The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

—— Aristotle

The way we see the world is based on our perceptions. To change a given situation, we must change ourselves, and to change ourselves, we must be able to change our perceptions.

Perceptions matter: the lens itself also affects how we see the world. Or, in other words, we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

📍 Character ethic vs. personality ethic: as a society we have shifted our definition of success as a function of personality — public image, attitudes, and behaviors. Forgetting the classics, foundational values, such as integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, simplicity, or modesty.

Inside-out change: we are constantly seeking out shortcuts, techniques, quick fixes… short-term solutions. But in order to achieve true change, we must first change ourselves. Take a deeper look in our own motivations, and not just alter attitudes and behaviors on the surface level.

Happiness is the sacrifice between what we want now vs. what we want eventually.

📍 Golden goose: P (production, the golden eggs or desired results) vs. PC (production capabilities, the goose) ratio. The moral of the tale is that we often emphasize short-term results (golden eggs) at the expense of long-term prosperity (the goose). We are often more concerned with doing things right (efficiency) than with doing the right things (effectiveness).

How habits work

  • Habits are interdependent and sequential.
  • The first three habits (be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first) are habits of character and self-mastery; they will lead to the Private Victory and independence.
  • The next three habits (think win-win, seek first to understand then to be understood, synergize) are the outward expressions of character; they will lead to mutual benefit, the Public Victory and interdependence.
  • Habit seven (sharpen the saw) “renews the Goose” and sustains the growth process.

Habit #1: Be proactive

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.

—— Henry David Thoreau

We must take responsibility for our attitudes and actions, being part of the solution and improve the situation.

Proactive people have the ability to choose their responses. A proactive response is driven by values. Instead of just reacting to the world, we have the ability to proactively influence it.

On the other hand, reactive language becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; reactive people get entrenched in a deterministic paradigm and produce the evidence to support the believe.

Between stimulus and response there is a space: our freedom to choose.

📍 “Response-ability”: the ability to choose how we respond to a given stimulus or situation. Responsable people base their behavior in their own conscious choices (values), rather than their conditions (feelings).

  • Circle of influence: things we can actually do something about.
  • Circle of concern: do not focus on the things out of our control

Knowledge, desire, and skill are things that are in our control. The more we focus on the things we can control, the more our abilities and skills will improve. Working on those will enlarge our circle of influence. Don’t sit and wait in a reactive mode, waiting for problems to happen before taking action.

Love is a verb, not a feeling.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

All things are performed twice: first in our mind, when we imagine it; then physically, when we do it.

This is the habit of personal leadership: you must begin each day or task with clear understanding of the your desired direction and destination.

Most of us find it rather easy to busy ourselves. But we don’t often stop to evaluate the meaning behind this busyness.

That’s why we want to start with the desired end in mind — the more exact and realistic the mental picture, the better the execution.

It is the same idea behind prototyping before coding: spend more time mulling over the destination before “wasting” resources in an outcome that it turned out to be wrong, or worse, something nobody wanted in the first place.

If we don’t begin with and end in mind we’re leaving the door open to let circumstances and other people determine our own path.

We should spot ineffective narratives that have been written for us. Then change those by new ones that are built from the inside-out, from our own values. Timeless, unchanging principles by which we must live our lives.

Habit 3: Put first things first

Habit 2 was all about the importance of determining our values and understanding what it is we are setting out to achieve. Habit 3 is about actually going after these goals, and executing on our priorities on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.

📍 Efficient vs. effective. Think of “where are we going”: nowadays, it is so easy to busy ourselves. We work hard to achieve empty victories, however, we don’t often stop to evaluate the meaning behind this busyness of life. We might end up working towards unimportant things.

The key is not prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

Organize and manage our time according to our personal priorities. We should spend the most time in:

  • QI — urgent and important: crisis, deadline-driven projects…
  • QII — not urgent and important: preparation, planning, values…

In order to focus our time in QII, we have to learn how to say ‘no’ to other activities, sometimes ones that seem urgent. We also need to be able to delegate effectively.

Habit 4: Think win-win

The next three habits (4, 5, 6) talk about Interdependence — i.e. working with others.

The win-win is the habit of interpersonal leadership. Effectiveness is largely achieved through the cooperative efforts of two or more people.

In order to establish effective interdependent relationships, we must commit to creating win-win situations that are mutually beneficial and satisfying to each party.

🖇️ Reminded of a Daniel Kahneman quote about “applying pressure vs. removing obstacles” when it comes to change other people’s behavior.

