7 Habits of Highly Effective People Audiobook, Summary & Review

7 Habits of Highly Effective People Overview

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by author Stephen Covey is one of the most highly reviewed, highly revered and best selling books of all time.

This book has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. In 2011 Time Magazine called it one of the Top 25 Influential Business Management Books of All Time. In fact, former US President Bill Clinton even invited the author to help him integrate the 7 Habits into his presidency.

The book is written by author Stephen Covey. To give you a bit of background, Covey had an MBA from Harvard Business School and Doctor of Religious Education from BYU. He was heavily influenced by the philosophies of Peter Drucker and Carl Rogers in college. And his family was also quite involved in the Church. According to a friend, the 7 Habits were a secular distillation of some of those religious values.

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Below is a video version of this summary in an audiobook style format. You can watch it on YouTube.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The book is split into four parts, and the 7 Habits are divided among them.

  • Habit #1 — Be Proactive
  • Habit #2 — Begin with the End in Mind
  • Habit #3 — First Things First
  • Habit #4 — Think Win-Win
  • Habit #5 — Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Habit #6 — Synergize
  • Habit #7 — Sharpen the Saw

Habits 1, 2 & 3 are focused on self-mastery and moving from a state dependence on others to a state of independence and being able to rely on yourself. These are what Stephen Covey calls “Private Victories” and they are the essence of character growth. These are covered in Part II of the book.

Once you become truly independent, you have the foundation for effective interdependence. Or in other words the ability to create effective relationships in your personal life and business. These are what Stephen calls “Public Victories.” Habits 4,5 and 6 will focus on teamwork, cooperation and communication in this third part of the book.

The fourth part of the book focuses on Habit #7 and Renewal — which is a regular balanced, renewal of the four basic dimensions of life. I’ll share those later. This habit encapsulates all the other habits. It focuses on continuous improvement and growth that lifts you to new levels of understanding and living each of the habits in your daily life.

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Paradigms & Principles

Character Ethics vs. Personality Ethics

The book begins with Part I: Paradigms and Principles. The author begins with a summary of his life’s story of working hard on difficult problems in each area of his life. He shares his frustration of being unable to make any lasting impact or meaningful change.

As the author began reading success-based literature from the past few centuries, he noticed a shift in the focus. Earlier works focused on developing your internal character. But more recent works focused on your external personality instead.

The foundation of success in life used to be your character. Things like your integrity, humility and courage. But now it seems the focus has shifted to your personality. Things like your public image, your attitude or your skills and techniques.

The author argues that while those external personality elements are beneficial to success, they are secondary traits. Not primary.

Your internal character is the foundation of your success, and your personality is merely the blocks you use to build upon it.

How Society Has Changed

For thousands of years humans have lived in small tribes very close communities. If you were a person of bad character, people found out about it. And soon enough no one would want anything to do with you.

Societies are built on trust. And if you proved you couldn’t be trusted, you were outcast from society. So your character was the basic foundation for your success or failure.

But as societies grew larger, your interactions with others became more temporary and artificial. You used to go see the blacksmith or the butcher on a regular basis. Over time you would develop a long-term relationship with them. Now you just go to the grocery store and pick up whatever you need without talking to anybody.

This shift allowed for the emergence of con artists, fake gurus, and snake-oil salesmen. People could portray a certain external personality to swindle you… and then leave town before you found out what their character is really like.

This book is designed to help you make the shift back to a focus on your character. The 7 Habits were devised with this goal in mind. And as your progress through them you will strengthen your character with each exercise.


What examples of this have you seen in your own life? Professional or personal? Or in the lives of others? Who do you know who has been more focused on their personality instead of their character?

Paradigm Shift

The author suggests that the Character Ethic and the Personality Ethic are both social paradigms. A Paradigm is a model, a theory or a way of viewing the world.

For example, you might believe that “the Universe is a helpful place.” That it will bring to you everything you need to accomplish your goals and achieve your desires.

Or you might believe that “the Universe is a hostile place.” That it’s completely impersonal and even harmful to you. You’re lucky to even be alive, let alone successful.

Both are ways of looking at the world. And both have their points and arguments for being the correct way to view it.

But Covey argues that when it comes to personal and business success, we need to shift the focus. We must move off of the Personality Ethic and external solutions. And move back onto Character Ethics and Internal Solutions.

We are looking for external solutions to internal problems thinking they are going to fix it. But the way we view the problem IS the problem. We need to shift our paradigm or “worldview” of what made us successful in the first place.

There’s a great quote by Thoreau that says: 

“For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.”

And since everyone is so focused on their personality, they are missing the true root of the problem — their character.

The Map Is Not the Territory

There’s a good analogy to help represent this, and that is “the map is not the territory.”

A map is one person’s representation of a territory. For example, let’s say you had to make a map of your own house or apartment. First you’d get measuring stick and start measuring each room. Then you’d put those representations on paper to create a map.

But what is on the map is a representation of what was in the retinal representation of your eye. The territory (your household) had to go through several filters before it could represented on the map.

First it was filtered by the accuracy of your measurements. Then it was filtered by the quality of your eye sight. And finally it was filtered by your drawing capability. By the time it goes through all those filters, it’s nowhere near close to the actual territory.

Where this becomes a problem is when someone has a completely skewed or warped “map” of the world. They start living their lives according to the map, not realizing that it is completely unlike the “territory” they’re trying to navigate.

For example, let’s say you got stranded on the big island of Hawaii. And you were given a map to help you reach a specific location the other side of the island. But the map wasn’t of Hawaii, it was of Japan. Think you’re going to be successful in your journey? Nope!

Because when you have a map of a completely different area, how can you expect to ever navigate the territory? It’s impossible.

And this is what Covey says is the problem with focusing on personality to solve our problems. We’re using the wrong map.

We shouldn’t be taking an “outside-in” approach to solving our problems. Instead, we should focus on a principle-centered, character-based “inside-out” approach. And Covey’s 7 Habits are a map for helping you to do that.

Before we move on, ask yourself this question:

Has there ever been a time in life where you were trying to navigate a problem using the wrong map? Have you or anyone you know ever tried solving an internal problem with external solutions? What could they have done differently to be successful? Comment down below and share your experiences with the group.

Habits Defined

This section begins with a quote by Aristotle on habits that goes “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

So to improve our character, we need to focus on our habits.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Covey defines habits as the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire:

  • Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why to do it.
  • Skill is the how to do it.
  • And the Desire is the motivation to do it, the want to do it.

This is important because to make something a habit and affect personal change, we need to have all three. We need the knowledge of what to do, the skill to actually do it, and the motivation to see the thing through.

If you lack the knowledge, all the motivation and skill in the world won’t matter. It’s like having the wrong map. You have no idea where you’re going.

If you lack the skill, you might know what to do, you just don’t know how to do it. You’ve got the right map, but you don’t have the skills to actually travel the territory.

And if you the desire, well then there’s no point in doing whatever you’re trying to do in the first place. Knowing isn’t doing. And if you lack the motivation, you never finish the journey.


Is there something you want to do, but you’re lacking the knowledge, skill or desire to achieve it? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to help you figure it out or point you in the right direction.

The Maturity Continuum

The 7 Habits were designed with the natural progression from dependence to interdependence. Covey calls this “The Maturity Continuum.”

The 7 Habits follow the journey from infancy to adulthood. As an infant, we are totally dependent on others for our success, growth and sustenance.

As we get a little older, we gradually become more and more independent of others and can rely on our selves. We can tie our own shoes, cook our own food, and get ourselves dressed in the morning. And later in life, we focus more on our interdependent relationships with others.

So when it comes to personal effectiveness, we have three paradigms to choose from:
Dependence, Independence and Interdependence. Or You, I and We.

Dependence is the Paradigm of YOU:

  • You take care of me
  • You didn’t come through for me
  • I blame you for the results

Independence is the Paradigm of I:

  • I can do it
  • I am responsible
  • I choose

Interdependence is the Paradigm of WE:

  • We can do it
  • We can cooperate
  • We can succeed

These are different maps of the world. And which one you choose to navigate life with can dramatically affect your results.

