Book Notes: Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind (From The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People) By Stephen R. Covey

Reading Time: 14 minutes

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (1989)

3 Main Ideas

  • Habit 2, “Begin with the end in mind” asks you to exhibit personal leadership. It asks that you start everything you do with a clear outcome or destination in mind. Habit 2 says that we can use our imagination to develop a vision of our ideal life, and use our conscience to determine which values will guide us towards fulfilling that vision. In everything we do, by beginning with the end in mind, we can be sure that we have a clear destination and the actions we take are moving us in the right direction. It’s easier to begin a journey if you know where you’re going.
  • It is possible to be busy without being effective. Being busy is not the same as being effective. Being effective is also not the same as being efficient. If we begin with the end in mind, we will know what is truly most important to us, and what we value most. By taking the time to map our values and our priorities, by beginning with what is truly important, we will be able to work on the right things. We will be effective at achieving our values, goals, and priorities. We will say no to things that are not important, make time for the things we truly value, and take the correct actions that move us closer to our visualized outcome.
  • A personal mission statement is a written personal constitution based on a set of timeless, changeless fundamental principles that influence our daily decisions and actions, and enables us to align our values with our actions and decisions.

5 Key Takeaways

  • Understand Your Destination. To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. Habit 2 asks you to visualize your own funeral and to imagine what people would say about you at your eulogy. What would they remember you for? If we know how we want to be remembered, we can start taking action now to become that future person. By visualizing the outcome of your projects and goals, you can identify which actions are moving you towards your goal, and which are taking you further away. You can better identify the right actions to take in the present to achieve your future dreams.
  • First Creation. All things are created twice. First in the mind, then in the external world. You need to become self-aware and write your own scripts to intentionally (or proactively) lead a life that aligns with what you truly want. You must know what’s truly important to you, what you value, and what you want to be remembered for. By being self aware, you avoid being reactive and blindly living your life according to other default scripts. It would be terrible to reach the end of your life and discover you are unhappy with the way it turned out. Becoming self aware is the first step towards creating your own life. Your life becomes the product of your own design.
  • Exhibit Personal Leadership. Leadership begins with the end in mind. We demonstrate personal leadership when we take the time to clarify our values and beliefs, and ensure that our actions align with those values. Personal leadership enables us to actively shape, guide, or direct our lives. Without personal leadership, we are subject to externally-imposed scripts. We end up living our life by default.
  • Write a Personal Mission Statement. A written personal mission statement distills your operating values and principles. It provides a framework to motivate your actions and decisions. By writing down what is truly important to you, you will know whether a decision, opportunity, or action aligns (or not) with your core values and principles. The mission statement also identifies the major roles you play in various areas of your life, and sets goals that correspond to those roles.
  • Visualize and Affirm. Use your imagination to visualize the ideal outcomes of any projects, meetings, conversations, before you undertake them. Visualize the way you’d like your ideal life to look and feel. Regularly visualize what success feels and looks like. Studies have shown that almost all world-class athletes and other peak performers use visualization. They see, feel, and experience their performance before they actually do it. Affirmations also help to keep your mission statement, values, and goals at the front of your mind. Review and commit to your mission statement daily via affirmations.

Top Quotes

  • …Make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole. (119)
  • To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction. (119)
  • How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most. (119)
  • We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind. (119)
  • Leadership is communicating to another their worth and potential so clearly they are inspired to see it in themselves. (182)


“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster. We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.”

Habit 2 asks us to make sure we’re working on the right things. Being efficient is about doing things right. Effectiveness is about doing the right thing. So, Habit 2 is about ensuring you are being effective. It asks us to act and behave in ways that are in alignment with our most important values, principles, and beliefs.

Many people live their lives by default. They adopt the scripts written for them by others and let things happen to them. Then, they end up dissatisfied or unhappy about how their lives turned out.  Habit 2 asks that you live your life with intention (proactively) and meaning. Rather than letting life happen to you, you create your own life and design your own future via the actions you take in the present. We need to actively imagine and create our future selves with the actions and decisions we make in the present.

