The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary

Book Summary: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

No matter your achievements, there is always room to improve.  So, why not reap the rewards of Stephen Covey’s careful study of more than two-hundred-years of research on the subject of —success. 

Enjoy this book summary of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which offers the following seven profound solutions to reach toward your full potential:

  1. Being proactive: Don’t react to the world. Instead, take charge of your life.
  2. Beginning with an end in mind: Visualize an ideal future and developed a plan to get there.
  3. Putting first things first: Prioritize what’s important to get closer to your vision of the future. 
  4. Thinking win-win: Build positive relationships to accelerate your vision.
  5. Seeking first to understand, then to be understood: Learn to listen to everyone. 
  6. Synergizing: Harmonize with others and yourself to achieve more.
  7. Sharpening the saw: Live a sustainable life and recharge to be effective in the long-term.

Book Summary:
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen, R. Covey

Before jumping into this summary of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it will be helpful to understand the seven habit’s core building blocks:

  • The Character Ethic
  • The Inside Out Approach
  • Paradigms
  • Habits
  • P/PC Balance

The Character Ethic

Shortly after World War I, the cultural lens surrounding success shifted from the Character Ethic to the Personality Ethic. The Character Ethic focuses on the fundamental strength of one’s character, while the Personality Ethic, focuses on public relations, skills, and positive mental attitude. 

While the Personality Ethic is sometimes necessary for success and can be handy for quick fixes, ultimately success built with this ethic will crumble, for lack of fundamental character strength. 

The Character Ethic is based on the notion that most humans share and value fundamental natural principals, like integrity, honesty, fairness, human dignity, service, and growth. These principals, in turn, regulate personal effectiveness. 

While the Personality Ethic and it’s quick fixes may be appealing. To succeed in the long term, the Character Ethic should be of primary importance, while building Personality Ethic based skill should be secondary.

The Inside Out Approach

The Inside Out Approach: an approach that values private victories over public victories. 

To improve our relationships, business, or family, we must first strengthen our self by developing character-based principals.  

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.

T.S. Eliot

Paradigm Shift

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

Albert Einstein

Before moving on to the seven habits, it’s vital to understand how “paradigms” shape our lives, and how a paradigm shift can revolutionize it. 

A paradigm is a mental-map used to navigate through life. And, false paradigms (like using the wrong map) will lead to nowhere. Imagine trying to navigate through New Jersey with a map of California.

Most paradigms (mental-maps) divide into two primary groups: reality maps (the way things are), and value maps (the way things should be).

Through introspection and practices like meditation, you can become more self-aware and discover your basic maps. When found, make sure to eliminate maps that aren’t serving you. 

Rapid Paradigm Shift

Paradigm shifts can come in a flash, or they can be developed slowly over time. 

For example, massive and nearly instant paradigm shifts are common to those who have experienced a near death experience. When faced with death, our life suddenly becomes clear, and we know who we want to be, and what we want to do. We become principal centered.

The good news is you don’t need to have a near-death experience to have this kind of rapid paradigm shift. Later (habit 2), we will conduct an exercise that can produce similar results.


Habits frame our character, and in no small degree define who we are. To develop character, deeply embedded habits like procrastination and selfishness must be broken. Likewise, you will need to make new habits to strengthen your character. And of course, this will all take effort. 

To succeed in developing new habits based on fundamental principals, you will need to motivated by a higher purpose, and you must be willing to sacrifice what you want now for what you want in the future. 

P/PC Balance

As you begin to invest in yourself and others, you will want to make sure you are also investing in the maintenance of these (for lack of a better word) assets, so they will keep producing.  The author calls this act of renewal—the P/PC Balance.

P= production

PC = Production Capability. 

For example, if you buy a bike to commute to work and you fail to get it tuned-up regularly, the bike over time will become unusable. And, the cost to repair the damage may end up being higher than the value of the bike. You might lose a half day of work. Or worse, you may get hit by a car because your brakes failed.  Investing in maintenance saves you time, money, and your life.

In this case, P (production) is commuting to work, and P/C (production capability) is the regular tune-ups.

So, balance P and P/C to be Effective.

How to Use The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Summary

This summary of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is an integrated approach to personal and interpersonal development. Each habit, when done in sequence, prepares you for the next and strengthens the previous. The summary of the seven habits will also move you progressively from dependence to independence and finally to interdependence. 

  • Habits 1,2, and 3 will help you develop self-mastery— private victories.
  • Habits 4,5, and 6 will focus on teamwork, cooperation, and communication— public victories.
  • Habit 7 is the renewal and balancing of the six preceding habits. 

Read this book summary of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as if you will be teaching it to someone else. Even better, actually teach it to someone within two days of reading it. 

