7 Habits of Highly Effective People [Summary & Takeaways]

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Anum Hussain
Anum Hussain


Stephen Covey's best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, provides a comprehensive framework for developing healthy habits to make you a more prosperous and effective individual.

person practicing 7 habits of effective people by reading, running, and drinking water.

The best-selling book provides a framework for developing healthy habits to make you a more prosperous and effective individual.

Don't have time to read all 432 pages? Don’t sweat it. Most of us don’t. That's why we summarized the entire book for you below.

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The Foundations of Success

Before discussing the seven habits in detail, let’s review the foundation Covey argues is necessary for implementing an effective and successful mindset.

7 habits of highly effective people

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What is success?

  • Covey postulates that true success is more than just achieving wealth or fame. Instead, it necessitates personal growth and fulfillment.
  • He supports this claim by discussing traditionally "successful" individuals who struggle with personal effectiveness and relationship health despite their material wealth and accolades.


  • Paradigms are models for perception and understanding that shape how we view and interact with the world.
  • Covey argues that a paradigm shift is necessary to cultivate effective habits — specifically, a change from a mindset of scarcity and victimhood to one of abundance and responsibility.


  • Covey defines principles as fundamental truths that must be lived and internalized to achieve lasting success.
  • Covey identifies several principles that he believes are essential for personal effectiveness, including:
    • Integrity.
    • Courage.
    • Patience.
    • Persistence.
    • Humility.
    • Empathy.
    • Synergy.
    • Continuous Learning.

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    Character Ethic vs. Personality Ethic

    • Covey defines a cultural shift in the understanding of success around the 1920s, where the focus shifted from fundamental character traits to skills and practices that bolster the public image.
      • Character Ethic. Pre-1920, the general view of success was based on the principles mentioned above. Fundamental traits like integrity, courage, and patience were viewed as the basis of success.
      • Personality Ethic. Post-1920, the view of success shifted, emphasizing secondary traits and skills that support a robust public image.

    character ethic vs personality ethicMany people seek quick solutions to their problems by looking for shortcuts and techniques from successful individuals or organizations. However, shortcuts often fail to address the root cause of the problem. Instead, as Covey emphasizes, the problem lies in how we perceive it.

    To bring about genuine and lasting change, we need to undergo a paradigm shift, which means changing our fundamental beliefs, assumptions, and values rather than merely modifying our attitudes and behaviors on the surface level.

    That's where the seven habits of highly effective people come in. Now, let's dive into the seven habits.

    These seven habits are grouped into three categories: Private victory (habits 1-3), Public victory (habits 4-6), and Renewal (habit 7). We’ll start with an overview, then discuss the habits in each category.

    Be Proactive

    Take responsibility for your life and actions, and focus on what you can control rather than what you can't.

    Begin with the End in Mind

    Define your goals and purpose in life, and use them as a guide to make decisions and prioritize your actions.

    Put First Things First

    Prioritize your time and energy on the essential things in your life, and learn to say "no" to less important things.

    Think Win-Win

    Seek mutual benefit in all interactions and relationships, and look for solutions that benefit all parties involved.

    Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

    Listen empathetically and seek to understand others' perspectives before expressing your own.


    Work collaboratively with others to achieve goals and create outcomes more significant than any individual could achieve alone.

    Sharpen the Saw

    Take time to renew and improve yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for continued success.

    7 habits of highly effective people. Be Proactive. Begin With the End in Mind. Put First Things First. Think Win-Win. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. Synergize. Sharpen the Saw.

    Private Victory

    The following habits focus on personal effectiveness. They are habits you can implement to improve your mindset, take responsibility for your decisions, and move towards independence.

    1. Be Proactive

    Proactive people take the initiative. They act instead of being acted upon. Being proactive means taking radical responsibility for your problems instead of giving energy to circumstances and things beyond your control.

    • Take responsibility for your life and decisions, and focus on what you can control.
    • Proactive people choose how to respond to a given situation.
    • Reactive people focus on the things they cannot control and cultivate a narrative of victimhood.
    • Practice proactivity by making commitments to yourself and sticking to them.

    7 habits of highly effective people. Be Proactive. Begin With the End in Mind. Put First Things First. Think Win-Win. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. Synergize. Sharpen the Saw.

    To be proactive, we must focus on the Circle of Influence within our Circle of Concern. In other words, we must work on the things we can do something about.

    Proactive focus vs reactive focus

    The positive energy we exert will cause our Circle of Influence to expand.

