Book Cover
  • 15th December 2017

Stephan R. Coveys “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” {Book Review}

If I had six hours to chop down a tree, i’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe — Abraham Lincoln

Book Cover

The book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a self-development book by Stephan R. Covey.  In his book, Covey identified seven habits that world-class performers have that, in his opinion, are responsible for their effectiveness.  It has sold more than 25 million times and is one of the most influential books in US history.  To this day, this book helps millions of readers to become more effective in their personal and professional lives.

This book was recommended by presidents, CEOs, and educators, and has helped people all over the world to improve their business.

Who Is Dr Stephen R. Covey

Dr Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012) was a world-renowned authority on leadership and family relations.  He held a Bachelor of Science from the University of Utah, an MBA from Harvard, and a PhD from Brigham Young University.  Dr Covey served as Vice Chairman of Franklin Covey Co. and was an in-demand speaker, teacher, and organisational consultant.  Throughout his career, Dr Covey brought new insight and understanding to millions of readers and students.(1)

7 Habits Of Highly Effective People Summary

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is a self-development book.  It is written by Covey’s idea that there are universal patterns and commonalities among highly successful people, which we can mimic.

A habit is a routine or ritual, a pattern of action or thinking, a behaviour that is done over and over again.  By observing highly effective people, Stephan identified habits that are responsible for their effectiveness.

In my opinion, it is also a book about effectiveness, and it could easily be labelled the 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People, because while reading this book, you will catch yourself doing totally the opposite, and you will deconstruct in many areas why you are not as effective as you want to be.

Why Did I Read The Book 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

The focus point of my interest right now is to find habits that lead to happiness and success, and habits that one should stay away from.

One thing that, in my opinion, is a major contributor to unhappiness is to be ineffective.  Progress and growth equal happiness, in my opinion.  Conquering dreams and visions is mandatory to create a compelling future and gives us a sense of movement and control.  Highly effective people are in charge of their lives, and they possess something necessary to be happy and successful: self-efficacy.

On the contrary, in my investigation of unhappiness, I tried to deconstruct the habits and mental patterns of unhappy people and people with mood disorders in psychiatric facilities.  Also, I had huge academic problems because I was constantly not getting the results that I wanted.

One thing that unhappy people and people with depression have in common is that they all seem to have very low self- efficacy.  They do not believe that they have the means themselves to change their situation, and because of that, they lose faith in their future.  If you lose the ability to change and to grow, then if you experience pain, this pain feels like it will last forever, and you will lose all hope, and you become lethargic.

People who are successful and happy on the other side seem to get the things done that are necessary for them to become the person that they want to be.  They maximise their resources, and they have high confidence in themselves and in their ability to find the answer to whatever problem will come up.

Yes, this book is called the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but if you think one step further, it is also a guide on how to “not” do things, and how to be unsuccessful and ineffective.

I am interested right now in comparing the extreme spectrums of human behaviour with each other.  I believe that often people who are outliers when it comes to happiness or unhappiness, do almost the opposite.

For example, people with depression seem to avoid things, while happy people more often face their fears and act despite fear.  While successful people have a system that does the thinking for them, unsuccessful people seem to be really disorganised.

I believe that nature is fair if we mimic the habits and mental patterns of highly effective people, we will eventually get similar or at least better results.  This was one of the reasons that I created this blog.  I wanted to have an excuse to become a full-time student of human behaviour and deconstruct the habits of people who are kicking ass in life and mimic my behaviour after them.

What Are The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People?

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood
  6. Synergise
  7. Sharpen the Saw

The book starts with an explanation of how many successful people still struggle with an inner need for developing personal effectiveness and creating a balanced life where they have happy relationships with other people.

He believes that the way we view the world is based on the perception of ourselves.  To change how we see the world, we must change.

It is not about finding shortcuts to success and finding short-term solutions; it is about changing our values, and becoming the person that we need to be to constantly create the results that we want to have and be in the mindset of our choice.

