Book Notes: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Reading Time: 13 minutes

Book Cover: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

PublisherSimon & Schuster (1989)

ISBN-13: 978-0743269513


3 Main Ideas

  • In order to make significant, quantum change or significantly influence others, you must work on your basic paradigms, the way that you see the world, and which is the source of your attitude and behaviors.
  • Between stimulus and response, we have the ability to choose. Between what happens to you (the stimulus) and your response to it is your freedom to choose that response. You are responsible for your own life, and you need to be proactive about guiding and directing it.
  • Effectiveness is a function of what is produced (the product or output) and the producing asset or capacity to produce. Effectiveness lies in the P/PC Balance. P stands for the production of desired results, the output. PC stands for production capability, the ability to produce the desired output. Effective living requires a balance between producing results (the golden egg) and maintaining production capacity (the goose).

Five Key Takeaways

  • A paradigm is a way to “see” the world. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are conditioned to “see” it. Everybody views the world through their own unique paradigm., and so it’s possible for two people to disagree and to both be right.
  • To make relatively minor changes in your life, focus on your attitudes and behaviors. To make significant, quantum change, work on your basic paradigms. Proactive people focus their efforts on the things they can do something about or are within their control. “The key is to commit, really commit. As soon as you say “I will do it”, everything changes.” (424)
  • Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. (123)
  • In order to communicate effectively with other people, you must practice empathic listening. You must try to fully understand the other person’s perspective and point of view. You must learn how to listen effectively with your whole mind, body, and soul.
  • Private victories precede public victories. Self-mastery and self-discipline provide the foundation that leads you to develop effective relationships with other people. Public Victory does not mean victory over other people. It means success in effective interaction that brings mutually beneficial results to everyone involved. (276) … to work successfully with others in creative cooperative ways requires an enormous amount of independence, internal security, and self-mastery. (427)

Top Quotes

  • “Inside-out” means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self—with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. (52)
  • Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose. (83)
  • The power to make and keep commitments to ourselves is the essence of developing the basic habits of effectiveness. Knowledge, skill, and desire are all within our control. We can work on any one to improve the balance of the three. (107)
  • Private Victories must be won before Public Victories can be achieved. You can’t reverse the order. All change starts with you. Anytime you start thinking the problem is out there, that very thought is the problem.  (419)
  • The 7 Habits bring you back to yourself. The 7 Habits remind you of your true nature. They remind you that you are in charge of your life. You are responsible—no one else—for your choices. No one outside yourself can make you think, do, or feel anything you do not choose for yourself. (436)
  • “Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” (451)
  • “Crescendo” is a musical term. It means to play music with ever greater energy and volume, with strength and striving. The opposite is “diminuendo,” which means to “lower the volume,” to back off, to play it safe, to become passive, to whimper away your life. (437)


Dr. Stephen Covey describes the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as a “principle-centered, character-based, “inside-out” approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness” (52) . It’s a framework for leading a happy, productive, and meaningful life.

This book is a classic in the self-help genre because it’s a fantastic book. Written in 1989, Dr. Covey describes a framework for personal effectiveness; how to live a life that is based on timeless principles, such as honesty, integrity, justice, and courage. It provides a path towards becoming more self-aware, helps you to manage yourself, and will help you to develop stronger relationships and leadership skills.

Its principles remain as relevant as ever. Its advice is timeless and simple, forgoing any particular trend, technology or quick fix.

The 7 habits are core principles that, if followed, will help anyone to achieve greatness. Habits 1, 2, and 3 are about personal or self-mastery. Habits 4, 5, and 6 are about improving your relationships with other people. The 7th habit is about adopting a program of continual maintenance and renewal in  areas of your  life.

As Covey says, the 7 Habits are all commonsense principles, but not all common sense is commonly practiced. I myself personally find Habit 5 difficult, and this book helped me to realize that and pledge to be better.

I recommend 7 Habits of Highly Effective people to anyone who wants to be more effective in their personal lives and in their interpersonal relationships. It’s a book I recommend reading and re-reading from time to time.

There’s so much useful knowledge contained in this book that I’m doing something a little different. I’m making the notes into a short series. I’ll break each of the seven habits into its own separate article. This article will serve as an overview of the book as a whole, provide a brief description of each of the seven habits, describe Part One, and list the major ideas and takeaways. However, each habit deserves to stand on its own and to be examined in much greater detail. If I were to do that in one article, that’d probably be a whole book by itself!

