Before delving into discussions of how we can use the seven habits to make your lifestyle and personality highly effective, it is most important to understand what these seven habits are. This first chapter is a guide on the seven habits, and their meaning in the truest sense of the term.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
To be proactive, according to Covey, means that you have to be accountable to yourself. Your life is not perfect right now, however rich or poor you are. You always think that there is something lacking. A proactive person knows that something is lacking, but they do not start blaming external factors for those shortcomings. They won’t blame their parents, their family professions, their country’s economy, their lack of education, the weather, etc.
Proactive people will rise above all this. They will understand what the situation is, they will realize that it can be bettered and that’s that. They do not sit down and play the blame game, which is never anything but a gross waste of time.
Proactive people know that they can make their choices. They can choose to be happy or sad, they can choose to be pleasant or angry, they can choose to be complacent or responsive, they can choose to say yes or no. They have every choice. They are aware of this, and they take benefit of this fact.
A proactive person will never depend on others to make decisions for them. They will analyze the situation perfectly well and then they will decide what to do based on the merit of the situation.
Most importantly, proactive people are always optimistic. They are never shrouded in apprehension. They use sentences beginning with ‘I can’, ‘We can’, ‘We should’, etc. They do not think about the negative verbs. They do not thing that there is something beyond them. Even if there is something they have not achieved so far, they do not think that they are limited in doing so. If there is something they have not achieved yet, it is only because they haven’t tried it. They always harbor the optimism that if they put an effort into it, they will definitely be able to achieve what they have set their minds to.
Proactive people are positive people. They are always sure of doing things, whether it relates to their family, their profession, their love life, their health, etc. They do not handicap themselves with limitations. Now, that doesn’t mean proactive people always meet with success. But this is only the first habit; we are just getting started. There are six more habits to go… it is only when all these habits are put in place in the right manner that things begin happening the way they should.
At the same time, you shouldn’t get the idea that proactive people are obstinately optimistic. That isn’t so. Practicality rules over everything. For instance, if there is a natural calamity or some other uncontrollable incident, then even proactive people may change their line of thought. This is acceptable. But, at least, proactive people will put in the attempt. And uncontrollable factors won’t faze them. They will know that there is a way out… it is only about finding out what it is.
So, be proactive. That’s the first habit. Be accountable, take responsibility. Do not sit back and think that you cannot do things. You can do them. You have to set your mind to them. This is how you start on your journey of success.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Throughout history, we have observed that it is the farsighted people who have always achieved great successes. It is these people who have become legends and shaped the world in the way it is. Today, we see such people all around us. They are the people who begin with the end in mind. They are the people who are the diehard result-oriented people. They first think about what they want to do, what they want to achieve. The hows come later.
When you were young, you probably were asked many times, or maybe you thought about it yourself, as to what you would like to become when you grow up. This is actually a very common question and there are so many adults who ask it just for making a conversation with a kid. It becomes a nice filler when you are talking to children. But, the next time you ask that to a child, listen and watch closely. Look at how serious the child is about what he or she says. They may say they want to become a fighter pilot or an astronaut or the next great legend in sports. But don’t scoff it off with a laugh. Look at how earnest they are. Their eyes become totally expressive and there is some kind of a thought process going on in their little mind.
Now take yourself back to when you were a kid… when you were asked the same question. Perhaps you don’t remember it now, but in all likelihood you answered the question in the same way. You have the same fervent zeal and appeal. You were totally earnest about your ambition too, even if it sounded ludicrous to everyone else.
Then, what happened on the way? Why did your aspirations falter? Did you, like most people, make some kind of compromise for some reason and put a tether on your galloping horse of imagination?
Covey tells us, in no minced words, that that is not the attribute of a highly effective person. If you have to be highly effective, then one of the most important things you have to do is to stay true to your ideals.
And that is what you can do by beginning with the end in mind. First, sit down and think what you have to achieve. This may not be something as mammoth in proportions as your life’s ambition. It may be something small like a business goal. But, sit down and think. Think hard about wanting to achieve that whatever you are thinking about. You should think so hard that you should begin visualizing the success already. You should be able to taste your achievement!
When you are able to do that, you will find that automatically everything that you do falls into place. By already envisioning what you want to do, you have already set the wheels in motion. Consciously or subconsciously, you are working towards those ideals.
Most people have it pegged on all wrong. They start with the start. That’s wrong. You have to start with the end. Think about the end. Whatever you are doing, your efforts… why are you doing them? What do you want to achieve at the end of the day? What is the end you are chasing?
When you start from that point, you know precisely what you have to do. Every waking—and even sleeping—moment of your life becomes a step in the right direction. So, the bottom line is that you have to start from the finishing line. Look at the finishing line with complete attention and move on forth, unflinching from your path. When you have your complete focus on the end, you are quite unlikely to move away from the shortest and the most effective route you can take to reach there.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
We are humans and we are born and have to live with certain limitations. One of these main limitations is that we cannot do everything that we want to do. We have only a fixed capacity—a limit of doing things—and it is very difficult for us to go beyond that.