Covey calls this a paradigm shift.  We not only change our behaviours on the surface, but we must change our self fundamentally.

  • Habits 1-3 are focused on moving from dependence to independence.
  • Habits 4-5 are focused on collaboration and creating a network around you with the necessary communication skills, and moving from independence to interdependence.
  • Habit 7 is focused on continuous growth and improvement.(2)

Habit 1: Be Proactive

The first habit of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is being Proactive.  This means that highly effective people have in common that they do not just sit and wait for problems to happen.  They are in control, and if they want something, they do not just wait until the universe magically gives it to them.  They make it happen.  This habit, for me, means taking ownership of your life.  When I worked in a psychiatric facility, I analysed the language of people with depression to find patterns to stay away from.  One of the commonalities that I found (in other patients and myself when I was depressed) was the lack of ownership of your own life and destiny.

From unsuccessful people, I often heard sentences like “There is nothing I can do”, “That’s just the way things are”.

They feel like they are not in charge of their life.  Their self-efficiency is super low.  They are not proactive.  Humans need a sense of control to feel happy.  If you live in a mindset where you believe that life is happening to you and not for you, you think there is nothing that you can do.  You do not think solution orientated, every problem that you have seems to be final.  I think humans need the illusion of being in control over their future and that things are going to get better, because of the effort that we put in.  Losing this hope for better results, in my opinion, that we give up universally because we are subconsciously resigning from the fight because we lost so many times, that at this point, all we can do is to lay down in defeat and wait for another catastrophe happening to us.  Of course, this is no place to stay.  I am not saying that horrible things happen to people, but I have found that people who are happy and successful focus less on the problem, and more on what they can do about it.  Even if something horrible has happened to you in the past, you still have the options of how you deal with that traumatic event.  Will you let it burden you, or will you free yourself from it and maybe even transform it into a resource?

Now let us look at the other extreme.  How do successful people see this?

Any team, in any organisation, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader.  The leader must own everything in his or her world.  There is no one else to blame.  The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”  Jocko Willink

Jocko is a retired United States Navy SEAL who received the Silver and Bronze Star.  He is a podcaster, author, and martial artist, and he lives his life on his own terms, which is my definition of being successful.  He wrote the book Extreme Ownership, and he is an example that successful people are proactive and take ownership of their life.  He does not wait for other people to hand him everything, he wants to develop a plan, and he has trust in himself that he can solve whatever obstacle the world is putting in his path.

Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind

Envision what you want to have and who you want to be in your future, and plan towards it.  Now ask yourself daily; how can I make this future a reality?  What can I do today to become the person that I want to be?

Critically analyse what you do.  We are often so trapped in the matrix of staying busy that we do not realise that we move in a direction, and become a person we do not want to be.

Once you created a vision, a dream, a compelling future for yourself, want to make it a reality.  I think one of the most important ingredients for happiness is the idea that things are going to get better in the future.  When I was investigating unhappiness, and I was interviewing people with major depression, one sentence often popped up: “Things are never going to get better”.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it is really dangerous and unhealthy to play with those kinds of thoughts.  When you are in a bad place, and you feel like the pain is leaking out everywhere, one thing that determines, in my opinion, whether your symptoms are going to get better or worse is the anticipated quality of your future.

I think that if you have a “why” that is big and compelling enough, you endure almost anyhow.  No matter how shitty your day is, or how tough the circumstances are; if you have a “why”, you say to yourself, “yes this is a bad day, but my life is not bad, things are going to get better”.

On the other hand, the most extreme form of internalising that things are never going to get better is to commit suicide.  One of the driving forces, in my opinion, of ending your own life, is the perception that things are never going get better.  If you are always in pain, then ending your life is a logical self-protecting mechanism.  A mental fallacy that, in my opinion, is only in the rarest cases true.

So, get yourself a dream.  It can literally save your life.

Once you have a dream, you want to adjust your life according to making this dream, this version of you a reality.  You want to actively design your life.  How do you do that?

