other person’s place, and write down explicitly how you think that person sees the solution. Then list, from your own perspective, what results would constitute a win for you. Approach the other person and ask if he or she would be willing to communicate until you reach a point of agreement and mutually beneficial solution.
  • Identify three key relationships in your life. Give some indication of what you feel the balance is in each of the Emotional Bank Accounts. Write down some specific ways you could make deposits in each account.
  • Deeply consider your own scripting. Is it win-lose? How does that scripting affect your interactions with other people? Can you identify the main source of that script? Determine whether or not those scripts serve well in your current reality.
  • Try to identify a model of win-win thinking who, even in hard situations, really seeks mutual benefit. Determine now to more closely watch and learn from this person’s example.


Habit Five
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

The single most important principle of effective interpersonal communication is this: seek first to understand, then to be understood. Before we can communicate with someone else in hopes of giving them advice, making a proposal or effectively interacting with them in any way, we must first deeply understand their point of view and perspective through empathic listening.

For another person to open up and share how they really feel, you have to base your skills of communicating on a character that inspires openness and trust. This habit involves a massive paradigm shift. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. They’re either speaking or preparing to do so. Everything they hear gets filtered through their own lens and they project their own autobiography onto other people’s behavior.

Empathic listening refers to listening with the intent to understand, both intellectually and emotionally. It’s supposed to get you inside another person’s frame of reference – you look through it, understand how they view the world, understand their paradigm and understand how they feel.

Covey points out that, according to communication experts:

  • 10% of our communication is represented by our words
  • 30% is represented by our sounds
  • 60% by our body language

In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also listen with your eyes and heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning.

Diagnose Before You Prescribe

Before you start even thinking about proposing a solution or making an offer to someone else, you have to first understand where they’re coming from. What’s their situation, condition and purpose? The key to good judgement is understanding. By judging first, a person will never be understood.

By default, we tend to listen autobiographically – through our own paradigm – and respond in one of four ways:

  • We evaluate – we either agree or disagree
  • We probe – we ask questions from our own frame of reference
  • We advise – we give counsel based on our own experience
  • We interpret – we try to figure people out, to explain their motives, their behavior, based on our own motives and behavior

The skill of empathic listening involves four developmental stages:

  • First and least effective is to mimic content. This is “active” or “reflective” listening – you’re basically repeating what comes out of someone else’s mouth
  • The second stage is rephrasing content. You’re putting the meaning into your own words by incorporating the reasoning, logical left side of the brain.
  • Thirdly, you bring in your right brain and reflect feeling. Here you’re not paying much attention to what’s being said but to the way the other person feels about what they say.
  • The fourth stage includes both the second and third. You rephrase the content and reflect the feeling. By using both sides of your brain, you’re understanding both sides of the communication.

Authentically listening and seeking to understand helps the other person work through their own thoughts and feelings. This develops trust and makes any barriers of communication disappear. It opens up a soul-to-soul flow.

Know How to Be Understood

The second part to Habit Five is knowing how to be understood, which is equally critical in reaching win-win solutions. In Habit Four, we defined maturity as the balance between consideration and courage. Seeking to understand requires consideration; seeking to be understood takes courage. You need both for a high degree of Win-Win.

How to be understood?

  • The key lies in first seeking to understand, empathically listening to them, seeing their paradigm
  • and then presenting your own idea back at them through the lens of THEIR paradigm.

Knowing how to present your ideas clearly, specifically and contextually you increase your credibility quite significantly. By listening empathically you’re not wrapped up in your own head – you really understand and thus lift your integrity.

Habit Five is right in the middle of your Circle of Influence. You can always first seek to understand because it lies within your control.

Action Steps to
Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood

This is something you can practice right away.

  • The next time you communicate with someone, put aside your own autobiography and genuinely seek to understand. Don’t push but be patient and respectful.
  • Spend one-on-one time with your close friends and family. Listen to them, understand them.
  • Share the concept of empathy with someone close to you. Tell them that you want to work on really listening to others and ask for feedback in a week. How did you do? How did it make the person feel?
  • The next time you have an opportunity to watch people communicate, cover your ears for a few minutes and just watch. What emotions are being communicated that may not come across in words alone.
  • Next time you catch yourself inappropriately using one of the autobiographical responses – probing, evaluating, advising, or interpreting – try to turn the situation into a deposit by acknowledgment and apology. (“I’m sorry, I just realized I’m not really trying to understand. Could we start again?”)
  • Base your next presentation on empathy. Describe the other point of view as well as or better than its proponents; then seek to have your point understood from their frame of reference.


Habit Six

Synergy is the essence of Principle-Centered Leadership. It catalyzes, unites and unleashes the greatest powers within people. Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One plus one equals three or more.