    Reactive people, on the other hand, focus on things in their Circle of Concern but not in their Circle of Influence, which leads to blaming external factors, emanating negative energy, and causing their Circle of Influence to shrink.

    Key Lessons

    Challenge yourself to test the principle of proactivity by doing the following:

    1. Replace reactive language with proactive language.

    • Reactive = "He makes me so mad."
    • Proactive = "I control my own feelings."

    2. Convert reactive tasks into proactive ones.

    2. Begin with the End in Mind

    Covey invites us to imagine our funeral. How do you want to be remembered? What would you like your friends and family to say about you? Beginning with the end in mind means clarifying our goals and values to guide our actions.

    • Develop a personal mission statement — a set of values and principles towards which you will direct your actions.
    • Ensure that your actions don’t contradict the guiding principles that you hold.

    begin with the end in mind


    • Beginning with the end in mind applies to businesses.
    • Being a leader is about setting the strategic vision for an organization and asking, "What are we trying to accomplish?"
    • Before we as individuals or organizations can start setting and achieving goals, we must be able to identify our values. This process may involve some rescripting to be able to assert our values.


    • Rescripting is recognizing ineffective scripts written for you and changing those scripts by proactively writing new ones built on your values.
    • Identify your center. Whatever is at the center of your life will be the source of your security, guidance, wisdom, and power.

    what are you centered around

    Be Principle-Centered

    • Covey notes that none of the above centers are optimal. Instead, we should strive to be principle-centered.
    • Identify the timeless, unchanging principles by which we must live our lives. This will give us the guidance that we need to align our behaviors with our beliefs and values.

    Key Lessons

    Challenge yourself to test the principle of beginning with the end in mind by doing the following:

    1. Break down different roles in your life and list five goals for each. This can include personal, professional, and community roles.

    2. Define what scares you. Public speaking? Critical feedback after writing a book? Write down the worst-case scenario for your biggest fear, then visualize how you'll handle this situation. Finally, write down exactly how you'll handle it.

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      3. Put First Things First

      Putting first things first is the practical execution of habits one and two. You must be proactive and use your guiding principles to determine the most important activities in front of you and execute them accordingly.

      • Be disciplined and manage your time. Determine important tasks and execute them, and prioritize important tasks over urgent but less important ones.

      being disciplined and managing your time

      Urgent vs. Important Tasks

      All of your tasks exist on a matrix of urgency and importance. Unfortunately, we tend to react most to urgent matters while neglecting important activities that may not be pressing at the moment.

      urgent vs not urgent and important vs not important tasks

      • Quadrant I. Important and urgent tasks like crises and deadlines can consume us and lead to burnout. While we must address these matters, you should not align your mission statement with putting out fires.
      • Quadrant II. Important, non-urgent matters are at the heart of effective personal management. We know these are important but often neglect them for more urgent matters. Important, non-urgent matters require discipline to tackle and bolster your effectiveness.
      • Quadrant III. We spend most of our time reacting to matters that seem urgent when in reality, their perceived urgency is based on the priorities and expectations of others. This leads to short-term focus, feeling out of control, and shallow or broken relationships.
      • Quadrant IV. Non-urgent and non-important tasks are a waste of time. Still, it’s easy to pour energy into trivial, unimportant tasks. Of course, we all deserve rest and pleasant activities, but you must first prioritize activities aligned with your guiding principles.

      To focus our time in Quadrant II, we must learn to say "no" to other activities, sometimes ones that seem urgent. We also need to be able to delegate effectively.

      scheduling your prioritiesImage Source

      Plus, when we focus on Quadrant II, it means we're thinking ahead, working on the roots, and preventing crises from happening in the first place! This helps us implement the Pareto Principle: 80% of your results come from 20% of your time.

      We should always maintain a primary focus on relationships and results and a secondary focus on time.

      Key Lessons

      Here are some ways you can practice putting first things first:

      1. Identify a Quadrant II activity you've been neglecting. Write it down and commit to implementing it.

      2. Create your time management matrix to start prioritizing.

      3. Estimate how much time you spend in each quadrant. Then log your time over three days. How accurate was your estimate? How much time did you spend in Quadrant II (the most important quadrant)?

      Public Victory

      The following habits focus on cultivating successful interactions with others. One can only achieve public victory after private triumph.

      Habits 1-3 enable you to develop independence, while habits 4-6 aim to establish interdependent relationships where you can effectively work together to achieve common goals.

      4. Think Win-Win

      You should seek mutually beneficial outcomes in all your interactions.