Habit 2 asks that you live your life today with your last day in mind. Imagine how you would like your future self to be. And, ensure that your actions and decisions today are in alignment with the vision you have of your future self.  Beginning with the end provides a larger sense of perspective and gives meaning and context to your day-to-day actions and decisions. If you start with a clear understanding of your destination, you’ll ensure that the steps you take in the journey of life are leading you in the right direction.

If we center our lives around timeless, unchanging principles, we create a fundamental paradigm of effective living. A mission statement is a written tool that outlines the values, principles, and goals you intend to use to guide your decisions and behaviors.

Your personal mission statement becomes your personal constitution: a living document and manifestation of your vision, goals, and values. It becomes the yardstick by which you measure your actions and decisions.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

All Things Are Created Twice

  • Every action begins with a thought. All things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation, to all things. (120)
  • Examples:
    • A house (2nd creation) is constructed from a blueprint (1st creation)
    • A novel (2nd creation) develops out of an idea (1st creation)
    • Before you go on a trip, you determine your destination and plan out the best route. (121)
    • If you want to raise responsible, self-disciplined children, you have to keep that end clearly in mind as you interact with your children on a daily basis. (121)

By Design or by Default

  • If you want to create a life in accordance with your values, you must first design it in your mind.
  • Our minds are highly suggestible. If we do not proactively develop our self awareness, we empower other people and circumstances outside our Circle of Influence to shape much of our lives by default.
  • Self-awareness involves taking the time to identify the values and principles that matter to you. Having self-awareness empowers us to shape and direct our own lives; it makes us responsible for our own lives.
  • We are either the second creation of our own proactive design, or we are the second creation of other people’s agendas, of circumstances, or of past habits. (122)

Leadership and Management – the Two Creations

  • Habit 2 requires you to demonstrate personal leadership of your life.
  • Leadership is not the same thing as management.
    • Leadership is the 1st creation.
    • Management is the 2nd creation
  • “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” (123) [Peter Drucker & Warren Bennis]
  • Leadership provides the destination, and management provides the means to get to that destination.
  • Effectiveness does not only depend on the amount of effort expended; it also matters WHAT you are expending this effort on.
  • Management: bottom-line focus: How can I best accomplish certain things?
  • Leadership: top line focus: What are the things I want to accomplish?
  • The leader begins with the end in mind. A leader provides the overall strategy and vision. Management then puts into place the systems, rules, and controls needed to realize the leader’s vision.
  • In order to be effective, leadership must come first.
  • We must demonstrate leadership – identify our values, beliefs, and principles, before we worry about management – the systems we need to put into place.
  • For instance, many parents focus on the management paradigm – setting rules, controls, punishments and rewards instead of providing vision, direction, leadership, purpose and a sense of family unity.

Rescripting: Becoming Your Own First Creator

  • Using our imagination and conscience, we must identify the values, beliefs, and principles according to which we have intentionally decided to live.
  • Default scripts are the default or status quo goals and values given to us by society: from family, friends, schools, pop culture, corporations, political organizations, etc.
  • Because we already live with many scripts that have been handed to us, the process of writing our own script is actually more a process of “rescripting,” or paradigm shifting—of changing some of the basic paradigms that we already have. (125)
  • We are response-able to use our imagination and creativity to write new ones that are more effective, more congruent with our deepest values and with the correct principles that give our values meaning. (127)
  • Because I am self-aware, because I have imagination and conscience, I can examine my deepest values. I can realize that the script I’m living is not in harmony with those values, that my life is not the product of my own proactive design. (128)
  • To script your life is to actively shape, guide, or direct your life. Rescripting is the process of proactively replacing the default scripts handed to you by society with new ones based on your own values and desires.
  • I can live out of my imagination instead of my memory. I can tie myself to my limitless potential instead of my limiting past. I can become my own first creator. (128)