Synergistic communication opens up your mind and heart to new possibilities, novel solutions and unique perspectives, which would remain hidden otherwise. It grants the collective spirit access to higher levels of creativity and co-operation.

How to introduce synergy to your interactions? The beginning points are Habits Four and Five – you must think Win-Win and first seek to understand, then be understood. Once you have those covered you can come to terms with a common goal. It’s almost as if a group collectively agrees to subordinate old scripts and to write a new one. This creates excitement and makes everyone work on the same side of the problem.

How to Create Synergy

Covey believes that the key to interpersonal synergy is intrapersonal synergy, that is synergy within ourselves. The heart of this is embodied in the principles of Habits One, Two and Three. This gives you the internal security to be able to handle the risks of being open and vulnerable.

By creating an environment of trust and safety, we make others feel secure enough to become extremely open about their ideas. They begin to bounce off the thoughts of their companions and come up with even greater insights.

Valuing the differences is the essence of synergy — the mental, the emotional, the psychological differences between people. And the key to valuing those differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.

Seeking synergy allows you to avoid negative energy and come up with a Third Alternative that is Win-Win for everyone. It also helps you to handle interpersonal situations a lot better and encourages others to be open. Most importantly, it exponentially increases creativity and is essential for achieving common goals.

Action Steps to Creating Synergy

Here’s some things you can do to create more synergy in your interactions.

  • Think about a person who sees completely differently than you. Try to figure out ways how those differences could be used as stepping-stones to Third Alternative solutions.
  • Make a list of people who irritate you. Could some of their views lead to synergy, if you had greater intrinsic security and valued the differences?
  • Identify a situation in which you desire greater teamwork and synergy. What conditions would need to exist to support synergy? What can you do to create those conditions?
  • The next time you have a disagreement or confrontation with someone, attempt to understand the concerns underlying that person’s position. Address those concerns in a creative and mutually beneficial way.


Habit Seven
Sharpen the Saw

Habit Seven is about balanced self-renewal and improvement. Instead of simply doing something and being busy as a way of distracting yourself, you actually take the time to deliberately sharpen the saw.

It’s protecting and enhancing the four dimensions of your nature – physical, mental, social/emotional and spiritual. Each of them need to be exercised and taken care of regularly. This is proactive Quadrant II activity, and Quadrant II needs to be acted upon.

The Physical Dimension

The Physical Dimension involves taking care of our physical body – eating good quality nutrition, exercising regularly, getting enough rest and sleeping adequately.

I believe this to be the quintessential component to any type of personal effectiveness. Think about it for a moment – your entire existence depends on your consciousness, your consciousness that stems from within your body. Lacking physical health or not having energy will prevent you from even rolling out of bed not to mention achieving your purpose.

The goal of continuous physical improvement is to exercise our body in a way so that we could be strong, healthy and have more energy to do what we love to do. It’s true – adequate physical movement will make you more vigorous, happier and bestows you with an Abundance Mentality.

Most people say that they don’t have enough time to exercise. Now that’s quite the distorted paradigm to have, don’t you think? In reality, there are really no excuses. As was shown by the author of Body by Science, Doug McGuff, even just 12 minutes of extremely high-intensity resistance training per week causes a sufficient response for improved health and longevity. (Watch the video about other circulating fitness myths)

The fact is that, if you’re not proactively acting upon your fitness, then it will eventually act upon you. Eating garbage food, not sleeping enough, neglecting physical exercise and other poor lifestyle habits will inevitably creep upon everyone, including you. By avoiding certain bad activities in the first place, you avoid the risks all together. You need to cut the roots of affliction before they delve too deep.

The Mental Dimension

The goal of mental improvement is to expand your knowledge and mind. Most people stop learning after school but that’s where their life only begins. What a shame and waste of potential. To really manifest your greatness and creative genius, you have to become a non-stop seeker of knowledge.

To keep improving yourself mentally you can read books, go to seminars, take courses, watch educational programs, journal your thoughts and practice thinking skills. Begin with the end in mind and focus on the topics that are most important to your life.

Another time excuse? Can’t seem to make enough room in your daily schedule to read for even just 30 minutes? Take a look at all of the other activities you do – how much do you watch TV, talk on social media and procrastinate? A lot I would imagine. Put first things first and set your priorities straight. Looking back at your life, you’ll be glad you didn’t waste your time and spent it on things that are more meaningful.

The Social and Emotional Dimension

Renewing ourselves socially is about developing meaningful relationships. It’s based on the habits of effective interpersonal leadership and creative co-operation.