However, successful people have crossed these troubled waters. The more successful you are, the more things you will have to tackle. Successful people have managed to keep the boat going by focusing on only the most important things that need to be done at a particular moment.
That is the game successful people play. They always see what’s on their platter and then they pick and choose those things that absolutely need to be done. They know the art of prioritizing very well. And that is the reason why they are able to accomplish tasks. Maybe they do not accomplish everything… maybe they are not able to do everything that they want to do… but they are definitely able to do the most important things. They are able to do the things that can take them and their teams towards success.
But, how do you decide things that are the most important? What gives you the ability to do that? One way to decide your priorities is simply to see which of the tasks in front of you are the most beneficial, and I am not speaking only in terms of money here. See everything that is on your agenda. List out the things systematically. Then highlight the things that absolutely need to be done.
Another way to do that is to decide which thing is important for the success of another thing. If there is something you could do so that another task’s fulfillment becomes simpler, then you should do that basic task first. This way, you set up a chain of events, and it becomes convenient for you to accomplish your various tasks.
There is another connotation to this habit as described by Covey. This is a simple connotation actually, but has a profound significance. This implication tells us that we should get everything ready when we are setting out to accomplish anything. That is putting first things first too. Instead of directly plunging headlong into trying to fulfill something, we should sit down and think what we can do to in order to make the task fulfillment simpler… what ingredients or raw materials would we need?
Getting those things in order first would be an ideal way to chase that particular goal fulfillment. Once again, that would make the task simpler. Moreover, this is definitely a form of prioritization.
It is thus important to put first things first. When you are setting out to do anything, there are definitely a list of tasks in front of you. The best thing you can do in these circumstances is to decide which of these tasks is the most important and then go about fulfilling that first. In addition, when you are setting out on your task fulfillment journey, the first thing you should do is to get everything ready. This helps you do things in a much better way. The process becomes streamlined and you are surer to reach towards your ideals.
Habit 4; Think Win-Win
We have been conditioned to think, by our parents, teachers and society in general, that life is all about winning. Now, that is not wrong in itself, but the approach that we have been taught is definitely wrong. We have been taught to win at someone else’s expense. Or, we have been taught to understand that if we lose, someone else will win. This has become our natural thought process, and we rarely do think in any other way.
But, what Stephen Covey tells us to learn is that life is not about winning at the expense of someone else… or losing if someone else wins. This is not the way successes are carved. In the world of successful people, the success has been of everyone.
Think of the inventor of the telephone… or the radio… or the person who first landed on the moon… or the one who created Microsoft… what is the common element in all these people?
The common strand is that it is not just they who won. When the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, everyone used it. Communication improved immensely, all over the world. When Guglielmo Marconi invented the radio, the whole world rejoiced at the new avenue of entertainment that had opened up. When Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin landed on the moon, it was a giant leap for the entire humankind. When William Gates developed Microsoft, it is not just Microsoft Corporation that became the richest commercial organization in the world, but it is all of us who witnessed and benefited from that revolutionary phenomenon.
Our lives have been shaped by these things… by these people who did not stop to think about their individual victories. They only thought about how they could take someone else ahead as well… how they could improve the world that they lived in.
Thinking about the world is a long shot, but you should at least think about the people who are close to you. To give you the right interpretation of Stephen Covey’s model for highly effective people, the one thing that is important is that you should not aim for victory at someone else’s expense. Instead, you should think about how you can collectively move towards victory. Success, in the present times, is about collaboration and not competition.
The Internet has made this possible. The Internet has shown us that victory doesn’t belong to a single person. In fact, if it belongs to a single person, it feels inadequate. Victory is something we need to share collectively. We have to think of the win-win situation in which everyone is a winner, no one is a loser.
We have to think about collective glory. This is not the age where a dictator could become successful by only considering his selfish gains. That sort of thing does not work today. What works is that we have to form a bond with the people we know and even with the people we don’t, and then think about success. We have to think about victory for everyone.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then Be Understood
Many self-help experts have spoken of the importance of communication. Surely, you have heard of several such methods as well. You have certainly heard how important it is to communicate with others if you want to make an effective impact on them and in general. Nevertheless, what does communication mean to you? For many people, communication simply means talking. They have the impression that communication means speaking out their thoughts and opinions to others and giving advice.
However, that is the totally wrong meaning of communication. According to Stephen Covey’s guidelines, if you think about communication in this manner as well, then you are bound to come up with great failure.
According to Covey, communication is just as much to listen as it is to speak. In fact, when you are talking, it becomes more important to listen to what others have to say. When you do that, you are amassing information and knowledge. This is where you understand what you have to do… what can be done… in order to solve a particular problem. This is what you need to do in order to attain your goals and be successful in society.