A Personal Mission Statement

  • A personal mission statement focuses on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based.
  • Your mission statement is your first creation for your life. It provides a fundamentally changeless core set of principles for you to follow.
  • It becomes a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives. It empowers individuals with the same timeless strength in the midst of change. (132)
  • People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about, and what you value. (132)
  • Once you have that sense of mission, you have the essence of your own proactivity. You have the vision and the values that direct your life. You have the basic direction from which you set your long- and short-term goals. You have the power of a written constitution based on correct principles, against which every decision concerning the most effective use of your time, your talents, and your energies can be effectively measured. (132)

At the Center

  • Our center or inner core is made up of the basic lens through which we see the world, ie., our paradigms. It forms the center of our mission statement.
  • Our inner core is the source of our motivation and behavior. Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power.
  • Security – your sense of worth, identity, and self-esteem; your basic personal strength (or lack of it.)
  • Guidance – your source of direction in life.
  • Wisdom – your perspective on life, your sense of balance, your understanding of how the various parts and principles apply and relate to each other. It embraces judgment, discernment, comprehension.
  • Power – the capacity to act, the strength and potency to accomplish something. It is the vital energy to make choices and decisions. It also includes the capacity to overcome deeply embedded habits and to cultivate higher, more effective ones.

Alternative Centers

Alternative Centers are the various sources of security, guidance, wisdom, and power that motivate people. A person’s center absorbs a person’s time or energy, determines their self-worth, and guides their priorities and actions. Usually, a person’s center is some combination of these and/or other centers:

  • A high focus on any of these alternative centers can make us less effective. We either neglect other centers, sacrifice our values and principles, or have a self-worth that is constantly unstable.

A Principle Center

  • To be principle-centered means to have deep, timeless, and unchanging principles or truths by which we live our lives. These principles provide us with the guidance we need to align our actions with our values and beliefs. They create a paradigm of effective living. (I’ve written more about principles here)
  • Having an inner core that is principle-centered provides us with a solid foundation for security, guidance, wisdom, and power.

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement

  • The process is as important as the product. A personal mission statement requires time and reflection to think deeply about what matters most to you. You should also review and revise it regularly.
  • Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully, and to align your behavior with your beliefs. (161)
  • You will be using your whole brain to write a personal mission statement.

Brain Dominance Theory

  • We live in a primarily left brain–dominant world, where words and measurement and logic are enthroned, and the more creative, intuitive, sensing, artistic aspect of our nature is often subordinated. Many of us find it more difficult to tap into our right brain capacity. (163)
  • Draw upon your more creative, right-brained side: the quality of our first creation is significantly impacted by our ability to use our creative right brain. (163)
  • The more we are able to draw upon our right brain capacity, the more fully we will be able to visualize, to synthesize, to transcend time and present circumstances, to project a holistic picture of what we want to do and to be in life. (163)

How to Tap the Right Brain

A) Expand Perspective

  • an unplanned experience (e.g. the death of a loved one, a severe illness, a financial setback, extreme adversity) knocks us out of our default left-brain environment and thought patterns
    • This makes us more reflective. We tend to ask ourselves some hard questions: “What’s really important? Why am I doing what I’m doing?”
  • A proactive person can consciously expand perspective through the power of their imagination.
  • Visualize:
    • Your own funeral. Write your own eulogy. Be specific.
    • Your 50th wedding anniversary. What would you want your toast to say about your relationship with your spouse and family?
    • Your retirement day party. What contributions and achievements will you have made in your field? What are your plans for after retirement? Will you enter a second career?
  • Expand your mind. Visualize in rich detail. Involve as many emotions and feelings as possible. Involve as many of the senses as you can. (164)
  • When people seriously undertake to identify what really matters most to them in their lives, what they really want to be and to do, they become very reverent. They start to think in larger terms than today and tomorrow. (165)

B) Visualization and Affirmation

  • Regularly review and revise (if necessary) your vision and values so that you develop the habit of aligning your actions with those values.