      Covey explains that there are six paradigms of human interaction:

      • Win-Win. This paradigm is based on the belief that mutual benefit is the best approach to achieve a satisfactory outcome for all parties involved.
      • Win-Lose. This paradigm is based on the belief that one person's gain is another person's loss. It is a competitive approach to human interaction where one party wins and the other loses.
      • Lose-Win. This paradigm is based on the belief that putting the needs and desires of others before your own is the best way to achieve a satisfactory outcome.
      • Lose-Lose. This paradigm is based on the belief that when two or more parties disagree, no one wins, and everyone loses.
      • Win. This paradigm is based on the belief that achieving personal success without considering the needs and desires of others is the best way to approach human interaction.
      • Win-Win or No Deal. This paradigm believes that if you cannot achieve a mutually satisfactory outcome, it is better to have no deal. It promotes finding a solution that benefits all parties involved or walking away.

      Strive for Win-Win Situations

      • In win-lose and lose-win scenarios, one person gets what they want at the expense of another. These types of outcomes result in poor relationship health.
      • Win-win or no deal is a backup. Having the option to walk away prevents us from manipulating others to achieve our goals.

      In solving for Win-Win, we must consider two factors: consideration and courage. First, take a look at the following chart:

      consideration vs courage

      Abundance Mentality

      • An abundance mentality is necessary to create Win-Win situations.
      • Abundance mentality is the belief that there is enough of everything to go around, including resources, opportunities, and success.
      • People with an abundance mentality tend to be more open-minded, flexible, and creative.
      • An abundance mentality fosters collaboration and cooperation, allowing people to work together and achieve success for all parties.

      Scarcity Mentality

      • Scarcity mentality is the belief that there is a limited amount of everything, and one person’s success must come at the expense of another.
      • Most people operate with this mentality, and it leads to feelings of envy, unhappiness, and victimhood.
      • A scarcity mentality limits a person's ability to see opportunities and makes solving for win-win scenarios nearly impossible.

      Regarding interpersonal leadership, the more genuine our character is, the higher our level of proactivity; the more committed we are to win-win, the more powerful our influence will be.

      The spirit of win-win can't survive in an environment of competition. As an organization, we must align our reward systems with our goals and values and have the systems in place to support win-win.

      Key Lessons

      Get yourself to start thinking win-win with these challenges:

      1. Consider an upcoming interaction where you'll attempt to reach an agreement or solution. Write down a list of what the other person is looking for and consider how you can meet those needs.

      2. Identify three important relationships in your life and consider their balance. Do you give more than you take? Write down ten ways to give more than you take in each relationship.

      3. Identify your interaction tendencies and how they affect others. Are they win-lose? Can you identify the source of that approach? Determine whether or not your approach serves you well in your relationships.

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        5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

        Habit 5 means that you must listen actively and empathetically before communicating your own views. Listen with the intent to understand, not to respond. In doing so, you can cultivate trust and respect with others.

        Seeking to understand requires being open-minded and non-judgmental and avoiding imposing your biases and assumptions on others. The result is improved communication, deeper relationships, and more effective collaboration.

        7 habits of highly effective people quote, You’ve spent years of your life learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening?

        Reflective Listening

        • Reflective listening is a technique that Covey recommends practicing to understand others’ perspectives.
        • Reflective listening involves paraphrasing the other person's message and checking for accuracy to ensure you understand their perspective correctly.

        Autobiographical Listening

        Autobiographical Listening means listening with our perspective in mind. When we do this, we tend to respond in one of four ways.

        • Evaluate. Agree or disagree with what is said.
        • Probe. Ask questions from our frame of reference.
        • Advise. Give counsel based on our own experience.
        • Interpret. Try to determine the person's motives and behavior based on our motives and behavior.

        If we instead focus on empathetic listening, we see dramatic results in improved communication.

        The second part of Habit 5 is " ... then to be understood." This is equally critical in achieving win-win solutions.

        seeking to be understood requires courage

        When we can present our ideas clearly, and in the context of a deep understanding of the other person's needs and concerns, we significantly increase our credibility and effectiveness.

        Key Lessons

        Here are a few ways to get yourself in the habit of seeking first to understand:

        1. Next time you watch two people communicate, cover your ears and watch. What emotions are they sharing that might not come across through words alone? For example, was one person or the other more interested in the conversation? Write down what you noticed.

        2. Root your presentations in empathy. Begin by understanding the audience's point of view. What problems are they facing? How is what you're about to say offering a solution to their problems?