Remember that in conversation, listening is a method of input while talking is a method of output. If you want to enhance yourself, you should know that input is always better than output.
That is what this habit speaks about. You have to pay attention to understanding the other person. You have to understand what they are trying to say. Only when you have fully achieved that, should you go ahead and make the other person understand that. In effect, you have to hear out the other person first, and then put forth your ideas.
The correct method is first to listen what people are telling you. Evaluate the information you get. Is it right or not? Are you agreeable to what they said or not? You have to think about it. You have to see whether you are convinced of what you heard. The next step is to advice, if you have something constructive to say. If you realize there is a problem and you have a suggestion for it, this is the time to feel free and proffer that suggestion. Lastly, you have to interpret how the other person reacts. You have to see what their response is, and don’t pass any judgments about what it might be.
This is how effective conversation needs to be done. Conversing is a means, communication is the end. The best way to communicate is to converse by first listening and then speaking out.
One of the most important traits of a highly effective person is that they want to find out their facts first, which they do by listening. Then they quietly strategize, and only when they are ready do they tell people about what they have thought. This is an important quality to be inculcated. You must always strive to first understand the other person. Perhaps, this will make it easier for you when you try to establish a fruitful impression on them.
Habit 6: Synergize
Synergizing is the most effective form of cooperation. This happens when you get together with people and then work in a constructive manner. You work in such a way that you pool in everyone’s best skills and create a force that is beneficial for everyone. It is all about creative and constructive cooperation.
Look around you. The best people in the world—the richest people, the most successful people—have never been alone. They have their own coterie of people whom their hobnob with; people who have brought them towards their accomplishment of goals. Moreover, how are these people selected? They are most often handpicked by the successful people… they are people having different talents, talents that the successful people themselves are somewhat limited in.
This ties in with the first habit of being proactive. When we started out, we made no bones about the fact that everyone has their shortcomings. Even the most successful people in the world falter at some point. Being successful does not mean that you have to be perfect in everything. In fact, people who are really successful have just one main talent that they bank upon.
But, the world does not run on one talent alone. A person cannot reach the super zenith of success because they just have one amazing talent. This talent is on the fore, but in the background there are several other things working. A super rockstar has an amazing band to back them up. A hotshot politician has a whole cabinet of ministers to assist them. An Oscar-winning actor had the entire crew of the movie at their disposal. A writer had their inspiration and a good publisher to market their books in the right manner. A prizewinning athlete had a coach and several other people to help them out.
The thing that you have to take away from this is that success is not an individualistic thing. Even though we feel that some single person has achieved success, the fact is that there are many hands to support them… hands that have carried them to where they have reached.
This is what synergy is. Synergizing with people means to choose people to guide you and then collaborate with them in the best manner possible. The person who can collect the right talent is the one who goes places.
Now, every person is going to be different. You may need someone for their particular skill but you may not like the person. Or you may not like a particular habit in someone. But, should you let that come in the way? People who are aspiring to be highly effective should not think about these petty differences. They should look at the larger picture and carry on. This is what needs to be done, if you are looking for real success.
Synergize! Get along with people who have different talents than you have, and make the use of these talents. Build a collective forge of talents and sally on forth. The world today is not about individualist glory at all. There are so many people helping each other out there. You make the most of it as well. Find the right people and seek their support. If you are looking for success, then this is one thing that you definitely cannot avoid.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
The saw here refers to the biggest gift that you have, without which you are nothing. And that is—your own body. You are only as good as your body is, as its health is, and that is the reason you have to sharpen the saw repeatedly, which means you have to be very cautious about what you are.
Covey does not just mean the physical aspect of the body; he means to say we have to enhance our physical bodies, but we must also look at the spiritual and meditative aspect of our bodies. In general, we have to make our body better. We need to look at various aspects of our life and keep sharpening it as well.
To sharpen the saw, you have to start by taking care of your health. Is there any bodily ailment that is keeping you from reaching the heights that you want to reach? If yes, then your first attempt should be to take care of them. Secondly, are there any emotional or mental problems that are threatening to sap your strength? Once again, these are things that you should take care of. If needed, you should renew and revitalize yourself using whatever means are available to you.
The most important thing is that you don’t just have to be healthy from the outside, but you have to feel good within. You may probably want to invest time in some fruitful activities or a hobby that you appreciate or something else that recreates you. This is a great idea, because it makes you a new person from within, full of good cheer and camaraderie. This is what you need to succeed.
In order to become a truly enriched person, you have to deal with the four most important aspects of your existence and make sure that they are in perfect order. These four aspects include the physical, social or emotional, mental and spiritual natures of your body. These are the four prime areas that you have to focus on, if you want your body to assist you in your endeavors.