What really helped me to implement his habit of “Beginning with the End in Mind”, was to journal.  I believe that questions are the best tool to guide or focus, and what we focus on, we become.

I use a personalised variation of the Five-Minute Journal, in which I start each day with a question:

  1. What can I do today to make my future dream a reality?
  2. And, what can I do today to become the person I want to be?
  3. What should I avoid today, what action would sabotage my mission? Click here to read the article.

This habit will change your life because you consciously understand that you are the engineer of your life.  One of the biggest enemies of happiness is the realisation that your life is not yours.  That you are trapped, and your life is not going anywhere.  To go to a job you do not like, so you can buy shit that you do not need, to portray a person that you not really are.

Covey states that it is also important to identify our centre.  Our centre is the source of our perceived security.  Another antidote to feeling unhappy is to feel safe.  The more insecure we feel, the more anxious we are.  Covey differentiates different sources of security.


It is interesting to see what centre you fit in.  I believe that the most dangerous, unhealthy source of security is when you gain security and happiness from external validation.  When you are money-centred and possession centred, you are going to feel strong ups and downs.  There are always people who have more better people.  Over the years and through my basketball upbringing, I was being taught that being the weakest person in the room was a good thing to be because then you learn the most.  My big brother, who was a basketball professional, always used to tell me that if I am the best player on my team, I am on the wrong team.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Covey here states that there is a difference between what is important and what is urgent.  Think of important as something that is bringing you closer to your long-term goal.  Urgent is, for example, something that is important for you in the short term, and may not be important for you in the long term at all!

Covey says that you should first focus on:

  1. What is Important – and Urgent
  2. What is Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important and Not Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

Quadrant 1

Here, you focus on managing big crises, problems, and issues that if you do not treat them right now, they are just going to snowball into something bigger.  Not handling your pressing problems is a psychological catastrophe, because your problem, at a certain point, will create other problems, and in no time, you catch yourself playing whack a mole when you attack one problem another one pops up.  Killing problems in their early stages when they are still manageable is key here.  It is similar to treating depression, for example.  If you do not take a look at the causes and unsatisfied needs of a person, you find yourself only treating the symptoms and the person is not going to get better.

Quadrant 2 

If you focus on Quadrant 2, you are at the centre of personal management.  Here, you focus on dealing with building connections, planning, exercising, and preparation of things we know we should be doing, but very rarely actually do.  We do not give as much time to these things because they are not urgent.  You do not have to spend quality time with your family, your friends, your teammates, or your spouse, but if you neglect those things for too long, you will be unhappy.  Life is not all about work guys.  We are humans, and we need our tribe, and connections are just as important as business and thriving.

Quadrant 3

In this sector, you focus on things that are neither urgent nor important.  This is the area that is the enemy of productivity and happiness.  We live in a world now where we want to constantly react to everything, our emails, our Facebook feed, Instagram… the list is long.  We can spend our entire life literally on Facebook; for example, the feed will never stop.  Always ask yourself when you get distracted by meaningless things if there are more beautiful and important matters that you could direct your focus on.  Otherwise, you might never be able to achieve anything because you are constantly out of the flow and sabotaging your own endeavours.

Quadrant 4

If you are living, you need to get your shit together.  In here, you focus on time-wasting activities.  Netflix binging, endless YouTube marathons, mindless scrolling through Facebook are all wrong focus points that you can find in this quadrant.  At work, you focus on trivial business work that will not help you win in the big picture.  Also, you focus on sensation seeking because of your life, because of your terrible priorities are not enough for you.  Focusing on neither urgent nor important matters is a safe formula for feeling unfulfilled, but being busy enough so that you will not be able to take care of the important relationships and connections in your life.  If you focus too much on this quadrant, you are wasting your life, in fact even worse.  You do a disservice to humanity because you do not capitalise on the incredible potential that was given to you.  If you catch yourself falling into this behavioural pattern, get up and live the extraordinary life that you were born to live.