  • Affirmations regularly (daily) remind you of your personal mission statement, your values, and goals.
  • A good affirmation has 5 basic ingredients:
    • it’s personal
    • it’s positive
    • it’s present tense
    • it’s visual
    • it’s emotional
  • Affirmations can take several different forms: meditation, journaling, prayer, covenants, ordinances, scripture study, empathy, compassion, etc


  • The nature of the visualization is very important. If you visualize the wrong thing, you’ll produce the wrong thing. Failure or success begins in the mind.
  • Almost all of the world-class athletes and other peak performers are visualizers. They see it; they feel it; they experience it before they actually do it. They begin with the end in mind. (167) [Dr. Charles Garfield]
  • Create an internal “comfort zone” by regularly and vividly visualizing your desired outcomes so that when you get into a situation, it isn’t foreign and doesn’t scare you.

Identifying Roles and Goals

  • Writing your roles and goals and mission statement makes the ideas and thoughts in your head more tangible and clear. Writing is itself a form of thinking.
  • Writing is a kind of psycho-neural muscular activity that helps bridge and integrate the conscious and subconscious minds. Writing distills, crystallizes, and clarifies thought and helps break the whole into parts. (169)
  • A mission statement is much more balanced and easier to write if you break it down into the specific role areas of your life and the goals you want to accomplish in each area. Roles and goals provide structure and organized direction to your personal mission.
  • Step 1:
    • Everyone plays different roles in different areas of their lives
    • Identify all the various roles that you play in the various areas of your life: employee, husband, wife, mother, daughter, grandson, manager, leader, student, friend, writer, leader, soldier, pastor, volunteer, coach, teacher, citizen, mentor, etc
  • Step 2
    • After you identify your various roles, prioritize the most important roles, and identify the long-term goals you want to accomplish in each of those roles.
    • These are your goals. They reflect your deepest values, your unique talent, your sense of mission. And they grow out of your chosen roles in life. (171)
  • Step 3
    • Review your mission statement frequently (even daily). Let it guide your actions and decisions. Amend it when necessary to include new roles and goals that occur as your life changes.


Role: Father

Goal: I help my children experience joy in their lives.

Role: Scholar

Goal: I learn important new things every day.

The Components of an Effective Goal

  • An effective goal focuses primarily on results rather than activity.
  • It identifies where you want to be, and, in the process, helps you determine where you are.
  • It gives you important information on how to get there, and it tells you when you have arrived.
  • It unifies your efforts and energy.
  • It gives meaning and purpose to all you do.
  • It translates itself into daily activities so that you are proactive and in charge of your life. You are making happen each day the things that will enable you to fulfill your personal mission statement.

Family Mission Statements

  • Families can also become more effective if they begin with the end in mind, and create a family mission statement or constitution.
  • The core of any family is what is changeless, what is always going to be there—shared vision and values. By writing a family mission statement, you give expression to its true foundation. (172)
  • The very process of writing and refining a mission statement becomes a key way to improve the family. (172)
  • The best mission statements are the result of family members coming together in a spirit of mutual respect, expressing their different views, and working together to create something greater than any one individual could do alone. (173)

Organization Mission Statements

  • …to be effective, the mission statement should be the result of meaningful mutual effort and participation from everyone within the organization.
  • Without involvement, there is no commitment. Mark it down, asterisk it, circle it, underline it. No involvement, no commitment. (178)

How to Begin with the End in Mind

  • Plan a retreat. Set aside some quiet and reflective time to write a personal mission statement, philosophy, or constitution.
    • Define your core values; what do you value the most?
    • Write down the roles that you play in your life. Are you a student, professional, father, wife, husband, mother, teacher, volunteer, friend, church attender, etc?
    • Write down 3-5 long-term goals you want to accomplish in each of these various aspects of your life.
    • Review your mission statement regularly, and amend it as needed.
    • The mission statement can be as long or as short as needed. From a few key words to a page or two or more. Don’t rush the process and take as much time (several days or weeks) as you need.
  • Start a collection of notes, quotes, and ideas you might want to use as resource material in writing your personal mission statement.

Recommended Reading

You may also enjoy the following books:

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl



Read the whole series

Overview: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put 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


Have you read this book? What did you think? Share your thoughts and ideas with me!

If you found this summary helpful, just click here  to share it!