7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Review and Comment

Watch a Video Review for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Callibrain

When the book by Steven R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People came out in 1989, it set the business press on fire and crossed over into the mainstream. One could call this tome the premiere life hack of the previous generation. Whatever becomes of Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life, Steven R. Coven did it first with his series of “7 Habits” books. Covey did not claim any major new insights, rather, he claimed that his book conveyed the timeless truths of character and principles rather than the tricks and techniques that dominated the current intellectual marketplace.

I believe that this book can be of great benefit to the urban survivor- especially its twin emphasis on improving our productive capacity (habits 1-3) and strengthening our interdependence on each other (habits 4-6). While those who promote wilderness survival seek to leave human networks behind, the urban dweller knows all too well how important our networks are to our survival. In applying the principles of this book, you will learn how to improve your life and those of the important people around you. In this post, I will state each habit, explain its meaning and give an example. Then I will follow up with my own commentary or interaction with the book. I encourage you to write your own comments at the end.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Meaning: If there is a problem or opportunity, don’t procrastinate or wait for people and circumstances to compel you into action. Act now before the problem grows or the opportunity fades.

Example: Your tooth hurts when you drink ice water, so you know that you have a cavity. Go to the dentist this week instead of waiting for the hole in your tooth to grow and your pain becomes unbearable.

Comment: This is the principle of personal responsibility. Being proactive means taking responsibility for your life. It requires that you stop blaming others for the bad things in your life. This is the first of many steps toward reaching your goals. The easiest way to begin is asking “Where does it hurt?” and “What can I do about it?”.  Of course, you can’t do everything at once nor can you fix everything immediately. You need the wisdom to know which problem/opportunity to focus on first.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Meaning:  Have a goal or at least a direction before taking action. Can the path that you are considering really help to reach your goal? Count the cost; are you willing to work hard enough to achieve the desired changes?

Example: If you want a long, healthy life, take care of your body now. Stop smoking and excessive drinking, control your weight, get plenty of rest and exercise. You have heard this advice all your life, but to know and not to do is not to know. Putting you knowledge into action is the only way to effect change.

Comment: This is the principle of leadership. It is vitally important that you take the long view when choosing important goals. Many people have made business success one of their most important goals, yet on their death-bed, they regret that they didn’t spend enough time with family. Find out which goals such as wealth, fame, leisure, health and relationships will really satisfy you in the long term, then pursue them diligently. Choose your path with wisdom.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Meaning: Identify your priorities and focus on them. Don’t get distracted by other concerns. Carry out your plans with discipline.

Example: If you want to be a lawyer, for example, you will have to finish law school first. And before that, you have to graduate from college. Don’t spend your first three years at a university partying. Study hard in college so you can get into a top grad school. Do your best in grad school so you can get a great lawyer job.

Comment: This is the principle of management. Before beginning, count the cost. Make sure that you are willing to do what it takes at each step of the path you are considering. To do otherwise is foolish. Also, while you may have many interests, you can not do everything. You must follow your chosen path with patience and discipline.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

Meaning: You can’t do anything consequential by yourself. You need to work with others. In a successful relationship, both sides get a fair deal -this is win-win.  Consider not only satisfying your own needs but also the needs of others.

Example: Always pay your workers. Don’t take advantage of them. Pay a fair wage for the work done. Keep your agreements. Make your goals and plans fair for everyone involved. This goes for your suppliers, your customers and especially your family and friends.

Comment: This is the principle of mutual concern and trust. If I am concerned about you, I want you to win. If you see my concern, then you will trust me. Relationships always have difficulties, but if we trust each other, we can still work out acceptable solutions. Of course, win-win requires both sides to trust each other. If there is no trust, then win-win is impossible. This is why you should always build trust before working out deals.

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

Meaning: People will trust you more if you listen to them and understand their concerns. Be proactive and choose to listen to others first, understand them and gain their trust, then they will be willing to do the same for you.

Example: Your son wants to borrow your car to take a girl out on a date. You are not sure that is a good idea. So, talk it over with him. First, put away all distractions, then turn and face him. Listen to his desires, goals, and plans. See if you can repeat them back to show your son that you understand him. Now explain your own desires, goals, and plans (for the car and your son). If you have built up enough trust, then you can both work out a win-win solution.

Comment: This is the principle of respect. Everyone desires to talk about what they want, but few are willing to listen to what other’s want. You show the highest form of respect when you put aside your concerns temporarily and truly listen to someone else. If you practice this consistently, you will become a master listener and people will share more and more because they trust you. Obviously, you need to keep private conversations private. Don’t ruin everything by being a gossip or a snitch.

Habit 6: Synergize

Meaning: In working out win-win solutions, you often can find ways that are much better than either side expected through creative cooperation. As Covey says, “Two heads are better than one.”

Example: Nature is full of synergy. Flowers, for example, produce pollen and nectar. Bees collect the nectar to make honey and incidentally spread pollen from flower to flower, which helps the flowers reproduce.

Comment: This is the principle of teamwork. By considering and valuing many different perspectives, we can adopt more comprehensive and robust solutions. While we can’t please everyone, synergy is something that is vastly more powerful than a mere compromise. Naturally, good teamwork requires trust and win-win thinking.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Meaning: Don’t focus on your goals exclusively. You need to rest and play or you will burn out before long. So take a break once in a while – you need rest even if you don’t want it.

Example: No student can study productively for hours at a time. Few people can maintain focus for even one hour. So, take a break, say 15 minutes for every 45 minutes of focused study. Just make sure you do return to focus on your studies.

Comment: This is the principle of rest. Most people measure their activities not by what they get done, but by the time they took to do it. That is backward and rewards inefficiency. Studies show that our brains will work out unsolved problems unconsciously while we are doing something else that is not too taxing. Often. we will have a eureka moment when the solutions seem to come out of our subconscious. That means while we are playing a video game, our minds are quietly working all the angles to deal with our concerns. While goes to show that periods of rest are not wasting time.


I read this book when it first came out in 1989 and it opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about work and relationships. As a parent, I follow these habits when dealing with my own family and I teach them to my students as well. Thus, by theory and a generation of practice, I can say that these 7 habits really will help you become more effective and successful. By all means, I urge my readers to buy Steven Covey’s foundational book and experience his wisdom for yourselves.

Well, that’s what I think. Now it’s your turn to comment.

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2 Responses

  1. carlos says:

    Hi Peter, this is a book I probably would never have read. For some reason I had a prejudice against it, but I must say your review has really got me interested. Seems like some very simple principles that can be easily understood and put to good use. I’m looking forward to adopting these habits in my own life. Thank you for directing me to it.

    • Peter Barban says:

      Thanks Carlos. Years ago I taught this to junior high English students in Taiwan. They had to rephrase the 7 habits in their own words. We made posters and everything. I wish that I sill had them. Anyway, I am confident that if you put these habits into practice that you will be more successful. Good luck in life!

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