This habit has helped me to not get caught in the busy trap.  Humans are wired to react to urgent matters, even though often, urgent matters are not important.  The problem is that there are often so many urgent things that you never get to the matters that are really important to you.  Remember the second habit?  Begin with the end in mind?

This habit is about deciding what you focus on.  Often, I ask myself in my journal, was I busy today, or productive?  This quadrant system has helped me to understand what I should focus on.

One of the biggest problems with today’s world is that there are endless possibilities for getting distracted and wasting your time.  We all can spend an entire day only checking emails.

For example, I am writing a book at the moment.  When I am in the flow, and my phone is ringing.  Technically, I could afford the time to take the call; however, what I cannot afford is the distraction.

If it is some random call that is just interrupting my flow, I am not taking it.

Again, it is all about focus.

The key is not to priotize what`s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephan Covey

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Good deals and agreements in relationships should be of value for both parties.  For me, this habit is more of a way to go through life.  If one party loses while making a deal, that person will feel ill towards you.  So you may have gained something in the short run, but have lost a human in the long game for me.  To be happy, we must create long-lasting, interdependent relationships that are win-win orientated.

Most people go through life with a scarce mindset.  They think that life is a game and that when somebody wants to win somebody else has to lose.  If you get it, it is gone; therefore, I can no longer have it.

Having a win-win mindset, will not only allow you to be successful because you crush your goals, but you help others to success as well, and on the way, you will form powerful and fruitful connections.

If you are doing business with someone, and you make an unfair deal with that person, yes, you technically win, but you lose a future partner, customer, friend, maybe even a spouse.  I suggest that you focus on business that you emphasise, that you are in the building connections business.

Having a win-win mindset will help you to overcome every obstacle because your network is constantly growing and getting stronger.  So even if you do not know the answer to a problem, people around you might, and if you have treated them with respect, they will surely help you out.

So having a win-lose mindset is only good for the short term, but eventually, your way of going through life is going to catch up with you.

Imagine you are the CEO of a big company, you have everything in life from the outside, money, status, a high position, and you have conquered your dreams.

However, your entire career is based on doing win-lose deals.  You are not well respected or liked by your employees, because you climbed the ladder of success at the cost of many other people.  Eventually, you will not only be unhappy because you will experience loneliness, but you will also be fired at some point because you represent the wrong values for the company.  We are humans and not machines.  Creating nourishing connections with people who work with you and creating an environment where you grow together is a necessity for happiness and progress.

Covey has defined that there are six paradigms of human interaction: 

  1. Win-Win: Both people win. Agreements and solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying to both parties.
  2. Win-Lose. “If I win, you lose”.  Win-Lose people take advantage of people and play their position, status, and personality to get their way, and only their way.
  3. Lose-Win: “I lose, you win”.  Lose-Win people seek harmony and are quick to appease because they seek social validation and credibility to social acceptance.
  4. Lose-Lose: Both people lose. When two Win-Lose people get together, and both want to have their way without the other one getting what they want, their ego will make sure that the deal will result in a lose-lose.
  5. Win: People with a winning mindset do not care about if somebody else has to lose or win. To them, they must win first and foremost.
  6. Win-Win or No Deal: If you cannot reach a mutually beneficial agreement, there is no deal.

Habit 5: Think First To Understand, Then, To Be Understood.

Be empathic.  Listen.  There is much more value in what other people have to say.  The best way to really understand the person in front of you is to listen to them.  If you only talk about yourself, for example, the other person will think you do not care about them.  Also, highly successful people do not have the need to constantly talk about themselves.  People who only talk about themselves often have a problem with their self-worth.  They talk so much because they want to impress the other person and hide the fact that they think of themselves as not enough.  Successful people do not talk endlessly; they listen more, and talk less.  Also, you know what is inside your head, but by really listening, you constantly get new input, and you cannot help but grow.