Be patient, and understand growth is an incremental evolution, that in time, will lead to a personal revolution.

That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods.

Thomas Paine

Habit 1, Summary:
Be Proactive

Being proactive is the first habit of a highly effective person. Proactivity does not imply merely taking the initiative: It is taking extreme responsibility for our lives, and knowing that our behavior is governed by conscious choices based on our values and not based on conditions or feelings.

Look at the word responsibility—“response-ability”—the ability to choose your response.

Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

A common paradigm used to shrug off responsibility is known as the deterministic paradigm. It says: Everything is predetermined—so why bother to try and make things better.  

Deterministic Paradigm:

  • Genetic determinism: Your grandparents did it to you. 
  • Psychic determinism: Your parents did it to you.
  • Environmental determinism: Your boss did it to you. 

It is comfortable and convenient to blame your genes, bad parenting, or the economy for your troubles. In any case, you are the only one who is responsible for your current condition. No matter your situation there is always at-least one choice you can make to live a better life: You can choose how any situation affects you.

For example, a psychiatrist named Victor Frankl was imprisoned in the Nazi death camps of Germany.  In the camps, daily life was horrendous, and there seemed to be absolutely no freedoms whatsoever.

However, Frankl chose not to give up and discovered that no matter what the Nazis did to him, they could not take away his choice to decide how his imprisonment would affect him. He found this fundamental principle: Between stimulus and response, we have the freedom to choose (how that stimulus will affect us). 

While imprisoned, Frankl imagined a brighter future free of tyranny.  A future where he could share the lessons he had learned. Through horrid suffering, he nurtured this one freedom, and in doing so, his positive attitude inspired and uplifted fellow prisoners and even some of the guards. 

It is a hard pill to swallow, but, to be effective, you must honestly feel that you are where you are today, because of the choices you made yesterday and the days before that. 

Reactive and Non-Reactive Language

When you use phrases as I cant, he makes me so mad, and if only, you create self-fulfilling prophecies. On the other hand, using phrases such as I can, I choose, or I prefer, will manifest change. 

Circle of Concern

To be proactive, you must take control of your life, including what worries you: This is called the Circle of Concern. This circle consists of everything that we are preoccupied with, like health, money, car payments, and so on. Inside this circle of concern is another circle, known as the circle of influence: Inside the circle of influence is all the things we have control over.

Proactive people focus on things they can change and thus increase there circle of influence. And, the larger your circle of influence is, the more effective you will be, and the less time you spend worry about things that will never change anyhow. 

Three kinds of problems

  • Direct (our behavior): solved by working on our habits 1,2, and 3
  • Indirect (other’s behavior): solved by changing methods of influence (habits 4,5 and 6)
  • No control (The Universe): solved by learning to accept what life has given.

Consequences and Mistakes

Expanding your circle of influence will inevitably lead to some mistakes and consequences. To take full advantage of this summary of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you must become a genuinely proactive person who immediately acknowledges, corrects, and learns from any mistake.

Making and Keeping Commitments

Pivotal to all the habits and central to the circle of influence is an ability to make and keep promises. Whether setting a goal or promising someone something, if you can’t follow through you will have nothing. 

The power to make and keep commitments to ourselves is the essence of developing the basic habits of effectiveness.

Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Actionable Tips

Listen to your language. What does it say about you? How often do you use reactive phrases like, I can’t, if only, or I have to?

Select a problem and determine if it is indirect, direct, or no control. Identify what step you can take inside your circle of influence to solve it. 

Challenge yourself to expand your circle of influence by being proactive for thirty days.  

Habit 2, Summary:
Begin With the End in Mind

All too often, many of us float through life without spending the time to find out who we are and what we want. Without a clear direction, you’re sitting in the passenger seat of consciousness. Habit 2 in this summary of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People will help you learn to visualize like a pro to move yourself into the driver seat of life.


Before you decide to do any one thing, you actually do it twice. First, you imagine what you will do, and then you do it. And, what you imagine happens to influence the outcome significantly.

For example, the best athletes have long known the power of visualization. An outstanding gymnast envisions completing the routine perfectly and winning a gold medal before she ever sets foot on the mat. 

By visualizing a better future, you too will enhance all that you do, from washing the car to landing your dream job. 

Beginning with the end is knowing both your destination and how you will get there. 

A Funeral

Imagine you are at a funeral, sitting amongst all your friends and family. And, when you peek into the casket, you see yourself. Yes, you’re an ethereal ghost with some unfinished psychic business. Now, reflecting on your life, what would you hope that your family, friends, and coworkers will say about you? What kind of person were you to them?

