Stephen Covey’s celebrated book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ has sold over 15 million copies. Whilst opinions differ as to which parts of the book are most relevant and inspirational, there is wide agreement that Covey has changed how we look at personal development.

We’ve condensed some of the key points of each of Covey’s much-loved habits into bite-sized chunks. These should help you improve your effectiveness and give you a taste of the ideology offered by this international bestseller.

Here are Covey’s Seven Habits which you should consider adopting if you want to be highly effective:

Habit 1: Be proactive


Henry Thoreau cites ‘conscious endeavor’ as key to elevating our way of life, a principle Covey agrees with. In order to reach this we must understand both self-awareness and determinism – the notion that someone (or something) else is always responsible for your behavior. Whether it’s your DNA, your childhood experiences or your current environment, something else is always prompting the way you act.

Covey believes that ‘between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose’. Conscious endeavor is where we use this freedom to drive our own actions rather than being driven by something else. One of the first ways we can start to do this is by acting within our own circle of influence restructuring our language from ‘If only I had…’ to ‘I can be…’


Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind


Beginning with a ‘clear understanding of your destination’ can make all the difference. Clarifying your long-term aims and balancing your lifestyle and beliefs around this makes you more likely to achieve them. This balance is of the 4 factors that Covey believes underwrite everything else in life. These are security, guidance, wisdom and power.

Beyond this is the idea that it’s very easy to center your life too heavily around the wrong thing. For example, a work-focused attitude can make your sense of security entirely dependent upon retaining your job, whereas over-importance on getting immediate pleasure from life will quickly result in boredom. Both situations leave you unable to utilize your full capacities and can make you lethargic.

Girl writing in book


Habit 3: Put first things first


It’s important to realize the difference between what is urgent and what is important. Urgent things require immediate attention whereas important things contribute to or build upon your results, mission or values in life. Balancing the urgent and the important is required for a healthy, happy life.

Covey holds with The Parento Principle, which says that 80% of results come from 20% of work, and believes life should be organized around balanced priorities.


Habit 4: Think win/win

An ‘emotional bank account’ of trust exists in all of our relationships, and this is affected by every interaction we have. Efforts to keep to your commitments and really understand what another person is saying to you invests in this account, as does clarifying expectations and maintaining your integrity.

In every interaction, whether personal or business, you should look to find mutual benefit in your human interactions. Integrity and maturity are important within this, but more than this is the ‘abundance mentality’. This is the notion that there are enough positive results out there for everyone, and can help reduce the comparison mentality.

Where interactions become an issue try to see the problem from the other person’s point of view and identify their key concerns. Going forward determine desired results of the interaction and identify new options to achieve these.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.


In Stephen Covey’s own words, ‘most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply’. We need to stop projecting our own experiences onto other people’s behavior, and recognize that listening takes place at 5 levels. These are: Ignoring, pretending, selective listening, attentive listening, and empathic listening. Empathetic listening in particular can hugely improve our personal interactions.

Communication is presented by Covey as 10% words, 30% sounds, 60% body language. Making such that you understand the other person in the conversation by clarifying that you understand their objectives can be a big investment in the emotional bank account between you and them.

People talking in a meeting


Habit 6: Synergize


Synergy means that the whole of an interaction is greater than the sum of its parts, with levels of communication affecting how much a relationship is worth. This concept is particularly applicable to a business setting, with a direct correlation between trust and cooperation.

Synergy places two people with opposing viewpoints on the same side of a problem, working together to find a third alternative where both sides can meet. This interaction then values the different assets of the two, with each affirming the other’s abilities.


Habit 7: Sharpen the saw: principles of balanced self-renewal

Covey bases his final habit around the visual image of a man spending hours sawing down a tree but refusing to stop to sharpen the saw, (which would save him a lot of time and effort), because he doesn’t have time. This presents the idea that we need to renew ourselves in order to perform at our best. This renewal has four dimensions.

Firstly, physical renewal through exercise, nutrition and stress management increases and maintains endurance, flexibility and strength. Looking after our social/ emotional wellbeing improves our service, empathy and intrinsic security. The spiritual element of renewal comes from valuing clarification and commitment to study and meditation. Listening is the final element of renewal, as reaching back into memories to examine our motives can be a powerful exercise.

Man and woman running

This brief outline of Stephen Covey’s principles and ideas is just the beginning – if any particular ideas have caught your eye then now is the time go away and read the book for yourself!



Alexandra Jane writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available. Or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.

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