The core of the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People consists of two parts: private and public victories. This division catches the essence of the revelation that in order to be successful in our interpersonal relationships we first need to build our own character. You cannot win by hacking at the leaves without taking care of the problems at the root. Now let’s have a look at the 7 habits of highly effective people.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Act and not be acted upon. So simple, but so powerful. Arguably one of the greatest sources of frustration is that we feel like we are not in control of our own life. The book says: “we find two ways to put ourselves in control of our lives immediately. We can make a promise – and keep it. Or we can set a goal – and work to achieve it“. By doing so, we build a character that will serve as a strong foundation we can build upon.
Habit 2: Start with the End in Mind
How would like to be remembered after you are gone? What kind of husband, wife father, mother, colleague or friend were you? Did my yesterday behavior bring me closer to what I’ve just imagined who I want to be? If you start with the end in mind you will find yourself working towards your life goals and not wandering on side roads. “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”
Habit 3: Put First Things First
For the many of us, and I’m no exception, there is a deep chasm between what we say are important things to us, and how we actually allocate our time. That’s not always as evident as choosing between going to a gym or watch another episode of our favorite TV show. Sometimes we think: oh, it would be very important to read that book or take that course, but I’ll do these million little things first.
“To say yes to important priorities, you have to learn to say no to other activities, sometimes apparently urgent thigs.” And it’s tricky because finishing up little tasks gives us the feel of progress while we are neglecting other things that would contribute to our long-term growth. Put first things first is the last one of private victories.
The first 3 habits are concluded with an analogy to which IT people can easily relate too. We need to realize that we are the “programmers” of our own life (habit 1). We need to “write” the program with the desired end result in mind (habit 2). Then we need to “execute” (habit 3). Each step builds upon the previous one, just like developing personal victories serves as a foundation for public victories.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
“Who is winning in your marriage? is a ridiculous question. If both people aren’t winning, both are losing.” Life, in most cases, is not a zero sum game. For you to win another person does not necessarily have to lose. Most people are scripted in scarcity mentality – there is only one pie out there, and if someone were to get a piece, it would mean less for everybody else. This is how mediocre people see the world. On the other hand, people with abundance mentality realize how sharing of prestige, recognition, and profit springs new possibilities for even greater successes. Having abundance mentality is essential to be able to think win-win.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood
Since our childhood, we put tremendous efforts into improving our communication skills both written and verbal. But what about listening? “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. To try to help somebody without seeing things from the other person perspective first is like prescribing medicine without examination. Our ability to think win-win is greatly affected by how carefully we intend to listen. It happened to me in the past, probably more than once, that a UI developer came to me complaining about the API I wrote as a backend developer. It didn’t make any sense to me. I was thinking: “It suits the requirements why can’t he just use it!” Now I know, I couldn’t understand him because I didn’t intent to listen.
Habit 6: Synergize
“What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself.” By exercising habits 4 and 5 we often reach a synergistic solution that is better than either of the originally proposed ones. “The essence of synergy is to value the differences. Sameness is not oneness; uniformity is not unity.” Probably the aforementioned API would have turned out to be much better if a synergistic solution had been reached.
Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw
If you take a little time to sharpen the saw you will be able to cut down a tree much faster. It’s a very simple principle, but still, people often fail to recognize it in their own life. “Going to the gym takes to much time”. Well, how much time will you spend at doctors if you ruin your health? Sharpen the saw is basically improving our production capability today. Because for the great struggles of the future, you have to prepare today.
These are the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Cover. Of course, the book goes into greater lengths and explains each topic in much more detail. The book is enriched with real life stories about the author’s family. Reading these stories was full of aha moments when I realized that something similar has happened to me in the past and now I can understand why things played out as they did. The cool thing about these stories is that the author does not try to hide his own mistakes. We learn that sometimes he failed to respond to a given situation in harmony with the seven habits. However, sincerely admitting our mistakes is not a weakness but quite the contrary a manifestation of great strength. Remember: success lies on the far side of failure.