See problems, not as obstacles or struggles, but as an opportunity to build and invest in a relationship.

📍 Emotional bank account: by putting time, effort, and good will, into it, the balance of the account grows — manifesting in higher levels of trust between the two parties.

Think of this emotional bank account from the lens of the Golden Goose.

Deposits can be made through win-win solutions, by sticking to promises, or listening empathically. Seek to understand other people, because this will allow you to discover what’s important to them. Thus better understanding what they consider deposits.

Private victory precedes private victory.

Also maintaining personal integrity is one of the major contributions we can make to the emotional bank account. One can achieve this by being loyal to those who are not present. Bad-mouthing people who are not present might provide a momentary glimpse of pleasure (strangling the Goose) vs. being loyal (caring for the Goose) and investing in the long-term.

Conflict, both within family, or work, always arise from unclear roles, goals, or expectations.

Most people’s views are still anchored in a “win-lose” paradigm — they see each interaction with others as a competition, a zero-sum game.

Since people base their self-worth on comparisons with others, we think about succeeding in terms of somebody else failing.

📍 Scarcity vs. abundance mentality: there is plenty out there for everybody. My own success is not achieved at the expense of other’s success. Fight to enlarge the pie, rather than keeping a bigger slice of a small one.

It is impossible for a long-term relationship to form between two parties who are constantly in a competition with each other.

Lastly, to achieve win-win, keep the focus on results, not methods; on problems, not people. When it comes to interpersonal leadership, the more genuine our character is, the higher our level of proactivity.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

The habit of communication.

We’ve had very poor training about “how to listen” to understand another human being from their own frame of reference. In other words, in order to seek to understand, we must learn to listen first.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, but with the intent to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak.

Usually, we tend to prescribe a solution before we diagnose the problem. We don’t seek to deeply understand the problem first.

Before we can offer advice, suggest solutions, or effectively interact with another person in any way, we must seek to deeply understand them and their perspective through empathic listening.

Habit 5 is greatly embraced in the Greek philosophy and represented by 3 words:

  • Ethos: personal credibility. The trust that you inspire, your Emotional Bank Account.
  • Pathos: empathetic side. The alignment with the emotional trust of another person’s communication.
  • Logos: the logic. The reasoning part of the presentation.

The order is important: Ethos, Pathos, Logos — your character, and your relationships, and then the logic of your presentation.

Keys to empathic listening:

  • Removing our own frame of reference as much as possible
  • Look at people’s body language, the tone of voice, and non-verbal gestures.
  • Putting yourself in their shoes, trying to feel what they’re feeling.

Habit 6: Synergize

The combination of all the other habits prepares for Habit 6; the habit of creative cooperation or teamwork. Two people cooperating will create far better results than either one could alone.

One plus one equals three or more, and the whole is great than the sum of its parts.

By understanding and valuing the differences in another person’s perspective, we have the opportunity to create synergy, which allows us to uncover new possibilities through openness and creativity.

The most important thing to realize is that people do not see the world as it is, but as they are. Hence is when we embrace and value those differences that people feel free to seek the best possible alternative.

It allows us as a group to collectively agree to ditch the old scripts and write new ones.

If two people share the same vision one is no longer needed.

The real essence of synergy is valuing the differences — the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between people.

🖇️ A similar idea can be found at Can’t Hurt Me — where David Goggins argues that we must embrace, respect, and value every human being, because we are all here to achieve something.

To achieve synergy, we start with habits 4 and 5 (thinking win-win and seeking first to understand). Only then we can pool our desires with those of the other person or group.

What we end up with is not a transaction, but a transformation. Both sides get what they want, and they build their relationship in the process.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

The habit of self-renewal and growth. It surrounds all previous habits and creates a positive feedback loop that empowers us to move along an upward spiral of growth and change, of Kaizen or continuous improvement.

Continuous renewal allows us to synergistically increase our ability to practice each habit by preserving and enhancing our greatest asset: ourselves.

To be effective, we must devote the time to renewing ourselves in four dimensions which show be exercised regularly:

  • Physically: eating well, exercising…
  • Spiritually: meditating, reading good literature…
  • Mentally: journaling, expanding our mind, acquiring new knowledge…
  • Socially: by developing meaningful relationships and making positive contributions to our community and society.

Some people find it hard to take time and sharpen the saw, since its maintenance seldom leads to dramatic, immediate results.

In essence, only by balancing and renewing our own resources (energy and health), we will create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle — the “Upward Spiral”, which will ultimately result in growth, change, and constant improvement.

First published on April 27, 2020