Think about it: Stephen R. Covey and his Seven Habits

“Successful people are simply those with successful habits.” ­— Stephen R. Covey

When Stephen R. Covey first published his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” I wonder if he imagined the huge impact it would have. Since then, over 25 million copies have been sold in over 40 languages. In August 2011, Time magazine listed it as one of the 25 most influential business management books and, currently, it remains one of the best-selling non-fiction business books.

I first read Covey’s book shortly after it was first published. I still remember the profound impact it had on me, especially during the next decade or so. But even though many years have now passed since I initially picked it up, I find myself returning often to these seven habits.

Covey begins his book by challenging the reader to an “Inside-Out” approach to change. He speaks of the primary traits of the “Character Ethic,” i.e., “the change that starts from within.”

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“Suppose you are in Chicago and are using a map to find a particular destination in the city,” Covey says. “You may have excellent secondary skills in map reading and navigation, but will never find your destination if you are using a map of Detroit.” In the same way, these habits only work if they are based on deep principles and character (the right map), rather than basic skills (map reading ability).

Here are the seven habits:

Habit 1: Be Proactive — Genuine change must start from within. Each individual must take personal responsibility to initiate change. How easy it is to blame everyone and everything around us for our lack of success. Covey places the focus on each of us to do what we can. We must be proactive.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind — I love Covey’s recommendation to “develop a principle-centered mission statement.” And from that mission statement, prepare short-term and long-term goals. Of all seven habits, this one has had the most profound impact on me. Preparing initially and then updating my personal mission statement each year has kept before me my “true north.”

Habit 3: Put First Things First — We all fulfill many personal and professional roles. Success in all hinges on our capacity to set priorities based on the things which are most important to us. Someone said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Habit 4: Think Win/Win — The only way relationships can be effective is if they are mutually beneficial. Whether in the marketplace or in the home, strategies must benefit not just “you” or just “me” but “we.”

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood — Covey suggests this is the most important principle of interpersonal relations. For most of us, it is easier to share our thoughts than it is to hear and understand the thoughts of others. Unless we understand them, it will be almost impossible to be understood.

Habit 6: Synergize — The most effective leaders are those who are capable of tapping in to the gifts of those who are around them. As someone said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw — Sooner or later, the sharpest tool, when it is used, becomes dull. It takes time to renew physically, mentally, socially/emotionally and spiritually. Years ago a wise man said to me, “The time you take to sharpen your tools is never wasted.”

Brian Tracey said, “Successful people are simply those with successful habits.” And it was Fyodor Dostoevsky, who said, “It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.”

Covey summarizes it like this, “Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is president emeritus of the University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville. Connect via dgmeyer@valleyforge.edu, Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer, www.DrDonMeyer.com, Twitter and Instagram: @DrDonMeyer.