Write down your initial thoughts. These impressions are likely central to who you are and who you want to be.  These impressions will be useful to visualize your future best self and build a plan (Personal Mission Statement) to get there. 

Personal Mission Statement

Developing a personal mission statement is my favorite exercise in this summary of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I recommend you give it a try and update it regularly.

Now that you’ve imagined yourself filled with formaldehyde, you’re prepared to put yourself in the driver’s seat of life. 

And, the author believes the best way to take control of your life is by developing a Personal Mission Statement or philosophy. This mission statement (or personal constitution) will focus on who you want to be (character), what you want to do (goals), and what values and principles will get you there.

Before you drop what you’re doing and vomit a nine-thousand-word manifesto, consider how important this is, and how difficult it can be to know one’s self honestly. Developing this mission statement should take time. And, it should also be to the point.

For example, a personal mission statement can look like this:

I will:

  • Be honest, especially to myself.
  • Be grateful for everything.
  • Maintain a positive attitude.
  • Not be afraid to fail.
  • Listen more than I speak.
  • Concentrate on the present moment.
  • Never speak ill of anyone.
  • Plan tomorrow today.
  • Cherish and develop relationships.
  • Give back.

So, lubricate and impregnate your future with good by making sure your mission statement centers around your values, and the fundamental principals mentioned previously.

Group Creeds

Besides making a Personal Mission Statement, you can also make a mission statement for any group, including families and businesses.  When you develop these kinds of group philosophies, you must get everyone involved in the creation, or it will never work. These group statements should reflect the groups shared vision and set of common values. 

Practical Application

Schedule time for yourself, either a long weekend or an hour every night for a few weeks to think, collect ideas, and write your mission statement. 

Habit 3, Summary:
Put First Things First

Habit 3 in this summary of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People will focus on developing personal management skills that will actualize Habit 2’s visualizations. And, before we move on, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What can you start doing today, that if done regularly will have a large scale positive impact on your personal life?
  2. What is one thing in your professional life that would reap similar results?

The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do.

E. M. Gray

Effective Time Management

Time management can be summed up as: Organize and execute around Priorities.

And, Checklists, calendars, and prioritizing tasks will only take you so far. If you focus on the before mentioned management skills, you will likely be concentrating on things that may seem important at the moment, but are not. Your priorities are wrong.

Do not let the illusion of busyness fool you into believing you are effective. To be truly effective, you must focus on your long term goals (found in your mission statement ) for the future. 

Activity Quadrants

To focus on your mission statement’s priorities, the author has developed a four by four matrix to help organize all your activities. It is subdivided by things that are Important/not-important and urgent/not-urgent.

Quadrant I: urgent & Important (taxes)

Quadrant II: not-urgent & Important (personal mission statement) 

Quadrant III: urgent & not-important (most emails)

Quadrant IV: not-urgent& not-important (Netflix) 

Many people spend way to much time in Quadrant IV. For example, even activities like binge-watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo isn’t going to make your life better in the long run; Afterward, you may have a clean house, but if you haven’t worked on your character, you will likely revert to old habits in a short time.

Likewise, if you focus on Quadrant I or Quadrant III, you may feel like your getting a lot done when you’re actually running around on an endless hamster wheel manufactured by an ocean of emails and similar pitfalls.

Live in Quadrant II 

To be truly effective, you must focus on Quadrant II. Yes, you still must attend to Quadrant I ( do your taxes). However, you will find the more you concentrate on Quadrant II (the things that matter to you), the less Quadrant I activities you will have to deal with. Focusing on Quadrant II allows you to begin to think preventively by utilizing the P/PC Balance principal. 

Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems.

Peter Drucker

Learn to Say No

To get time for Quadrant II, you will begin to have to say—No. By saying “no” to things that aren’t in the interest of your mission statement, you will be able to spend more time in Quadrant II.

In the beginning, you will have to say no to many things in Quadrant III and IV. 

Focus on the Week

Principal-centered Quadrant II living will require flexibility. So, to gain flexibility in your calendar, organize your life weekly. Of course, you may still schedule daily activities. However, the focus should be on the week. To do so, Identify key Quadrant II goals that are important to you and plan the rest of your week around those.

This schedule should allow flexibility for any unanticipated events. Again, knowing your mission will give you the clarity to know when something falls outside it. And, inevitably some activities will need to be removed from your schedule to accommodate unexpected Quadrant II activities—like dinner with friends. 

Habit 4, Summary:

The only longterm viable paradigm of human interaction is Win/Win and Win/Win or No-Deal, all other paradigms will lead to resentment and mistrust in the losing party. On the other hand, a Win/Win mentality will build trust, while contributing to the emotional bank account of others. Trust leads to open communication, fosters learning, and generates creativity.