Dependence is the least effective and most incorrect map of the territory. Balance between independence and interdependence is the most effective. It will help you get where you want to go in life. And the 7 Habits are designed to help you do exactly that.

Overview of the 7 Habits

  • Habit #1 — Be Proactive
  • Habit #2 — Begin with the End in Mind
  • Habit #3 — First Things First
  • Habit #4 — Think Win-Win
  • Habit #5 — Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Habit #6 — Synergize
  • Habit #7 — Sharpen the Saw

Habits 1, 2 and 3 deal with self-mastery and help move you from dependence to independence. These are what Covey calls “Private Victories.” They are personal and relate to you as an individual.

As you become more independent, you have the foundation for effective interdependence. This is your ability to work well with others. You’ll have the character base to work on more personality-focused “Public Victories.” Things like teamwork, cooperation and communication.

Public victories are successes with others in teams and in relationships in general. They are shared victories where you work together with other people. These are covered in Habits 4, 5 and 6.

And Habit #7 is a regular balanced, renewal of the four basic dimensions of life. This habit encapsulates all the other habits. It focuses on continuous improvement and growth that lifts you to new levels of understanding. It helps you to live the habits in your daily life.

The Goose and the Golden Egg

A great analogy to explain this shift towards an “Inside-Out” focus is Aesop’s Fable of the Goose the Golden Egg.

“One day a countryman going to the nest of his Goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it was as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played upon him. But he took it home on second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became rich by selling his eggs. As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find nothing.”

To lead a successful life, you must first focus on Production (or the capability to produce) to get a desired Product (or result).

In the fable, the Golden Egg is the Product, and the Goose is the means of Production.

The golden eggs in life are the results you want to achieve. But you can only get them by first taking care of the goose. Which is yourself and your relationships with other people.

You don’t want to have a pattern in life that focuses on golden eggs and neglect the goose. Because if you do, you will soon be without the asset that produces the golden eggs in the first place.


Are there any areas of your life where you have been too focused on the eggs instead of the goose itself? In what areas of your life could you put more focus on yourself or your relationships instead? And how could doing that make your results better?

Three Social Maps: Genetic, Psychic and Environmental

The first step toward changing your life is examining how you got to where you are as a person today.

And the biggest influence on where you are in life right now is the map that you have used to get there. You’ve heard of a GPS — a global positioning system. Well think of these mental maps as a CPS — a Cognitive Positioning System. These are the maps that you use to navigate the world and make sense of it all.

There’s a common experience that most people have when examining their past. And that is feeling like you’re the result of a lot of external forces and conditions impacting your life. These are outside things and experiences that you have no control over.

You might say things like “This happened to me and it caused me to do that. And this other thing happened and it caused me to react this way. That’s why I ended up where I am today.”

When you feel like you’re trapped in a vicious cause-and-effect cycle, this is called Determinism. This is when you believe that a series of preconditions and external circumstances determine your outcomes.

And according to Covey, there are three common social maps that we use to view the past in this way:

The first is Genetic Determinism, which basically says that your grandparents did it to you. That’s why you have such a temper. Your grandparents had short tempers and it’s in your DNA. It just goes through the generations and you inherited it. Or maybe you’re Irish and believe the stereotype that it’s just the nature of Irish people to have a short fuse and be quick to conflict.

The second social map is Psychic Determinism, which basically says your parents did it to you. Your upbringing and your childhood experiences are responsible for your personality and character. That’s why you’re afraid of intimacy, don’t believe in yourself, or are unsuccessful in life. It’s simply the way you were brought up.

And the final social map is Environmental Determinism, which basically says that your boss is doing it to you. Or your spouse, or the president, or national policy, or your economic situation. Something or someone in your environment the reason for your situation. And they’re to blame, not you.

Each one of these social maps is based on the idea that an external cause or circumstance is controlling us.

And it’s only natural that we respond in a certain way. It simply is what it is, and there’s nothing we can do about it.


How accurately do you think these deterministic maps describe the actual territory? How clearly do these social mirrors reflect the true nature of reality? Is it possible that these maps are wrong and can create self-fulfilling prophecies?

Between Stimulus and Response

There is an amazing book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. And it’s the story of one Jewish man’s survival of the death camps in Nazi Germany.

Frankl experienced the same tortures and unspeakable horrors that everyone else did. His parents, his brother and his wife all died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. He was beaten, starved and forced into unbearable and unending labor that nearly killed him.

But one day while naked and alone in a small room, Frankl became aware of what he would later call “the last of the human freedoms.” This would be the one thing that the Nazis could not take away from him.

They could take away his family, they could take away his food, shelter and freedom. They could take away his dignity and break his bones.

But he alone could decide how this was going to affect him.

He could either let it crush his spirit and derail his will to live, or he could find meaning in the suffering and press on.

Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.

Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

And that leads us right into Habit #1.

Habit #1 - Be Proactive

The first of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits is Habit #1 — Be Proactive.

But what does that really mean?

It means that as human beings, WE are responsible for our own lives. Not outside circumstances. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen, no matter what happens to us.

Let’s start by looking at the word responsibility. “Response-Ability” — the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that they have that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, or conditions, or outside people and events for their behavior and results. They recognize that their behavior in response to an external event is their choice alone to make.

The opposite of proactive is reactive. This is when you react to outside circumstances and events and make decisions without thinking. In doing so, you lose control of your life to the will of external forces.

Now Covey brings up a very important point, and it’s that this reality of responsibility can be hard to accept.

You might have lived your life up until now blaming your results on outside circumstances or other people’s behavior. Especially if it has to do with your parents or your upbringing.

I’m a perfect example of this myself. My father abandoned my family when I was less than a year old. And it really affected me. I responded to that event by blaming him for my life circumstances and emotional wounds. There were times in life where I made some poor choices. And I blamed those poor choices on that circumstance. And I felt wholly right and justified in doing so.

But it wasn’t until later in life when I realized that I was the one responsible for those poor decisions. I could’ve responded in a different way. I had to come to terms with the fact that I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday. And that can be really hard for some people to accept.

The part that’s most hard to accept is that you have to drop the victim mentality and take ownership of your results in life. You have to drop the wrong map you’re using and realize you’re responsible for where you are today. And it can be hard to look back on your past and realize that you’re responsible for the outcomes you’ve had.

We all play the cards we’re dealt in life as best we can. And you have to be able to look back and realize that there were times when you could’ve played them better.

And if you’re finding this concept hard to digest, don’t beat yourself up too hard. You did the best you could at the time with what you had. If you were able to respond in a more proactive way, you would have. You just didn’t know any better.

But now you do. And what’s important is what you do from this point forward. When an outside force tries to affect you, respond in a proactive way instead of being reactive.

Mistakes and Consequences

Here’s the best way to make the transition from being reactive to proactive when it comes your future choices. Take a look at the mistakes and consequences from previous choices in your past.

Because while we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.

We influence them, but the direct consequences are outside our control.

And that’s because we’re dealing with other people who have the freedom to make their own choices in response to ours.

For example, you can choose to rob a bank, but you can’t choose what happens after you pull out the gun and ask for the money. It’s all beyond your control at that point. The teller might give you the money, or they might set off an alarm. The security guard might let you go, or he might try to shoot and kill you. And so on.

While you’re free to choose your response to any situation in your life, in doing so you also choose the corresponding consequence.

“When you pick up one end of the stick, you also pick up the other.”

And surely there have been times in your life when you picked up what you later realized was the wrong stick. Sometimes your choices have brought consequences that you would rather live without. And if you had to make the choice all over again, you would choose differently. And we call those kind of choices mistakes.

When you look back on your past, you probably don’t have to look too far before you find some. People make mistakes every day, it’s a part of life. And unfortunately they have to live with the consequences of those mistakes. And sometimes those consequences are pretty dire.

And some of you might have quite a bit of regret over those mistakes and the consequences that stemmed from them. That feeling is your brain’s way of reminding you to never make the same mistake again. And sometimes that constant reminder or feeling of regret can get you down. It make you ineffective in making better choices in the future.