        6. Synergize

        The synergize habit emphasizes the power of collaboration and encourages us to look for opportunities to work together to create outcomes greater than the sum of their parts.

        Key to synergy and collaboration is valuing people’s differences and seeking ways to combine strengths to reach more significant outcomes than one could achieve alone.

        valuing differences

        Covey outlines several principles for achieving synergy:

        Value Differences

        • Recognize and appreciate the unique abilities, experiences, and perspectives of others.
        • Seek to combine people’s different strengths to achieve collaborative success.

        Create a Third Alternative

        • Look for solutions that go beyond simply compromising between two opposing viewpoints.
        • Find ways to create new solutions that address everyone’s needs.

        Listen to Understand

        • We must empathetically listen to understand and value others’ differences.
        • Listen to understand, not to respond.

        Be Open to Feedback

        • Welcome feedback from others without involving your ego.
        • Use feedback to improve your ideas and actions.

        Build Relationships with Trust and Respect

        • Trust and respect are essential for achieving synergistic outcomes.
        • Strive for honesty and openness as the foundation of your relationships.
        • Create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas, exchanging feedback, and collaborating.

        Key Lessons

        1. Make a list of people who irritate you. How are their views different? Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how it feels to be them.

        Next time you disagree with one of those people, try to understand their concerns and why they disagree. The better you can understand them, the easier it will be to change their mind — or yours.

        2. Make a list of people with whom you get along well. How are their views different? Next, write down a situation where you had excellent teamwork and synergy. Why? What conditions were met to reach synergy? How can you recreate those conditions again?

        7. Sharpen the Saw

        Sharpening the saw means continually honing our personal development through deliberate actions that renew and recharge our energy. The result is a happy, holistically healthy, and effective individual.

        It’s easy to get caught up in our work and responsibilities and neglect to prioritize ourselves. Covey posits that we must take the time to “sharpen our saw” to remain effective.

        Essentially, we must prioritize self-care. After all, if we aren’t healthy and happy, we won’t be able to help others.

        Covey discusses four categories of renewal and outlines how we can look after our health in those areas.

        Physical Renewal

        We must ensure our bodies have the health and vitality to tackle life’s demands. It is challenging to be effective if you feel sick or physically unhealthy. Activities that engender the renewal of physical energy include:

        • Exercising: walking, running, playing sports, lifting weights.
        • Eating healthy: eating fresh fruits and vegetables and being mindful of processed foods and sugar.
        • Staying hydrated.
        • Spending time in nature.
        • Getting enough sleep.

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          Mental Renewal

          Mental health is just as important as physical health. Just like exercising, we must make concerted efforts to prioritize renewing our mental energy. Consider some activities that stimulate and calm the mind:

          • Meditation.
          • Reading books.
          • Learning new things: attend classes, workshops, or seminars.
          • Pursuing hobbies and interests.
          • Playing an instrument.
          • Watching a documentary.

          Mental renewal is crucial for maintaining a positive outlook and staying sharp in our ever-changing world.

          Spiritual Renewal

          Spiritual renewal involves reflecting, solidifying our values and beliefs, and cultivating a sense of purpose in life. Spiritual renewal can include engaging in things like:

          • Meditation.
          • Prayer.
          • Volunteering.
          • Journaling.
          • Self-reflection.
          • Silence and gratitude.
          • Fasting.

          Taking the time to look after our spiritual health makes us more empathetic, balanced, and effective.

          Social/Emotional Renewal

          Humans are social, emotional beings. We must take care of our health in these areas by reflecting on our emotions and relationships. Social/emotional renewal can mean some of the following:

          • Spending time with loved ones.
          • Hanging out with friends.
          • Going to a concert.
          • Having a meaningful conversation.
          • Practicing empathy.
          • Hosting a dinner party.
          • Distancing ourselves from toxic people.

          using your imagination vs using your memory

          Sharpening the Saw is crucial for maintaining success with the previous six habits. If we fail to look after our physical, mental, social, and spiritual health, taking care of others is much more challenging.

          Key Lessons

          1. List renewal activities you enjoy and sort them according to the above categories. Make it a goal to do one renewal activity from each category per week.

          2. Identify the essential areas of renewal for your personality. For example, some people are extroverted and might need to focus more on social renewal, whereas others might need to prioritize physical renewal over the rest.

          Turning Habits Into Action

          You don’t have to read all 432 pages of Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to level up your life. After reading our summary, try out some of the exercises listed above. Once you find a habit that works for you, make sure to practice it regularly so it sticks.

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