Part One: Paradigms and Principles

“Character Ethic” vs “Personality Ethic”

  • Covey advocates for a “Character Ethic” approach to life.
  • The Character Ethic teaches that there are basic principles of effective living and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.
  • Character ethics are based on “timeless principles” like integrity, honesty, humility, justice, fairness, etc
  • This stands in contrast to the Personality Ethic, which is focused on quick fixes, shallow aphorisms, superficial, surface-level personality tweaks or techniques, or on manipulative or deceptive public image techniques.
  • While there are some aspects of the personality ethic which are useful, to focus solely on technique is like cramming your way through school.
  • The Character Ethic advocates for creating real change, which has to come from within, using what Covey calls, the “Inside-Out” technique. In order to create meaningful and lasting change, we first need to work on ourselves, our character (the “inside”) before we can begin to effectively influence others or make real external life changes (the “outside”).
  • “Inside-out” means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self—with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. (52)
    • It says if you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person who generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it.
    • If you want to have a more pleasant, cooperative teenager, be a more understanding, empathic, consistent, loving parent.
    • If you want to have more freedom, more latitude in your job, be a more responsible, a more helpful, a more contributing employee.
    • If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy. (52)

Private and Public Victories

Using the “Inside Out” approach, Covey divides the habits into Private and Public Victories.

The first three habits are “Private Victories”. A “Private Victory” focuses on the improvement of the individual him/herself (the “inside”).

  • Habit 1: “Be Proactive”: personal responsibility
  • Habit 2: “Begin with the end in mind”: long-term planning
  • Habit 3: “Put first things first”: prioritization and decision-making

Habits 4 – 6 are the “Public Victory” habits, and focus on our interpersonal relations within the outside world (the “outside”)

  • Habit 4: “Think Win/Win”, : having an abundance mentality and ensuring mutually beneficial outcomes with others.
  • Habit 5:“Seek first to Understand, then to be understood”, : communicate better by using empathic listening
  • Habit 6: “Synergize” : working and cooperating creatively with others by embracing our differences.

Covey argues that private victories precede public victories. The sequence of habits matters. You cannot effectively influence or lead others if you cannot manage yourself.

Habit 7 is the Habit of “Self-Renewal”

  • Habit 7: “Sharpen the Saw”: focuses on self-renewal and continuous improvement by regularly looking after your physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health so you can effectively practice the first six habits.


  • A paradigm is “the way we “see” the world—not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, interpreting.” pg. 30
  • A paradigm is the theory, explanation, assumption, or model that we use to understand the world. A paradigm is like a map: something that we use to make sense of the world.
  • “But the map is not the territory.” A map is simply an explanation of certain aspects of the territory. [it is not the territory itself] That’s exactly what a paradigm is. It is a theory, an explanation, or model of something else. pg. 30
  • Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories:
    • maps of the way things are (realities)
    • maps of the way things should be (values)
  • We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we’re usually even unaware that we have them.
  • We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions.
  • The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act.
  • “We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” (54) [T. S. Eliot]

Paradigm Shift and Behavior Change

  • “Paradigm Shift” is a term introduced by Thomas Kuhn in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”
  • A paradigm shift moves us from one way of seeing the world to another. It’s the “Aha!” moment when you begin to see things differently.
    • For instance, until Copernicus proved otherwise, leading scientists and astronomers believed the earth was the center of the universe. But Copernicus created a paradigm shift by proving that the sun, not the earth, was at the center. Suddenly, everything took on a different interpretation.
    • For instance, the US itself is the result of a paradigm shift from monarchy to democracy. Prior to its creation, nations were governed by monarchs, via the divine right of kings. The US revolution produced a different paradigm, the constitutional democracy – government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
  • New information can result in paradigm shifts. Paradigm shifts can be negative or positive in nature. They can be immediate or they can be slow and deliberate.
  • Conditioning affects our perceptions and paradigms, ie., the influences in our lives (e.g. family, school, church, work environment, friends, etc) make an unconscious impact on us and help shape our frame of reference, our paradigms, our maps. And, these paradigms become the source of our attitudes and behaviors.
  • We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or, as we are conditioned to see it. pg. 34
  • Your perception shapes your reality. You understand the world through how you perceive it. If we want to make significant and meaningful change, we need to change or shift our paradigms, the source of our attitudes and behaviors. (37)
  • Thus, if we want to change a situation, we first need to change ourselves. And, to change ourselves effectively, we first have to change our perceptions or paradigms.


  • Principles are natural laws or guidelines, or deep, fundamental truths with universal application that govern human effectiveness. They’re essentially unarguable because they are self-evident.
  • Examples: Fairness, Integrity, Honesty, Human Dignity, Service, Quality/Excellence, Potential, Growth, Patience, Nurturance, Encouragement
  • Principles are not practices. A practice is a specific activity or action. While practices are situationally specific, principles are deep, fundamental truths that have universal application.
  • Principles are not values. A gang of thieves can share values, but they would violate the fundamental principles. Values are internal and subjective, while principles are natural and universal laws.
  • Principles are the territory. Values are maps. When we value correct principles, we have truth—a knowledge of things as they are.