How to Be Proactive

But here’s a few exercises that I want you to do that can help you move on from mistakes in your past. These will help you to be more proactive in your future.

First, I want you to look back into your past and find a mistake that you some feeling of regret about.

It can be something from your personal life, from your professional life, or whatever.
Then I want you to write down why you believe this was the wrong choice to make. Why do you feel making that choice was a mistake? Is it because of a negative consequence that resulted from making that choice? Be honest with yourself.

Then I want you to ask yourself how you could’ve chosen differently in response to that event. What other choices could you have made that were an option? And how might have those choices resulted in different consequences and better outcomes?

In doing this exercise, you’ll have taken the first step to being more proactive. You’ve looked back at a previous choice you made that you realize was a mistake. You’ll also have thought of some way you could chosen differently with better consequences. And that can help you learn to make better choices in the future.

The proactive way to approach mistakes is to acknowledge them instantly. Then correct them if possible, and learn from it to make better choices in the future.

We’ve all made mistakes in the past, and we can’t undo them or control the consequences that came from them. And we’ll continue to make mistakes in the future. And that’s okay.

But if you can go into the future knowing they will come, you’ll be prepared. It will be easier to identify them and correct them before the consequences become too negative. Part of living a proactive life is correcting the bad choices you do make. This helps you to learn from them so that you won’t repeat the mistakes in the future.

For the next exercise, I want you to identify a problem from your work or personal life that is bothering you.

Perhaps it’s a frustrating situation that has caused you to respond reactively in the past. Take a minute to imagine it happening again now. Ask yourself can you respond proactively in the future?

Create the experience vividly in your mind. See yourself back in that challenging problem or situation. Picture yourself responding in a proactive manner. Put yourself back in that gap between the outside stimulus first occurring and your response to it.

Make a commitment to yourself now to exercise your freedom to choose your response in the future. Brainstorm what that response might be and the possible consequences of making that decision.

Habit #2 - Begin With The End In Mind

Imagine Your Funeral

Now before we move into the next habit, there’s a very important exercise that I want you to do. I want you to take some time and imagine what attending your own funeral would be like. 

Imagine yourself pulling up to the funeral home in your car. You get out and see all your friends, family and loved ones dressed in black. They’re carrying flowers and walking inside somberly.

As you enter the building, you pass by familiar faces of friends and family as you head to your seat. Soft organ music plays in memory. You can feel the sorrow of loss and the joy of remembrance that is shared by everyone in the room.

This is your funeral, three years from today. As you look down at the program in your hand, you see that there will be four speakers today to honor you. The first one is a member of your family. The second is one of your friends. The third is someone from your work. And the fourth is someone from your church or community organization where you’ve been involved in service.

Take a moment to imagine who each of these people might be… put an actual face to each person. Who would represent your family? Who would represent your friends? Who would represent your coworkers? And who would represent someone from your community? Imagine them now.

Now think deeply… what would you like each of those people to say about you and your life? What would you like your family member to say about you? Your friend? Your working associate? What did they have to say about your character? What did they see in you? What contributions and achievements would you want them to remember? What kind of difference did you make in their lives?

If you’re doing this exercise now, take a few minutes to jot down what you imagine and answer those questions. Doing this before moving forward will help you understand the concepts behind Habit #2.

Begin With The End In Mind

Habit #2 suggests that in everything we do, we should begin with the end in mind. And beginning by imagining your funeral is the perfect way to put this idea into perspective.

It forces you to start with a clear destination of where you want to end up. This becomes the frame of reference for all your future behavior and actions to be examined. 

What we do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and for the rest of our lives can be seen in context of the whole.

By beginning with the end in mind, you can ensure that the choices you make on a particular day are in alignment with that end. When you do that, each day of your life is lived in a meaningful way by moving you closer to that vision.

The key concept behind “beginning with the end in mind” is that all things are created twice. First in the mind, second in reality. The first is a mental creation, and the second is a physical creation.

Think about every creation, invention and physical thing in the world around you. Before it came into existence, someone had to imagine it first. The chair you’re sitting in. The clothes you’re wearing. The car you’re driving. And so on. Someone had to imagine them first in their mind before creating them into existence.

The best example of this is the construction of a house. The builder begins by drawing out the plans on a blueprint. He maps out each room, determines the layout, etc. But people use this principle in all sorts of areas of life. 

Here are some examples:

  • Before you go on a road trip, you map out the best route to get to your destination.
  • Before you get dressed, you imagine what your outfit will look like when finished.
  • Before you deliver a speech, you write it out on paper. And so on.

For anything in life, the first step is to envision the final result we want. Then we can plan out the blueprints to help us get there. 

Each day we can pull it out to help us complete the next step to creating that vision and making it a reality. The blueprint is the vision and plan, and your actions are the bricks and mortar

By Design or By Default

So why is it important that we begin with the end in mind? Why does it matter if we do this anyways? What happens if we don’t?

If you don’t develop your own vision for you life, you allow other people and outside circumstances shape it by default. And instead of creating your vision, you’ll be creating theirs.

To quote Tony Robbins,
“Too many people get caught up making a living instead of designing a life.” 

When you don’t live your life by design, it’s too easy to get caught up living it be default. The day-to-day busyness of life can muddy your vision. You’ll work hard to climb the ladder of success, only to realize that it was leaning up against the wrong building the entire time.

So here’s a question. Have you ever worked hard on something for a long time, only to realize that it was never what you wanted in the first place? 

Maybe you have a degree you don’t even use. Maybe one day you realized you were living your parent’s dreams and not your own. If this has happened to you, please share in the comments below. You’re not the only one.

This is what happens when we live our lives by default. We end up living someone else’s life, not our own. And that’s an extremely inefficient use of time in helping us get to where we want to go. 

That’s why it’s important to create your own vision for the future. You must make sure that everyday you are taking steps to help make that vision a reality.

Personal Mission Statement

Let’s face it. Life is full of day-to-day outside forces that will try to knock you off course. But how do you safe-guard against that and ensure you’re living life according to your vision for it?

Covey recommends creating a Personal Mission Statement. Think of a mission statement like a personal constitution, philosophy or creed. It focuses on who you want to be, what you want to do, and the values and principles upon which those two things are based. 

This way you can make sure that your character, contributions and achievements are all in alignment. The will all line up with the vision you’ve planned for yourself.

Mission statements are important because they will help you stay aligned with the values you find most important. They ensure that you stay focused on the way you want to impact the world and the people around you. It will also help build powerful relationships with people in your life who share the same values as you. 

Another bonus of writing a personal mission statement is that it will become your #1 tool for making tough decisions. A personal mission statement will help you to set clear boundaries. It helps ensure that everything you do — your investments of time, money and energy — will fit within the boundaries of that statement.

Once you have set the boundaries for what you will and won’t accept in your life it becomes easier to make tough decisions.  Because when something comes up that is outside those boundaries, you don’t even have a decision to make. It’s that simple. You simply refer to your mission statement and make the decision that aligns with it. 

Roles and Relationships

So how do we do this? How do we create such a powerful document that sums up our entire life philosophy and helps keep us on track?

Well, to be honest, Covey doesn’t give the best instructions here. He just sort of leaves you to your own devices and gives you some examples to work from. So I’m going to ad-lib a bit here with what’s worked best for me and other people I’ve shared this with.

To begin creating your mission statement, first I want you to think about the important roles and relationships you have in your life. This ensures that your mission statement is well-balanced and encompasses every important area of your life.

The roles we play in life break down into one of three categories:

  1. Personal
  2. Professional
  3. Community

And each of those roles focuses on different relationships:

  1. Personal — your relationships with your friends, family and strangers
  2. Professional — your relationships with your coworkers, boss, employees and customers
  3. Community — your relationships with your community, church and the public

Here are some examples of the roles and relationships we have in each category:

Personal — husband, son, father, brother, wife, daughter, mother, sister, cousin, uncle, aunt, friend, neighbor, team mate, and so on.