Before we tackle obstacles, we must first have a deep understanding of the situation.  Before we give advice or suggestions, solutions we first must listen.  Listening is part of the solution, in my opinion.  Also, empathy is such an underrated skill.

As a guy who studies behaviour for a living, this part was really difficult for me to understand.  I am very quick when it comes to seeing pathological patterns in people.  When friends of mine are unhappy, you are always tempted to just vomit psychological suggestions on them and give them a formula on how to do things.  But this very rarely helps as the first reaction.  Often, it is quite the opposite, and people feel judged, and they will not open up again in front of you.  If your strategy aims at validating yourself as the smartest person in the room, this might be a good approach, but if you want to deepen the relationship towards another human being listening is essential.  First, understand, then be understood.

Also, there seems to be something really healing and productive about the idea of a person telling you a problem, and you listening to them without rejecting them, judging them, or seeing the other person with different eyes.  We are all afraid of rejection, and if you give a human the impression that their problem is stupid, they will feel exposed, because they are a person who cannot handle such a simple problem, and the next time this person has a problem, they will not seek your guidance because they are afraid of being perceived as weak or stupid.  This is a sure way to implement very bad habits in companies and in relationships.

So, listen first, be emphatic, take people seriously, and then speak.

Most people do not listen at all; they wait until they can speak again.

Habit 6: Synergise

The true power of humans lies in their ability to team up.  Team up with positive people so they can achieve bigger results faster.  If you, like Covey, become a proactive emphatic listener, you have the opportunity to create synergy.  If you start to work with amazing people and implement other habits, and you, for example, want to start a business, 2+2 becomes 5 suddenly.  We humans are not made to create alone; our true power lies in our ability to cooperate with other humans to hunt great things.

Having a win-win mindset will encourage you to seek the psychology behind disagreements with other people.  What was the motivation behind the last confrontation?  How can we, as partners together, overcome this obstacle?  How can we learn from a situation, and what can we learn from this about ourselves?

If you have any aspirations of conquering your dreams and making your vision come true, you need people around you that help you, and you need to help them.  The quality of connections that we have in our life equals our happiness and our progress, in my opinion.

Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw

Create a lifestyle for yourself in which you improve constantly.  Work out, read books, go to seminars once a month, or visit conferences twice a year.  Try to get better physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Highly effective people sharpen their saw, and their saw is their mind.  Almost every successful person I have met had the habit of sharpening their saw.  Some studies say that when you invest 90 minutes daily in your aspired field, you will belong to the top 5% of experts in the world.

If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe — Abraham Lincoln

This was one of the reasons why I created this blog.  I asked myself what would happen if you spend your entire time learning?  What if your job was to learn?  To get better, stronger, smarter constantly?  Would you not be happier and be able to give more back?

The habit of sharpening the saw means that you understood that graduation never happens and that the more you learn, the more you can contribute.  And for now, this way of designing my way towards growth and working on my craft full time gives me a level of fulfilment beyond imagination.

I think humans have a deep need for security, and the habit of sharpening the saw gives you hope.  Hope that even though your day today was total dog shit, your life will not always be like this.  You start to believe more and more in yourself because you are growing.  You start to process your traumas and failures because you learned from your mistakes and you are laying a foundation so that those things will not happen to you again.

Lastly, the habit of sharpening the saw will enable you to give more back.  More money, more love, more happiness.

A metaphor captures the essence of this habit very well.  When you are on an aeroplane, and the oxygen masks drop, what do they tell you?

That it is right to put them on yourself first.  Only then can you help the other passengers.

The idea is to get strong first, to then have a bigger reach, and then to give back and contribute.

This is, in my opinion, where true fulfilment lies.  In the realisation that you are giving your all and that you are doing what you want, and that your existence is good for others.

That your life is amazing, and that also makes other people’s lives better.



Call to Action

Here is some homework for you.
  1. Write down where you see yourself in 3 years if failure was not an option.
  2. Now, look at what you have scheduled this week, is it serving your bigger goal?

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