Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen R. Covey analyzes the deep-rooted character traits that define a genuinely successful human being. As opposed to the personality ethic, which consists of superficial manipulative motives and offers only short-term success, Covey investigates the character ethic -- a paradigm of living which ensures long-term success by forcing a person to live by universal, enduring principles of goodness which cannot be faked.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
"Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose."
This is Covey's way of summarizing the human ability to choose how they will respond to life's challenges; an ability that is uniquely human. While other creatures are truly slaves to genetics, upbringing, and environment, human beings have the amazing capacity for self-awareness. This means we have an incredible amount of control over our own destinies; we can take a step back from ourselves and decide how we want to live out our lives, regardless of our so-called "luck." Between the time we receive a stimulus and the time when we respond to that stimulus, we have time to reflect and choose how we will approach life. This is our chance to "subordinate an impulse to a value." This is a wonderful ability to have, yet it carries a tremendous personal responsibility. We can no longer blame our genes, our parents, our boss, our job, or our neighbors for any of the choices we make in life. We must be proactively in charge and engaged at all times. Then we are in control of our own character, and nothing or no one can hurt our character unless we allow it.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Some people believe that whether we enter heaven or hell upon dying depends on the way we look back at our life. If we feel successful and loved, if we feel that we have been hard-working and true, we will feel a great joy upon dying a reflecting on our lifetime. On the other hand, regardless of our material success, if we've failed to foster deep and lasting relationships and commitments, we will likely feel a great sense of loss and bitterness at the prospect of death. This "end," the ultimate day of reckoning that determines our true success as a human being based on the values we've upheld over the years, is the idea that Covey wants us to keep in mind for Habit #2. If we keep this "end" in mind when choosing our "stimulus-responses," we are much more likely to make character-based, ethically-sound decisions that have a positive impact on our lives. If we have a mental "map" of everything we want to accomplish in life, particularly in terms of the way others will speak of us after we are gone, we will be taking a powerful personal leadership role in our own lives. We will not be subject to impulsive, emotion-based choices that seem attractive in the short-term but will backfire in the long-run. By taking advantage of our capacities for imagination, conscience, and self-awareness, we can write our own personal "script" for life, rather than being a slave to externally-imposed scripts.
We can begin this journey by focusing on the center of our "Circle of Influence" in life, or "the lens through which we see the world." From this vantage point, we need to write out a personal mission statement or personal philosophy to live by, that we can refer to at any time we feel a need for guidance. This personal mission statement should be based on the kind of person you want to be and the things you want to achieve ("roles and goals"), according to universal ethical principles. As Covey mentions, you cannot achieve lasting success if this personal philosophy speaks from any center other than a right-brained, philosophic center based on these principles. Some examples of faulty centers include family, money, work, possessions, pleasure, friend, enemy, church, self, or spouse. Allowing yourself to remain centered on any of these things, as opposed to principles themselves, will prevent you from becoming the most successful person you can be.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
This habit refers to the "exercise of independent will toward becoming principle-centered." In other words, now that you've chosen to take control of your life and live that life according to a set of ethical principles, it's time to apply those principles moment by moment, day by day. You achieve this practical application of principles in everyday life through effective self-management. As opposed to personal leadership philosophy, which must stem from your creative right brain, self-management must be rooted in your logical, "time-bound" left brain. Covey lists four "generations of time management" to guide this self-management, all centered around the idea of prioritization: notes and checklists, calendars and appointments, goal-setting, and a final return to focus on relationships and results. Highly effective people have learned to master the art of prioritization, or using time and energy only for relationships and projects which lead them toward their principle-centered goals. The ultimate key is always remembering that people come before things; you need to schedule, yet never lose sight of the big, long-term picture.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Living by the win/win philosophy is the first step toward taking your newfound independence to the next level -- the level of interdependence. At this higher level, you are just as concerned with the well-being of others as you are with your own well-being and success. You know how to "take the high road," and creatively look for solutions that will benefit everyone involved. In this way, you ensure that everyone is working together and contributing their unique gifts to the task at hand, for the greater good. This means maintaining a balance between courage and consideration, following the Golden Rule, and living according to integrity, maturity and an awareness and appreciation for the abundance of life -- or remembering that "there is enough for everybody."
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Achieving success in life means achieving success in personal relationships; success in personal relationships is achieved through effective, empathic interpersonal communication. Being empathetic means taking the time and putting forth the effort to genuinely listen and understand another person's point-of-view and emotional outlook (and keeping this in mind) before offering your own viewpoint. In this way you are offering that person a very basic human need -- psychological survival, or personal affirmation and appreciation. We cannot truly connect with another person unless we feel they fully understand and validate us as a separate person with a unique viewpoint. And only after you've successfully connected with another person, can you hope to successfully work together toward a mutually beneficial goal.
Habit 6: Synergize
Working with others toward mutually beneficial goals is at the heart of the sixth habit -- synergy. Synergizing means recognizing the value of your relationships with others in making results possible that would otherwise be impossible. Knowing that you cannot do it alone, knowing how to effectively delegate responsibilities, and practicing empathic communication puts you in a powerful, dynamic interdependent paradigm with other people, in which results are maximized and optimized through cooperation. This cooperation is based on the ability to value human differences, recognition that in order to achieve greatness, "it takes all kinds." It means letting go of our defenses and self-protections in the name of creativity and progress. It means working to find a "higher" solution to the problem that is beneficial for everyone, rather than settling for compromise.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Unless you take care of yourself by working continually to renew your physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional health, you cannot hope to maintain success as a principle-centered person. The foundation of a successful life is good health and…