Professional — coworker, supervisor, employee, assistant, consultant, team lead, boss, team member, manager, leader, etc.

Community — public servant, volunteer, aid, church member, supporter, donor, organizer, etc.

By completing this first step, you have identified the important roles and relationships in your life. Now we will determine what the ideal result looks like for each role and relationship.

Roles and Relationships

As you examine each role and relationship, begin with the end in mind and think about what you want your legacy to be:

— What do you want to be remembered for in that role or relationship? 
— How do you want others to speak about you at your funeral? 
— How do you want to engage, act and behave with the people around you? 
— What does your personal “best” look like in each of these roles and relationships?

Take some time to think about each of these answers. This isn’t going to be an overnight project. Think deeply about the true answers for each one of your roles and relationships and write them down. 

To get the most out of each role and relationship, you need to have a clear vision of what you want to put into it. This exercise will help you get the clarity you need to move onto the next step and start putting values and principles in place.

Roles and Relationships

By now, you should have identified what you would like to achieve with the most important roles and relationships in life. It’s time to start putting a plan together to actually achieve it.

You do this by identifying you core values and guiding principles for each of your key roles and relationships. That’s what we’re going to do next.

Values are our personal judgment of what’s important in life. They typically relate to a standard of behavior. Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work.

Some examples of values might be: honesty, integrity, freedom, openness, gratitude, discipline, efficiency, and so on. 

Start by looking at your roles and relationships and ask yourself what values are important to you in each of them. If you’re having trouble, try using this list to help you brainstorm some that might work apply to your life.

As you go through each one, you’ll start to identify some common ones that seem to occur over and over again. Try to identify your Top 10 Values. These are the ones that are most important to you or appear most frequently in your list.

We are going to use these values to create your guiding principles.

Your Guiding Principles

Principles are personal beliefs about how to life your life, and they are based on your values. Values help us identify what’s important about life. Principles help us put those values into action.

For example, if one of your values is “Honesty” then an according principle may be “To tell the truth in all situations, no matter the consequences.”

Now if that sounds like a pretty high standard of behavior, that’s because it is. But that’s a good thing. These guiding principles will help you establish rules to live your life by. They will remind you of what’s important when you have to make tough decisions.

Here are a few more examples of guiding principles based on values:

Value: Productivity
Principle: Hustle while you wait. Make the the most of every minute.

Value: Compassion
Principle: I never judge others and value everyone I meet. Regardless of their situation.

Value: Leadership
Principle: To encourage, engage, and equip others to believe in themselves.

Here are a few templates to help you create your own if you’re having trouble:

1. To [what you want to do] by [how you’ll do it] so that [what impact you hope to make].

Example — “To serve as a leader of my church by helping others strengthen their relationship with God. So that they can live their lives in accordance with our religious doctrine and principles.”

2. I value [one or multiple things you value] because [why it matters to you]. To do this, I will [how your personal or professional path will align with these values].

Example — “I value integrity because I believe it is better to be honest than to delude others. To do this, I will tell the truth in all my business dealings, even when it hurts. As well as demand the truth from others even when it isn’t pretty.”

3. To use my [skills or expertise] to inspire/lead [group of people] so that [ultimate goal].

Example — “To use my skills as a leader to inspire my coworkers. So that we’re motivated to work together and accomplish our goals and objectives.”

As you write your principles, focus on how you can contribute to the lives of others. Focus on your impact on friends, family, coworkers, community and the world at large.

Your Personal Compass

By establishing a personal set of principles based on your values, you’ll have a compass to help you navigate the territory of life.

Whenever you’re in doubt about an opportunity, situation or decision, your principles will guide you in the right direction.

When you don’t have a mission statement, it’s difficult to make decisions and choices that are align with who you are. This leads to more mistakes with the choices you make and having to deal with the negative consequences.

So whenever a tough decision comes up, consider the following questions to see if it’s aligned with your values:

Is this opportunity / request / project:

— Part of who I am?
— Part of who I am working to become?
— In alignment with my values and principles?

And if the answer to any of those questions is no, then you know this isn’t the proper course of action to take. It’s not in alignment with your personal mission statement. It won’t help you reach the “end in mind” that you’ve already planned for yourself in advance.

It might be asking too much for you to share your entire mission statement in the comments below. It might be too personal to share here. But what I’d love for you to do is to share one or two of your most important guiding principles in the comments below.

What are the one or two principles that have the most meaning for you and how will they help you live the life you dream of? How will it help you create the vision you’ve planned for yourself in your roles and relationships? Let me know! I’m sure it will help other viewers to reflect on what’s important in their lives as well.

Habit #3: First Things First

As we round out the three habits on independence, I want you to take a minute to consider the following question:

If there was one thing you could do (that you aren’t doing now) that if you did on a regular basis, it would make a tremendous difference in your personal or professional life?

Let your thoughts on the answer stew for a moment as we put the first three habits into perspective.

Habit #1 — “Be Proactive” says that you are the creator of your life. You are in charge. It puts you in the position of power and control to effect change in your life.

Habit #2 — “Begin With The End In Mind” is your first creation. Thoughts become things, and this is your mental image or vision of what you choose to create.

Habit #3 — “First Things First” then is the second creation — the physical creation. Once you realize you are the creator of your own reality and put a vision in place that you desire, it’s time to actually go about creating it.

But how do we do that?

Well, to live our lives effectively, we must put first things first. You must have the discipline to prioritize your day-to-day actions. You must base them on what is most important to the creation of your vision. Not what is most urgent and pressing and demands attention right now.

In Habit #2, we focused on determining your core values and establishing guiding principles in setting out to achieve your dreams.

Habit #3 is the actual day-to-day activity of going about these goals and taking action on a moment-to-moment basis.

Time Management Matrix

Now to accomplish this goal, Stephen Covey recommends using his Time Management Matrix. This is a derivative of the “Eisenhower Principle” from the 34th US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In a 1954 speech, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” 

This “Eisenhower Principle” is said to be how he organized his workload and priorities.

Here’s how you can use it to distinguish between what’s urgent and what’s important:

Important activities are things that have an outcome that moves us closer to achieving our goals. Whether these are personal or professional.

Urgent activities are things that demand immediate attention. Often they are associated with achieving someone else’s goals. We tend to put most of our focus on urgent things because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.

Covey puts these two factors into an orthogonal matrix as seen below gives each quadrant a number:

1) Urgent and Important
2) Important but not Urgent
3) Urgent but not Important
4) Not Important or Urgent

Quadrant #1 are activities that are Urgent and Important. They are often called “crises.” Imagine you’re sailing out on the ocean and suddenly you discover there’s a hole in your boat. This would be considered an urgent and important crisis. Keeping your boat afloat is extremely important, and if you don’t fix this immediately the boat will sink.

Quadrant #2 are activities aren’t Urgent, but still Important. Things like strengthening relationships with customers and key decision makers. Exploring new opportunities for your business. And planning ahead to prevent further crises in the future. These things aren’t pressing, but are still important to achieving your goals in the future.

Quadrant #3 are activities that are Urgent, but aren’t important in achieving your goals. Mostly these come from other people trying to achieve their goals. Interruptions, phone calls, meaningless meetings, and so on. These are activities that sap your time and prevent you from spending it on more important activities.

Quadrant #4 are activities that aren’t urgent or important at all. Things like watching TV, scrolling social media, etc. While these activities are okay every now and then, they should be replaced with more productive activities when possible.

Here’s an easy way to remember how to respond to activities in each quadrant:

— DO

DO — Quadrant #1 activities that are true crises. You should do these as soon as possible.

DON’T DO — Quadrant #4 activities that are true time wasters. Find something else to do instead.

DELEGATE — Quadrant #3 activities that could be easily managed by someone else. Have a receptionist screen your phone calls. Have someone else go to that boring meeting and take notes. Delegation will allow you free up tons of time to focus on quadrants 1 & 2.

DECIDE — Quadrant #2 activities that are important, but often get swept aside but Quadrant #1 activities that are more pressing. Often these are the activities that will have the biggest impact on our lives. But if we don’t decide (schedule) when to do them, they’ll never get done. 

