The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

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Right, OK. Here we go – it’s time to sit up straight and concentrate. We’re about to become HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE. Oh yes.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey (once described as the American Socrates) is one of those self-help classics (20 million copies sold in 38 languages) that most people know the name of but nobody has actually read. At least not past chapter one.

I’ve had this book for nearly ten years and have never got past the first few pages of the 300 page textbook – even though I’ve tried a couple of times. Every time I try my eyes just slip right off the page and into a deep meditation about what to eat for dinner. Or how spotty I am. Or whether I should sell some dresses on Ebay. It makes me the very opposite of Highly Effective.

But still, it is regarded one of the most important self-development books out there.

Covey, who died in 2012, aged 79, was old-school. He talk about on ‘restoring the character ethic’ and ‘principle centred living’. The book contains diagrams such as these:

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He was personal adviser to the heads of three-quarters of all Fortune 500 companies (the largest firms in America) and the presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay and South Korea. Bill Clinton loved him.

And even though it’s quite business-y, the book is really about how to live a good, effective life.  It’s not just about getting more done but getting more of the right things done.

Covey argues that most us spend our 2014-10-14 17.39.22lives climbing ladders only to realise that they were leaning against the wrong building. We need to think about what’s really important to us. What’s our higher purpose? How would we like to be thought of after we’ve died?

This greater goal should be in our heads everyday.

He uses the Aristotle quote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act, but a habit”

So here are the seven habits in a nutshell: 

1) Be Proactive – we may not be able to control much of what happens to us but we can control our reaction to it. Stop blaming others, stop being a victim, take responsibility for yourself, your actions, your words and your thoughts.

2) Begin with the end in mind – How do you want people to talk about you at the end of your life (there’s an exercise where you have to write your eulogy) and keep that in mind every single day.

3) Put first things first – We all get caught up in whatever urgent dramas are happening in the day and by doing this we don’t get around to doing the things that are important to us.

4) Think win/win – real success does not occur at the expense of others. In every situation we must strive to make the other person happy too.

5) Seek to understand/then be understood – empathy, genuine listening and caring etc is the key to good working/personal relationships and therefore the key to success/happiness.

6) Synergise – once you’ve really listened and worked to create win-win situations with others, amazing things happens. Like Brene Brown he believes that the point in life is good connections with other people – particularly your family.

7) Sharpen the Saw – we are the saw in this scenario. In order to keep being the best you can be you need to be a ‘sharp saw’ not a tired, blunt one. I know, I don’t quite get the imagery either but we stay sharp by keeping physically and mentally fit, taking time out to rest, looking after our spirituality etc.

And there you go. Covey believed ultimately that what is important to all of us is serving other people – our family, our community. He thought that the modern happiness industry is rubbish because there are no quick fixes – happiness only comes from living a good, conscience-driven life.

As I said, it’s old school. No looking in the mirror and loving yourself, or walking around muttering affirmations about abundance. It’s a very unselfish outward looking book, which is refreshing. It’s tapping in nicely to all the stuff the nuns used to say at my old convent school. (Covey was a Mormon by the way, just a little titbit.)

I found this handy summary for people who can’t face reading the real thing. I’m going to finish the 300 pages if it kills me, but reckon I’ll be leaning on that summary a lot.


And if you’d like to join me and buy the book please click below. It’s an affiliate link which means I get a tiny portion of the sales, which helps me to keep the blog going. There’s no extra cost to you.

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In the meantime goodbye and I think you’re all fabulous. xx

7 thoughts on “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

  1. Michelle Bunt

    I’m like you. I’ve tried several times to get through it, but every time somewhere around page 30-40 I get sleepy, or bored, or hungry. Which is weird for me cos I’m something of a self-help junkie. It’s very dry. But I do like the old-fashioned principles particularly win-win.

  2. Marianne Power Post author

    It’s weird, isn’t it?! There must be something in the sentence structure that makes it almost impossible to get through.. well, not impossible. I’m going to keep going… How are you? x

  3. lonestarsky

    I’ve managed to read it twice….mainly because it didn’t sink in the first time. Reading it somewhere quiet with a pencil to underline the relevant/interesting points made it much easier. I think its worth persevering with!

  4. Doretta

    I read it almost 20 years ago, it seems like. And I purchased his planning system AND I still use his calendar today.

    I can still tell you what my personal mission statement was from my work with the book.

    To use the talents Gawd has given me to bring the people in my life closer to Him.

    My belief in the divine has changed in 20 years…and now my personal mission statement is from Maya Angelou…people will remember how you make them feel.

    I still use Covey’s basic concepts to plan my day and my projects. I believe he was a true leader in helping professionals look at their lives and ask themselves what their true goal was.

    Today I’m also use Zen To Done….my goals are simpler. Lololololol

    1. Marianne Power Post author

      Haven’t got to the planning chapter yet Doretta, but I’m looking forward to it. I need that. I hope you’re well.

  5. David Palmer

    The advice I once heard was that if you find this book hard work then try his son Sean’s 7 Habit of Highly Effective Teens. Its not condescending to say it’s easier to follow – same concepts, easier language. Better pics as well.

    I have read it, listened to it, have 3 copies in my line of sight and swear by it. I’m not religious and neither is the book. It’s a mammoth burst of common sense in a systemised form.

    If you ‘get it’, it will be meaningful. Persevere!

    1. Marianne Power Post author

      I am persevering, David, and I can see the sense and wisdom in it. I read somewhere that it’s so old-fashioned it feels almost revolutionary and I agree with that.


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