To keep yourself fresh emotionally, we can

  • Practice empathic listening
  • Seek to deeply understand the people who are important to us
  • Contribute to a meaningful project that improves the lives of others
  • Maintain an Abundance Mentality
  • Empower others and help them find success

This dimension involves seeking Win-Win situations and coming up with Third Alternatives that are mutually beneficial to everyone.

The Spiritual Dimension

The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system and provides leadership to your life. It draws upon the sources that inspire and uplift you.

There are many ways you can reinvigorate yourself spiritually:

  • Practice meditation – it heals the body, recharges the mind and nourishes the soul. The main premise is about becoming more aware of yourself and knowing how to direct your inner currents of energy to the channels that are most important to you. (Free guided meditation soundtrack)
  • Experience a sense of awe – take a moment to dwell on the beauty of life. Realize how magnificent it is to be alive and how amazing the world actually is. Really dig deep into this feeling – the vast size of the universe and the infinite amount of potentials that we all have.
  • Spend time in nature – connect with the source of life itself. Go for a walk in the woods, enjoy the sunshine, listen to the birds singing and get in touch with your intuitive side.
  • Reflect back on your life. Being too busy also prevents you from ever noticing where you’re going. Maybe you’re heading in the wrong direction. In any instance, you should still take the time to go through your most meaningful memories and recollect your senses.

Regular sharpening of your spiritual saw helps you to practice Habit Two as well, which is about beginning with the end in mind. You can revise and evaluate your core values and never stray from the path of your purpose.

Scripting Others

You should also consider sharpening the saw of others. Most people are constructed by their social mirror and are heavily influenced by the opinions, perceptions and paradigms of others. This is a shame because it prevents them from embodying their true self.

To become more effective interdependent people, we can empower others by affirming their proactive nature and treating them as responsible, principle-centered, value-based and independent individuals. Because of us having an Abundance Mentality, we’re in no way diminishing ourselves. In fact, we’re making ourselves that much greater by creating opportunities to practice our own proactive nature.

Goethe said: “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” Self-actualization is the natural desire of our psyche. We yearn to grow and become better. If you don’t, then you’ve fallen into the dangers and attained a victim mentality.

Balance in Renewal

Continuous self-renewal is a balanced process that includes improvement in the four dimensions of our nature. Every one of them is important, but growth only becomes effective as we deal with all of them.

Balanced renewal is optimally synergetic. As you sharpen the saw in one domain, the other dimensions will also receive a positive impact because they are so highly interrelated. Your physical health affects the state of your mind, your relationships, spiritual strength and vice versa.

This connection manifests itself in all of the Seven Habits as well.

  • The more proactive you are (Habit One), the more effectively you can exercise personal leadership (Habit Two) and management (Habit Three).
  • The more effectively you manage your life (Habit Three), the more Quadrant II renewing activities you can do (Habit Seven).
  • The more you seek first to understand (Habit Five), the more effectively you can go for synergetic win-win solutions (Habits Four and Six).
  • The more you improve in any of the habits that lead to independence (Habits One, Two, Three), the more effective you will be in interdependent situations (Habits Four, Five, and Six).
  • And renewal (Habit Seven) is the process of renewing all the habits.

Renewal is the principle — and the process — that empowers us to move on an upward spiral of growth and change, of continuous improvement.

Action Steps for Sharpening the Saw

Here are the things you can do for continuous self-renewal.

  • Make a list of activities that would help you keep in good physical shape, that would fit your life-style and that you could enjoy over time.
  • Select one of the activities and list it as a goal in your personal role area for the coming week.
  • At the end of the week evaluate your performance. If you didn’t make your goal, was it because you subordinated it to a genuinely higher value? Or did you fail to act with integrity to your values.
  • Make a similar list of renewing activities in your spiritual and mental dimensions. In your social-emotional area, list relationships you would like to improve or specific circumstances in which Public Victory would bring greater effectiveness. Select one item in each area to list as a goal for the week. Implement and evaluate.
  • Commit to write down specific “sharpen the saw” activities in all four dimensions every week, to do them, and to evaluate your performance and results.

Here’s to Becoming Your Greatest Being

Those are all of the 7 habits of highly effective people. If you were to incorporate these into your life and regularly cultivate them, you would set yourself up for long-term success and prosperity.

The key take-away should be that, as Aristotle put it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Our behavior, the activities we do and the thoughts we have all scream back at us who we are as a person.

Even more so, the paradigm through which we see the world dictates our perception of it. Limiting beliefs and doubts begin to re-create self-fulfilling prophecies that confine us. But the power of choice is within all of us – we can choose to change and become as great as we can be.

T.S. Eliot: “We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”

Never stop growing.

Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is an amazing book that everyone should read. I advise you to check it out yourself.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Join the Body Mind Agoge to start your Hero’s Journey of self-actualization. Check out my YouTube channel as well about videos of Body Mind Empowerment