Focus On Your "Big Rocks"

Covey says that the problem with today’s world is that it’s all too easy to get caught in quadrants I & III. Everything becomes a fire that must be put out immediately (Quadrant #1). Or we only realize after wasting our time that the matter really wasn’t important at all (Quadrant #3). 

When you live your life focused on urgent matters in Quadrants I & III, you’ll never get around to doing the important things left for you in Quadrant II. And when that happens, life begins to feel like you’re living it for other people. You’ll feel like you’re never getting any closer to your own personal goals and dreams.

Covey gives a powerful demonstration of this principle at work in a presentation called “Big Rocks.” He brings a woman up on stage who tells him she often gets bogged down in the day-to-day activities of her work. Covey uses a bunch of small rocks and pebbles to illustrate these activities. He pours them into a bucket and almost fills it up.

He then asks her to choose from some bigger rocks on the table. They are labeled things like “vacation”, “Time with Spouse”, “Major Project” and so on. He tells her to put as many of those into the bucket as she possibly can. 

Quickly it becomes clear she can’t fit them all in the bucket on top of the small pebbles, no matter how hard she tries. Ultimately she’s forced to leave some of her Quadrant II aspirations on the table. She simply doesn’t have room for them in her life. 

Covey then steps and reverse the order of the rocks. He gives her an empty bucket and tells her to put all the big rocks into it first. Once she does, he pours all the small pebbles into the bucket on top of them. The pebbles fill in the crevices between the big rocks. This allows her to to fit everything inside the bucket, both big and small.

The idea is to focus on the Quadrant II activities first, things that Covey calls “Opportunities.” When we take this approach instead of the “Problem” centered approach of Quadrants I & III, we are able to spend more of our time on the things that matter.

It’s the Pareto Principle or 80/20 Rule at work. The 20% of our lives in the Quadrant II area is responsible for 80% of our results. But we often spend 80% of our time on the things outside of it.

So, the key to successful time management is management of Quadrant II.

But how do we do this?

How to Manage Your Time

Covey identifies four key steps to manager our lives with a Quadrant II focus:

  1. Identifying Roles
  2. Selecting Goals
  3. Scheduling Tasks
  4. Daily Adapting

Let’s go through each of them one-by-one.

Step #1 — Identifying Roles

The first step is to write down all the key roles you play in your life, both personal and professional. You should’ve done this when creating your personal mission statement in Habit #2. Remember that these roles are often tied to personal and professional relationships with others.

When you do this at the start of managing your time, you’ll make sure that you’re focusing on the areas of your life that you invest time into on a regular basis. Then you will work to plan your time around them.

Here’s an example of how you might outline your roles:

  1. Individual
  2. Husband/Father
  3. Real Estate Agent
  4. Church Group Leader
  5. Volunteer

Step #2 — Selecting Goals

The next step is to select 2-3 important results you want to accomplish in the next 7 days or week.

Weekly planning is more effective than daily planning. Because it gives you proper distance from your schedule. This gives you the proper perspective and planning of Quadrant II activities.

If you only focus on daily planning, you’ll find yourself swamped with Quadrant I & III activities. These will eat up your time and won’t allow the time or focus to plan activities for Quadrant II.

The best way to select your goals for the week is to start with a basic mind dump of ALL the things you need to for each role.

Think about the things you needed to do as a spouse this week. And as a parent, and for your work, hobbies, communities and personal relationships. Get it all out there so you can prioritize the tasks you have for each role.

Once you’ve done that, you can identify which tasks are the “big rocks” that need to be put first. Then you can see which items are the “little pebbles” that can fall in the spaces between them.

Step #3 — Scheduling Tasks

The next step is to look at the week ahead of you with your goals in mind and scheduling time to achieve them. And yes, I mean actually scheduling time in your calendar to do it. If it’s not in your calendar, it doesn’t exist. Make an appointment to do it so you don’t get bogged down with urgent matters in Quadrants I & III.

For example, let’s say your goal is to write the first draft of your personal mission statement. Then you might want to schedule a two-hour block of time this weekend to work on it.

If your goal is to become more physically active and exercise more, you might want to schedule 3-4 hour blocks throughout the week to focus on it. And so on.

As you start filling up your calendar for the week ahead, you’ll be planning time to focus on activities that you’ve overlooked in the past. Important activities that have been overshadowed for more urgent ones will finally get done. And you’ll start making major progress in each area of your life.

Step #4 — Daily Adapting

After selecting the “big rocks” for each area of your life and scheduling them on your calendar, you’ll have lots of unscheduled time waiting to be filled. That’s what daily planning is for.

Every day you can review your schedule and practice what Covey calls Daily Adapting. As unexpected activities and demands come up during the week, you have the space to respond to them. You’ll have the room to handle unanticipated events, relationships and experiences in a meaningful way.

I prefer to do my daily planning the night before. So that when I wake up in the morning I’m ready to go and have a solid action plan for the day. But you can do it in the morning if you wish.

Start by reviewing your big list of tasks to do for the week. Then add in any new ones that might have come up in the previous 24 hours. Then pick a few to schedule some time to work on in the spaces your “big rocks.”

These commitments can be flexible, and are meant to be move around if something more important or more urgent come up.

What separates this style of planning from other time management systems is that this strategy has a focus on your values and principles.

By identifying what your core values are and what’s most important to you, you can plan your time effectively. You won’t get caught up running around putting out fires and never making any progress toward your goals.

At the end of the week, you can review how well your plans translated into reality. Did you stick to your schedule? Were you able to spend focused time on the goals that mattered most to you? Did any unexpected and urgent matters come up? How did you react to those? How did you respond?

Each week you plan and review your schedule, you’ll get better and better at managing Quadrant II in this way. I recommend a weekly practice of sitting down for an hour or two on Sunday to review the previous week’s progress and schedule the week ahead.

In fact, you should probably schedule this time for planning right now 😉

The Emotional Bank Account

So far we’ve covered the first three habits. These will help you build a foundation of independence, or mastery of self.

As we progress into the next three habits, we will begin to work on your interdependence. This is your mastery of relationships.

Remember Covey’s “Golden Eggs” analogy? Well, the golden eggs in an interdependent relationship are the effectiveness, synergy and results. These are created by open communication and positive reaction with others.

But remember — to get those eggs on a regular basis, you must remember to take good care of the goose. And you do that by maintaining a healthy emotional bank account.

Now we all know what a financial bank account is. It’s an account that we make financial deposits into. Over time the balance builds up and allows us to make withdrawals of our deposits at a later time.

Well, an emotional bank account works in much the same way. Except that instead of depositing money, you’re depositing love.

The Love Lab

In the 1980’s, Dr. John Gottman built an apartment laboratory at the University of Washington. There he started observing couples and the way they treated each other. It was dubbed the “Love Lab” by the media and has since been profiled many times.

Over the course of four decades, the doctors observed hundreds of couples interact with each other. They would monitor their facial expressions, blood pressure, heart rates. And also the way the couples would communicate with each other.

And what they discovered was that most couples didn’t fight about heavy topics like finances, sex, or parenting. Or other difficult issues that we think most troubled couples fight about.

Instead, they realized that most couples were fighting about a failure to emotionally connect. And what’s worse, they didn’t even know it.

When you are receptive towards your partner’s bids for connection, you make a deposit in their emotional bank account. These could be things like affectionate touching, facial expressions, and verbal cues.

But when you turn away from your partner or ignore their bid for connection, you make a withdrawal. And just like a financial bank account, a zero balance from an overdrawn account puts your relationship in the danger zone.

Because when an emotional bank account is in the red, the partners start to question each other’s motives and intentions. They feel disconnected, and even lonely. Essentially, there is zero trust.

But when an emotional bank account is healthy and full, the partners tend to give each the benefit of the doubt during the conflict. This helps them to keep their relationship in a positive perspective and easily navigate any conflict or trouble that arises.

The Magic 5-to-1 Relationship Ratio

So how do you make sure that you maintain a healthy balance for your emotional bank accounts?