Six Paradigms of human interaction 

  1. Win/Win
  2. Win/Lose
  3. Lose/Win
  4. Lose/Lose
  5. Win
  6. Win/Win or No-Deal

Imagine you are a salesman with a Win/Lose mentality. So, you take advantage of people. Surely these people will not refer their friends or come back another time. In the long run, you have lost new customers and only gained a brief monetary victory. On the other hand, if you win and also give customers what they want (a fair deal), they will be happy to recommend friends and will be back the next time they need more of what you offer. 

Of course, there will be times when both parties cannot win. In this case, no-deal should be sought, leaving future opportunities on the table. 

So, adopt the abundance mentality, and recognize there is enough for everybody. By giving more— you get more.

Win/Win Tips

  • Be clear and concise.
  • Focus on results.
  • Separate the person from the problem.
  • See the issues from their point of view.
  • Identify key issues.
  • Determine what results will provide a Win/Win solution.

Habit 5, Summary:
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.


Consider the countless hours of education you have received. Now ask yourself— how many hours have you spent learning to listen and understand someone. If you’re like most, your answer is likely near zero. 

Listening is a skill, and like any other skill, you must learn and practice it. 

Influence Others

If you want to influence anyone, you must understand what they want. To know this, you need to listen empathically. And, this can’t be done with techniques; people are good at sensing false motives. You must truly care.

You have to build the skills of empathic listening on a base of character that inspires openness and trust. And you have to build the Emotional Bank Accounts that create a commerce between hearts.

Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Empathic Listening 

When most people listen they usually filter the conversation from their autobiography, or are likely listening to generate a reply. Neither is listening. To truly listen to someone, you must seek to understand, read in-between the phrases, and carefully analyze body language. In essence, you must feel what they are feeling. 

The better you listen, the more you will be showered with honesty and insight, and when you understand a person, you will be equally capable of giving insight back. Also, you will discover that we all see the world differently and there can be more than one right way of seeing things.

Emotional Bank Account

To get the most out of life, you will need to build authentic, trusting relationships that are in line with your mission statement. To do so, you will have to make deposits into your relationships Emotional Bank Accounts. To do this, you will want to listen empathically, stop speaking ill of others, learn to apologize immediately, love freely, treat everyone with dignity, and make your expectations clear. And of course, this will require attentive P/PC care. In short—treat others the way you want to be treated.

If you’re going to bow, bow low.

Chinese Proverb

Habit 6, Summary:

To understand synergy, look to the universe. The universe is synergized perfectly. If any of the fundamental laws of the universe were different, the universe could not exist. That is synergy. And, you too can bring this incredible power into your life by synergizing with others and yourself.

Group Synergy

Be interdependent (trusting and relying on others) and you will be able to accomplish things no single man can. 

The key to group synergy is respecting peoples differences, realizing every person has something to offer, developing a win/win for the group, and empathically listening to everyone.  

Personal synergy

Our brain is composed of two hemispheres— generally speaking, the left side is good at logic, math, and speech, while the right side is good at imagining, creativity, and feeling. To be your best (synergized) self, you must use both sides of your brain to their full capacity. Respecting both your analytical and creative sides will lead to greater success. Each side of you has something to offer. Do not stifle one over the other.  

Habit 7, Summary:
Sharpen The Saw

The law of the harvest governs; we will always reap what we sow—no more, no less.

Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

If a lumberjack fails to sharpen his blade, eventually no matter how hard he works he will not be able to fell a single tree. Likewise, if you don’t spend time taking care of yourself, physically, mentally, socially/emotionally, and spiritually, no matter how hard you work, you will never be effective.

Four Dimensions of Renewal

  1. Physically: Create a workout routine, something you enjoy doing. 
  2. Mentally: Seek never to stop learning. Read often. Learn new skills. 
  3. Socially/Emotionally: Serve others and make a difference. Develop meaningful relationships. 
  4. Spiritually: Inspire and uplight yourself. It doesn’t matter if it is meditation, prayer, or hiking through nature.

Sharpening your saw, in any one dimension will positively impact the other dimensions. For example, your physical health affects your mental health, and your mental health affects your social life, which all affects your spiritual life. 

The author recommends spending at least one hour a day sharpening the saw.  

Upward Spiral

To reach any new level of progress, you must— learn, commit and do. And then repeat. And then, keep on repeating. Renewal will help power an upward spiral of continuous improvement.


Living the 7 Habits is a constant struggle for everyone. Every­one falters from time to time on each of the seven and sometimes all seven simultaneously. They really are simple to understand but difficult to consistently practice. They are common sense but what is common sense is not always common practice.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I hope you have enjoyed this book summary of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

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