  • “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”—Aristotle
  • Our character is a collection of our habits, and habits play a powerful role in our lives. A habit is the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. (55)
  • Knowledge allows us to know what to do (and why). Skill lets us know how to do something. And desire is the motivation to do it. Creating a habit requires work in all three dimensions. (55)

The Maturity Continuum

  • The 7 Habits move us from a stage of dependence to independence to interdependence.
    • Dependence: you rely upon other people to take care of you.
    • Independence: you can make your own decisions and take care of yourself
    • Interdependence: You cooperate with other people to achieve something greater than what you could have accomplished on your own.
  • Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success. pg. 58
  • Independence is not the ultimate goal in effective living. Life is, by nature, highly interdependent. (59) We live in an interdependent world that requires cooperation, leadership, and team players. One person cannot exist solely on his own efforts in today’s society.
  • As we become independent—proactive, centered in correct principles, value driven, and able to organize and execute around the priorities in our life with integrity—we then can choose to become interdependent—capable of building rich, enduring, highly productive relationships with other people.  (238)
  • Independent people who do not have the maturity to think and act interdependently may be good individual producers, but they won’t be good leaders or team players. (59)
  • Habits 1 -3 focus on personal or self-mastery, achieving the private victories required to move from dependence to independence. Private victories precede public victories.
  • Habits 3 – 6 focus on interpersonal effectiveness, moving from independence to interdependence. These are the public victories.
  • The 7th Habit focuses on renewal and continued improvement; it is the habit of increasing and replenishing one’s productive capacity.

Effectiveness Defined

  • In order to be effective, you need to find the proper balance between producing and improving your capability to produce.
  • Covey illustrates this concept by using Aesop’s parable of the Goose with the Golden Egg.
  • True effectiveness is a function of two things: what is produced (the golden eggs) and the producing asset or capacity to produce (the goose).
  • Effectiveness lies in what Covey calls the “P/PC Balance”.
    • P stands for production of desired results, the golden eggs.
    • PC stands for production capability, the ability or asset that produces the golden eggs. pg. 62
  • Effectiveness depends on finding the proper balance between production and production capability. If you use an asset (physical, financial, human) without taking time to maintain and replenish it, you will run that asset into the ground, and eventually lose all ability to produce.
  • You cannot be effective if you only focus on the “P”. You also need to maintain and improve the underlying asset, the “PC”. For human assets, the individual is the “PC”, ie. you, the one who produces.
The 7 Habits
Source: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey (1989)

Part Two: Private Victory

Habit 1: Be Proactive

  • You are responsible for your life. A proactive person does not wait to be acted upon.
  • Focus on the things that you can actually control or influence or do something about
  • Change starts from within, and a proactive person improves their lives by focusing on their circle of influence, ie. things that they can actually influence
  • Have a bias for action: Act or be acted upon.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

  • Begin everything you do with a clear picture of the final, desired outcome or ultimate goal.
  • Develop a principle-centered personal mission statement
  • Extend your mission statement into long-term goals based on your personal principles

Habit 3: Put First Things First

  • Personal leadership requires you to manage yourself effectively
  • Be clear as to your needs and priorities
  • Identify your key roles and goals in life, and schedule time for each of them
  • Plan every week
  • Make time for Quadrant 2 activities: things that are important, but not urgent

Part Three: Public Victory

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

  • Build your Emotional Bank Account with other people
  • Abundance Mentality: a belief that there is plenty for everyone and that life is not a zero-sum game
  • Seek outcomes, agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial.
  • In cases where win/win cannot be achieved, be okay with agreeing to “no deal” as the next best alternative.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, Then to be Understood

  • Learn to communicate clearly and listen effectively to other people
  • Empathic Listening
    • Fully understand the other person, and truly listen to the underlying meaning of what they are actually saying
    • Listen with your whole heart, body, and mind
    • Listen not to reply, but to understand; place yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  • Respectfully make yourself understood

Habit 6: Synergize

  • Cooperate to achieve greater things together with other people than you could accomplish by yourself
  • Value and embrace the differences between people
  • Leverage individual differences to achieve a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts

Part Four: Renewal

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

  • Establish a program of self renewal and continuous improvement to keep your production capacity fresh and rejuvenated.
  • Attend to the 4 areas of your life:
    • Physical
    • Social/emotional
    • Mental
    • Spiritual
  • You cannot sustain the first 6 habits if you are physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally exhausted or depleted.
  • You need to dedicate time to replenishing and renewing these dimensions
  • Time spent attending to these dimensions is not time wasted; it restores and gives vigor to you and enables you to repair and renew your “PC”, your production capacity.

Benefits of Implementing the 7 Habits

  • You will come to know yourself in a deeper, more meaningful way—your nature, your deepest values, and your unique contribution capacity. (70)
  • You will define yourself from within, rather than by people’s opinions or by comparisons to others.
  • You’ll no longer build your emotional life on other people’s weaknesses. (70)
  • Good relationships will improve—become deeper, more solid, more creative, and more adventuresome. (71)
  • Internalizing and practicing the seventh habit will renew the first six and will make you truly independent and capable of effective interdependence. You’ll be renewed and restored; able to charge your own batteries.
  • You will live life in crescendo; a life full of energy and enthusiasm for whatever comes next. You will gain satisfaction from past achievements, but you’re never finished contributing. You will continue to seek to achieve more, to contribute more, to serve more, and to gain higher understanding. The most important work you will ever do will always be one adventure ahead of you. You will never retire from meaningful projects and contributions.


Recommended Reading

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Read the Whole Series

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

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