The key to remember is the magic ratio of 5-to-1.

To be satisfied in a relationship, each partner must focus on increasing deposits and minimizing withdrawals.

In other words, you must focus on increasing the positive interactions and minimizing the negative ones.

To do this, Gottman suggests making five deposits in your emotional bank account for every one withdrawal. This 5:1 ratio is the key to keeping a healthy balance.

Why? Because while positive interactions are small, consistent deposits built up over time. Negative interactions are large single withdrawals. And too many of them will drain your account balance dry and remove all trust.

That’s why it’s important to make it a daily practice to make deposits into your emotional bank account. You can’t just let it run dry and then expect to make up for it with a single grand gesture like a trip to Hawaii. It doesn’t work that way.

So how do you make deposits into your emotional bank account?

Here are several ways for you to do it:

  • Be mindful of each other’s needs and pay attention to their bids for connection
  • Express appreciation on a daily basis
  • Talk about what’s stressing each other out in their lives and listen attentively
  • Focus on communicating that you understand your partner instead of trying to solve all their problems
  • Be physically affectionate when appropriate.
  • Keep promises and keep commitments to show you can be trusted
  • Clarify your expectations for the relationship so they’re more likely to be met
  • Apologize sincerely when you make a withdrawal, and get back on track with making deposits as soon as possible.

Maintaining a healthy account balance will be the key to success with the next three habits. So make sure to keep it in mind when interacting with the others in important relationships.

Habit #4: Think Win-Win

Habit #4 encourages you to try and create win-win solutions. This is Covey’s approach to solving problems or conflicts in your relationships.

No matter how high your emotional bank account balance is, there are always bound to be differences in opinions. And how you negotiate with your partner to solve those differences matters.

Because even though conflict is natural, it can still be productive. And you do that by creating win-win situations with everyone you deal with.

“Win-win” situations are created when the focus shifts away from defeating your opponent and getting your way. Instead, focus on solving the challenge in such a way that everyone benefits or wins.

Win-win situations allow you to create mutually acceptable and beneficial outcomes. These will give each party as much of what they want as possible. If both parties are able to walk away happy with what they’ve gained from the deal, then that’s a win-win situation.

Here’s why win-win situations are important. Whenever one party loses in a negotiation, it sours the relationship for the future. Even though one party might gain the benefit, the other party will build resentment over the loss. Think of it as a major withdrawal from the account.

In other words, you may get what you now by creating a win-lose situation. But in the long term it will turn into a lose-lose as the other party’s attitude towards you becomes negative. By being the only person to win in the present, you’re setting yourself up to lose in the future.

The most obvious example of this kind of situation is a divorce where kids are involved. Usually at least one the parties harbors ill-will towards the other over past transgressions. Because of this, they will seek to create a win-lose outcome in the divorce negotiation.

If this happens, the losing party can hold negative feelings toward the winner for years. Even decades. The winner of the negotiation might feel like they’ve won. But since there is an ongoing relationship, they will have actually soured the cooperative spirit for years to come. And now not only have the parents lost, but the children do too.

And even if the situation is a one-time business deal where you’ll never interact with the other party again, remember that word travels. Customers leave reviews, and people will complain about you behind closed doors. And when word gets around about what it’s like to deal with you, it can sour your reputation and forever.

How to Create Win-Win Situations

So how do we go about creating win-win situations when dealing with others?

Here are three steps to help you:

  1. Commit to Win-Win or No Deal
  2. Focus on Common Interests
  3. Invent Options for Mutual Gain

Step #1 — Commit to Win-Win or No Deal

This is the highest form of a win-win situation. If the two parties aren’t able to find a solution that would be mutually beneficial, they agree to walk away — a no deal.

Here’s why it’s so powerful to have no deal as an available option.
It relieves the pressure to create a win-lose situation by pushing your agenda, manipulating the other party, etc.

So even if the deal fails, it sets you up for a win-win in the future. And remember that relationships, both personal and professional, are a long game.

I remember this one experience I had at a high-end restaurant with a strict dress code. A scruffy biker came in with some friends wearing a tank-top. But the restaurant’s dress code stated that the guest’s shirts had to have sleeves.

As you can imagine, the party was quite upset to hear this. Because their plans to celebrate together had suddenly been ruined. And while the restaurant would’ve “won” by sticking to their dress code and having their way, they would’ve lost the customer.

So what did the manager do? She created a win-win situation by allowing the guest to wear one of the sleeved chef’s coats!

The biker and his guests got a kick out of it, and it made for a more memorable experience for everyone. Plus the restaurant got to keep their business, and set themselves up for return visits in the future.

Step #2 — Focus on Common Interests

During a negotiation, people are seldom difficult just for the sake of being difficult. Usually there are valid reasons for their difference in opinion and conflicting position. It can influenced by all sorts of factors. Things like their values, beliefs, status, responsibilities or even their cultural background.

But you shouldn’t focus on these differences and try to blame them for making the negotiation more difficult. Instead you should focus on the common interests you both have.

In a negotiation, each party has a list of things they would like to get out of it. If you compare the two lists from each party, usually you can some common interests where both parties align.

For example, let’s say you’re negotiating with your boss to get more resources for your department. Maybe you need some more supplies or newer equipment. Or maybe you want to hire a couple staff members to handle the extra workload.

Your boss responds that he can’t do that, because he’s under pressure from his superiors to reduce costs. His position is the complete opposite from yours, and at face value it looks like you’re being set up for a loss.

But upon further exploration, you realize that you both have the common interest of being more productive. Let’s explore how you could create a win-win situation with step #3.

Step #3 — Invent Options for Mutual Gain

Once the common interests are established, you can focus on finding a solution that creates a mutual gain.

Look back at the workplace scenario we just talked about. With the common interest of increased productivity, what solutions are available? Perhaps you could try to reduce costs in other areas to make room for the extra staff or supplies.

This is an example of how to create a win-win situation. Your boss gets what he needs with reduced expenses. And you get what you need with the extra staff and supplies. Everybody wins.

Habit #4 Exercises

So as we close out Habit #4, here are a few exercises I want you to consider to help you put it in place.

First, think about an upcoming interaction you have. One where you will be attempting to reach agreement or a solution with someone else.

How could you create a win-win situation with the other party? What common interests do you have? How could you combine the two to create a mutually beneficial solution for everyone?

Second, select a specific relationship in your life. One that you need to build the emotional bank account balance with.

Maybe it’s with your spouse, your kids, your boss or business partner. What are some way that you could make deposits into the emotional bank account to build the balance? What’s something you could do today to make a deposit and build more trust with them?

If you’re feeling brave, please share your answers below in the comments. I’ll try to help you come up with some more ideas to strengthen each relationship and create more win-wins.

Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

If you could only do one of the seven habits in this book, Habit #5 will make the biggest difference in your life. Habit #5 is to “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”

Our ability to communicate with others is the single most important skill we have. After all, we live in an interdependent world. We can do much more working cooperatively with others than we ever could alone.

We spend years in schools learning read, write and speak. But we don’t spend much time at all learning how to effectively listen. And without the ability to listen, we lack the means to understand.

Most people come into an interdependent relationship seeking only to be understood. They only focus on getting across their needs, feelings and interests. They take little time, if any, to understand those same things for the other party.

You may have heard the saying that “Most people aren’t listening, they’re simply waiting for their turn to speak.” But when you approach a relationship like that, it has the opposite effect. It ensures that neither party is understood. And this leads to lower emotional bank account balances. Which create failed negotiations and lose-lose situations.

Diagnose Before You Prescribe

The #1 question people ask themselves before deciding to trust you is “Do you understand me?”

If the people you’re dealing with feel that you don’t understand them, they won’t be open to anything you have to say. They might not even pay attention to it.

So first you need to show that you understand the problem their facing. Before you recommend a possible solution to their problems. And especially before you try to communicate the features and benefits of your offer.

In your dealings with others, you should first focus on understanding the other party. You must diagnose the problem before prescribing a solution. And you can do this through Empathic Listening.

Imagine you went to see the doctor about a pain in your left foot. But once you see him, all he does is examine your head, your elbow, and everything else besides your foot.

On top of that, he won’t stop talking about what a great doctor he is. Or why you should continue to pay for a check up every month.

“But Doc, what about my foot?” Yet he never even looks at your foot! Instead he writes you up a prescription for some drug you’ve never heard of, and goes off on his way.

How would that make you feel? Would you feel confident in their ability to help you with your problem? Would you feel like listening to anything else they have to say? I’m betting you wouldn’t.

Yet people communicate in this kind of way all the time. Instead of listening, they’re too busy talking. When they should realize that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We should listen twice as much as we speak.

Shut Up and Listen

Covey says that the way most people listen is “Autobiographically.” They filter everything that’s being said through their own experiences and values. And this is why two people can hear the same story and end with two completely different viewpoints.

Covey says that if you’re like most people, you seek first to be understood. You want to get your point across. But in doing so, you may be ignoring the other person completely. Or only pretending that you’re listening. Sometimes you might only selectively hear certain parts of the conversation. And end up missing the meaning of what they’re saying entirely.

So why does this happen? Covey says it’s because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You’re really just listening to yourself as you prepare what to say and what questions to ask. You filter everything they say through your own life experiences and frame of reference. But when you do this, you prematurely decide what the other person means before they’re finished communicating. And this leads to misunderstanding.

Here’s a suggestion from another book, “The Significance Principle.” The authors suggest that we should listen past the point where other person has finished. We should even pause before answering. Let them get out their point, their story, or even their criticism. Completely.

Then, before preparing your response, ask more about what they said. Get engaged. Understand what and why. Really be interested in seeing things from their point of view. “Seek first to understand.”

Only then should you seek to make your position understood. Because by fully understanding the other party, they will be more open to listening to you. And you will also be able to deliver your message in a way that’s more easily understood.

The 4 Stages of Empathic Listening

In the book, Covey outline four stages of Empathic Listening. They are:

  1. Repeat
  2. Rephrase
  3. Reflect
  4. Rephrase and Reflect

Let’s go through each one at a time.

Stage #1 — Mimic

The first and least effective type of listening skill is to repeat content. This is typically the kind of skill taught in “active” or “reflective” listening training. You simply listen to the words that come out of the other person’s mouth and repeat them back.


“Honey, I have it with work. I’m so upset about what happened today.”

“You’ve had it with work and you’re upset. What happened?”

See how that kind of response can be a little cold or thoughtless? You really don’t have to use your brain at all. This is why Covey recommends avoiding the lower stages.

Stage #2 — Rephrase

The second stage of empathic listening is to rephrase the content that was said. You do this instead of just repeating it back to them. This forces you to put the content in your own words and increases your understanding of the other person.


“Honey, I have it with work. I’m so upset about what happened today.”

“Something happened that made you angry and you’re fed up. What happened?”

Here you’ve taken what the other person has said to you and rephrased it in your own words.

Stage #3 — Reflect

The third stage of empathic listening is to reflect feeling. Here you’re not so focused on what they’re saying as you as focused on how they’re feeling about what their saying.


“Honey, I have it with work. I’m so upset about what happened today.”

“It sounds like you’re really frustrated.”

Pro Tip: Using phrases like “It sounds like” or “It seems like” are really great ways to reflect feeling back about what was said.

Stage #4 — Rephrase and Reflect

The final stage is to both rephrase the words that were spoken and reflect feeling back about what was said. This enables the fullest interpretation and understanding of the other person’s feelings.


“Honey, I have it with work. I’m so upset about what happened today.”

“It seems like you’re really frustrated about your job lately.”

When you listen in this way with a pure desire to understand, you’d be amazed at how fast people open up. You’ll have effectively answered the “Do you understand me?” question and that will open the doors to greater and more open communication between you and the other party.

Habit #5 Exercises

Here are a few exercises you can do to immediately get results with Habit #5:

First, I want you to think of a relationship in your life where the emotional bank account balance is in the red. Think of someone you’ve had trouble getting along with lately.

Now try to look back at what you’ve been arguing about and see if you might have misunderstood them. Try to see things from their point of view without your biases.

In your next interaction with this person, use empathic listening to help increase your understanding. In fact, you can start practicing these skills immediately with the next person you talk to!

Try rephrasing content and reflecting feeling before interjecting your opinions and views. See if you think it makes a difference in helping the other person to feel understood. And also observe how they might open up to you more once they feel this way.

Habit #6: Synergize

The exercise of the first five habits empowers us to practice the sixth habit — synergy.

But what is synergy, exactly?

Here’s a definition of synergy from the book Managing Cultural Differences:

“The combined action that takes place when different individuals collaborate for one common cause that improves results by the sharing of perceptions, insights and knowledge.”

Synergy could also be defined as the cooperation between two or more people to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their parts.

In essence, it means that when people work together they can achieve more than they could working on their own. “Two heads are better than one.”

Synergy is important because when you have it, the work you do will be more efficient and fruitful for everyone involved.

Music is a wonderful example of synergy. Individual rhythms, melodies and harmonies combine together to create a beautiful piece of work that didn’t exist before.

Think about some of your favorite songs from your favorite artists. Imagine one of their songs playing in your head right now. Hear all the different instruments playing together to make the song hum.

Now imagine if you were to remove the drums, or the guitar, or any of the individual instruments. The piece couldn’t be recreated. It would be the same. It’s impossible without the creative cooperation of every musician involved.

That’s synergy.

How to Create Synergy

So how do get create synergy in our personal and professional relationships?

First, you start by practicing habits #4 and #5. You must work to create win-win outcomes and seek to understand them before anything else.

Once that’s established, you can work with the other members of the team to focus on attacking the problem. Not attacking the ideas or opinions of the other members.

Here’s a really good example from pop culture to show the difference between the two.

HBO once filmed an amazingly popular drama series called Game of Thrones. It was based off a series of novels under the same name. The books were written by author George RR Martin and were incredibly popular.

In the story, the people of Westeros must learn to work together to fight the undead that threaten all mankind. There were a bunch of warring kingdoms fighting with each other over power when suddenly an outside force threatens them all.

For much of the story, the individuals are all too busy fighting over power, betraying and backstabbing each other to get it. Little focus is given to attacking the actual problem at hand — the white walkers. The undead force that’s coming for all of them.

And unless they can learn to work together, they’ll all be destroyed. United we stand, divided we fall. That is the essence behind synergy.

Alone, the individual kingdoms will be overrun and destroyed. But if the stand together, they can stop the destruction and save the world.

As for how to do that, here are my three steps to getting synergy in your relationships:

  1. Promote Teamwork
  2. Encourage Communication
  3. Open Discussion

Now let’s go over each of them one-by-one:

Step #1 — Promote Teamwork

As President Truman said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” And when teams adapt that kind of mindset, they can truly achieve amazing things.

This motto was the spirit behind the recent successes and dominance of the New England Patriots. From 2000 to 2008, the team won more than 70% of their games and won six superbowls in an 18 year span.

Here’s a quote from former Patriots Executive Scot Pioli:

“Our leadership group doesn’t believe in egos and we’ve surrounded ourselves with a group of players who are similar to use personality-wise, who are more selfless than selfish… no one cares about who’s getting the credit.”

When trying to create synergy, it’s important to remind everyone that you’re working as a team towards a common goal. You’re not merely working as individuals seeking their own agendas. The promotion and emphasis of teamwork is key to success.

Step #2 — Encourage Communication

In order for synergy to be achieved, each member of the team must feel safe in sharing their ideas, viewpoints and feelings. They have to be encouraged to understand each other. The should learn to listen empathically to the opinions and suggestions of others.

Step #3 — Open Discussion

And the best way to encourage communication is to hold regular open discussion among the members of the group.

Ask questions, tell the individual members to speak their minds, and to listen empathically to what the other members have to say.

Remind each member to put focus on understanding the viewpoints of the other members. Because when every member of the team takes this approach, understanding of each individual comes naturally.

This removes ego out of the way, and the members of the group are free to focus on creating effective solutions to problems instead. When people can be radically truthful and transparent with each other, a true mastermind will be created. Solutions that were impossible to imagine before will suddenly be made clear.

Synergy Exercises

Here are some exercises you can do to immediately increase the synergy in your most important relationships.

First, think about some people in your life who typically see things differently than you do.

Maybe you even irritate each other a bit or run each other the wrong way. How could you value the differences in opinion the two of you have? How might those differences be used as stepping-stones to create win-win situations? What difference might it make if you sought to fully understand their position, interests and opinion on the subject? How might they be more cooperative if they felt understood?

Second, identify a relationship in your life where you desire more synergy.

What conditions would need to exist in that relationship to support it? How could you create those conditions? How could promote teamwork, encourage communication, and have open discussion?

If you’re having some trouble, comment down below about the situation and I’ll try to help you figure it out. Let’s work to solve those problems in a creative and mutually beneficial way. We’ll try to make it as much of a win-win situation as we can. So let me know!

Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw

The final of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits is the one that makes all the other habits possible. It’s about preserving and developing the most powerful asset you have — you.

You are the main tool you use to interact with the universe around you. And to maintain peak performance, you must regularly take time to care for yourself so that you stay sharp.

The story behind the name of “sharpening the saw” comes from a quote that’s commonly misattributed to Abraham Lincoln. The quote goes:

“If I had four hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first two hours sharpening the axe.”

The idea is that the time spent sharpening the axe will spare you from the hard work of swinging it. If you had a large tree to cut down, would you rather spend four hours swinging a dull axe? Or just two hours swinging a sharp one? The answer is obvious.

When it comes to you own life, you— the individual — are the axe. And to be effective in each area of life, you must spend sometime staying sharp by caring for yourself.

Four Dimensions of Human Nature

According to Covey, there are four dimensions of our human nature that we must often renew:

  1. Physical
  2. Spiritual
  3. Mental
  4. Social/Emotional

Here’s an overview of each dimension and some suggestions for way that you renew that area of your life:

Physical Dimension

The purpose of continual physical improvement is to regularly exercise your body. This will enhance your capability to work, interact and adapt with your environment.

Focusing on developing the physical dimension will help you to practice Habit #, Be Proactive. When your body feels good, it’s easier to overcome resistance to taking action on your dreams and aspirations.

To renew yourself physically, be sure to:

  • Eat a healthy, well-balance diet and avoid junk foods full of excess sugar and fat
  • Exercise on a regular basis to help you build endurance, flexibility and strength
  • Get enough rest and relaxation to help your body recover and restore your energy

Spiritual Dimension

The goal of renewing your spiritual self is help provide leadership to your life. This will reinforce your commitment to your core values and guiding principles.

By focusing on the spiritual dimension, you will be better able to practice Habit #2. By continuously revising and recommitting to yourself and your values, you can easily begin with the end in mind for all areas of your life.

To renew yourself spiritually, you can:

  • Practice daily meditation or prayer
  • ‘Reconnect with nature and explore the great outdoors
  • Immerse yourself in some great literature or amazing music

Mental Dimension

The reason to renew your mental health is to continue expanding your mind. For you to be able to live life to the fullest, you must continually look for way to grow and expand.

By focusing on the mental dimension, you’ll better be able to practice self-management with Habit #3. With mental discipline and sharp focus, you’ll be able to maximize the use of your time and resources by putting first things first.

Some ways to renew yourself mentally are:

  • Read some good literature or personal development books
  • Keep a detailed journal of your thoughts, experiences and insights about the world
  • Limit television to only watching programs that enrich your life and mind, no junk TV

Social / Emotional Dimension

Renewing yourself socially and emotionally strengthens your ability to develop meaningful relationships.

This helps you to practice Habits 4, 5 and 6. By seeking to understand others, you can create synergy to find win-win solutions.

To renew yourself socially and emotionally, you can:

  • Seek to deeply understand every person you come into regular contact with
  • Maintain an abundance mentality and work to help others find their own success
  • Make meaningful contributions to projects that improve the lives of others

Synergy In Renewal

Now that all seven habits and been revealed, let’s see how they work together in synergy to create amazing results in your life.

The more proactive you are (Habit #1), the more effectively you can exercise leadership (Habit #2) and management (Habit #3) in your life.

The more effectively your manage your life (Habit #3), the more time you’ll have for Quadrant II renewing activities (Habit #7).

The more you seek first to understand (Habit #5), the more effectively you go can for synergetic win-win solutions (Habits #4 and #6).

The more you work on improving any of the independence (Habits #1, 2 & 3), the more effective you will be in interdependent situations and relationships (Habits #4, 5 & 6).

And renewal (Habit #7) is a process of renewing all the habits.

How to Practice Renewal

Here are some ways for you to practice renewal in each area of your life.

First, pick one dimension to focus on. It can either be physical, spiritual, mental, or social/emotional.

Next, select some activities you could do that would keep this dimension of yourself sharp. Try to pick things that would fit your life-style and that you could see yourself enjoying for a long time.

Then make one of those activities a goal for yourself in the coming week. At the end of the week, evaluate your performance and see how you did. If you failed to complete the renewal this week, was it because something more urgent and important came up? Or did you fail to act with integrity to your values and watch TV or do nothing instead? Be honest with yourself.

Repeat this practice for each of the four dimensions, and plan some time for each of them every week. This way you’ll “stay sharp” and be ready for anything life throws at you!

Be sure to share some of your goals and lists below! You’ll help spur some ideas for other people like you. And if you’re stuck, we can help you come up with some ideas as well.

7 Habits of Highly Successful People Summary and Review

After spending the last few weeks reading this book and taking notes, I can see why it’s one of the most influential books of all time. It really is that good.

I noticed that as I was reading the book, I naturally started applying the seven habits to each area of my life. And I started getting some amazing results.

The personal mission statement helped me get clear about what’s important in my life and what values and principles guide me.

I took the time to plan each day and make time for the “big rocks.” I started getting things done that I had been putting off forever because they kept getting overlooked by more urgent things.

I started making more deposits in my most important emotional bank accounts. And even without getting something in return, it felt good to do something special for the ones I love.

After reading this book and putting some of the habits into practice, I can honestly say that even if you just take one of these habits and commit to it, it’ll make a big difference in your life.

And I can’ wait to see just how good things will get as I strengthen my practice with each habit over the next year. I’m genuinely excited for what’s to come.

Where To Learn More About the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

If you’ve enjoyed the content presented in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, here some other resources for you to continue learning and integrating these habits into your life.

If you’ve enjoyed the content presented in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, here are some resources for you to continue learning and integrating these habits into your life (affiliate links).

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens: The Ultimate Teenage Success Guide

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Personal Workbook

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families: Building a Beautiful Family

The 7 Habits of Happy Kids

The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Classic 7 Habits Daily Ring-Bound Planner

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People YouTube Channel

FranklinCovey Training, Programs & Resources for the 7 Habits

Bonus Study Guide and Notes

After spending the last few weeks reading this book and taking notes, I can see why it’s one of the most influential books of all time. It really is that good.

I noticed that as I was reading the book, I naturally started applying the seven habits to each area of my life. And I started getting some amazing results.

The personal mission statement helped me get clear about what’s important in my life and what values and principles guide me.

I took the time to plan each day and make time for the “big rocks.” I started getting things done that I had been putting off forever because they kept getting overlooked by more urgent things.

I started making more deposits in my most important emotional bank accounts. And even without getting something in return, it felt good to do something special for the ones I love.

After reading this book and putting some of the habits into practice, I can honestly say that even if you just take one of these habits and commit to it, it’ll make a big difference in your life.

And I can’ wait to see just how good things will get as I strengthen my practice with each habit over the next year. I’m genuinely excited for what’s to come.

Get the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary & Notes

Tons of Exercises

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Time Saving Summary

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Over 70 Pages of Notes

These are the extensive notes I have personally taken on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You'll get more than 70 pages of them.

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