Do you want to make your life better? Are you struggling in your personal or professional life, your interactions with other people, your life balance, or your life’s purpose?
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provides an inside-out approach to improving yourself and your life. This method entails with examining and adjusting your character, your motives, and how you see the world in order to change how you behave and how you interact with others. Learn how to best focus your time, define your personal mission, and build productive relationships with other people.
At the root of your beliefs and actions are a collection of paradigms, which are the lenses through which you see the world. Your paradigms shape how you interpret the world, and your interpretation governs how you behave; thus, changing the lens we use changes our behavior. You must start with your paradigms in order to truly implement the 7 Habits and make lasting, significant improvements to your life.
The 7 Habits are designed to build from the foundation up — or the inside out — to establish a mindset, habits, and skills that help you identify and achieve the things that are most important to you. You don’t need to perfect each habit before moving onto the next; as you progress and grow, you will naturally continue to improve in all the previous habits. This is not a quick-fix program that you work through once and move on, it’s an ongoing process of personal growth and change.
Develop a proactive paradigm. In every situation, you have the choice of being reactive or proactive. If you’re reactive, you let your habits and conditioning dictate how you respond to the people and circumstances around you; if you’re proactive, you decide how you’ll respond to create the results you want. Being proactive requires you to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences, but it also empowers you to take hold of your life and make significant changes to your mindset and behavior.
Never losing sight of your long-term goals and values. To achieve the life you want, create a personal mission statement to identify the big picture — the life you want to lead, the character traits you want to embody, the impact you want to have on those around you. This document serves as a reminder of your ultimate goals and helps you ensure each short-term pursuit and daily action is in line with what’s most important to you.
Habit 3 zooms in to daily and weekly time management, so that you stay focused on your goals and values despite any demands and curveballs life throws at you. To effectively manage your time and improve your life, you must develop a keen sense of what’s truly important — what aligns with your personal mission statement — and prioritize time for those tasks, even when it means saying “no” to appealing but unimportant activities.
The 7 Habits all aim to help you reach interdependence, which allows you to reach your full potential by knowing how to work effectively with other people to achieve more than you could on your own. To that end, Habit 4 explains how to approach conflicts and negotiations with a Win/Win paradigm that aims to find a mutually beneficial solution, where everyone is happy with the decision and committed to the plan. People with the Win/Win frame of mind value cooperation over competition and believe that there is plenty — of money, success, happiness, and good fortune — to go around.
Habit 5 tackles how to have an effective interaction with someone: First work on understanding the other person’s perspective, and only then help her to understand your perspective. This approach requires empathic listening, where you’re listening with the intent to truly understand the other person’s perspectives and concerns. Only then can you determine the kind of mutually beneficial solution that a Win/Win paradigm strives to achieve.
Habit 6 is the major achievement of independent relationships: the ability to create synergy with another person. Synergy means that two people working together can create greater results than would have been possible separately. When you have an understanding of your own paradigms and values, an appreciation of the other person’s perspective, and a genuine desire for Win/Win solutions, you can create synergy to achieve incredible, positive changes in your life that get you closer to reaching your personal mission.
Habit 7 is the habit of self-renewal, which maintains and improves the quality of all the other habits. You’re the instrument of your life and performance, and taking care of yourself physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially/emotionally makes you most effective at creating positive change. Just like you have to do maintenance on your car to keep it running at peak capacity, you need to take care of yourself to continue functioning at your best. Self-renewal also improves how efficiently and effectively you’re able to practice the other habits, nurturing and...
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Do you want to make your life better? Are you struggling in your personal or professional life, your interactions with other people, your life balance, or your life’s purpose? Have you made attempts to fix these issues — from workshops to self-help books to counseling — with little or no success?
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People endorses an inside-out approach to improving yourself and your life. This method starts with examining and adjusting your character, your motives, and how you see the world; only when you start from the foundation of your character and your worldview can you make lasting behavioral changes.
This inside-out approach entails
There are two approaches to self-improvement: Character Ethic and Personality Ethic.
Character Ethic focuses on foundational traits, including integrity, humility, hard work, loyalty, self-control, courage, justice, patience, modesty, and morality. These are basic principles that any person — in any culture or time period — could agree are important.
In the first 150 years or so of this country’s existence, most publications about how to be successful used a Character Ethic approach.
Personality Ethic emphasizes skills and practices that affect your public image, attitudes, and behaviors. This approach offers quick-fix solutions — how to be more charming, have a more positive outlook, make people like you, and influence people to do what you want. However, these solutions generally only work temporarily, while the underlying problem remains and ultimately resurfaces.
After World War I, success literature largely shifted focus from Character Ethic to Personality Ethic.
Character Ethic addresses primary traits, while Personality Ethic encompasses secondary traits, like communication skills, interpersonal strategies, and positive thinking. These techniques are often essential for success, but they are flimsy and ineffective if they’re not based in character that supports them; you must start with the foundation. For example, if you try to use communication skills to make people trust you, but your character is not honest and trustworthy, the effects will be hollow and eventually people will see through the act.
In one-time or short-term scenarios, you may be able to get by on personality alone. But without the foundation of primary traits — Character Ethic — the secondary traits will never have a lasting impact.
Working on personality improvements without first establishing the necessary character traits would be like a farmer trying to fit all her work into one season. If the farmer skips planting in the spring and neglects to water and nurture the buds all summer, then tries to plant, water, and harvest in the fall, it won’t work. You can’t shortcut the process.
At the root of your beliefs and behaviors are a collection of paradigms, which are influenced by your family, education, work, religion, friends, and culture. A paradigm is essentially the lens through which you see the world. Your paradigms shape how you interpret the world, and your interpretation governs how you behave; thus, changing the lens we use changes our behavior.
Think of a paradigm as a map: A map is not the place itself, it is simply a representation of it. Some maps highlight topographical features, others show streets and landmarks, while others display population and demographic information — they’re all representing the same place through different lenses.
Having an ineffective paradigm is like trying to use a map of Detroit to navigate Chicago. No matter how hard you work at it, you’ll still be lost. You will only start to make real progress when you correct your paradigm and are working with the right map.
We all have many paradigms that influence how we interpret the world. (For example, Character Ethic and Personality Ethic are examples of social paradigms.) There are two types of paradigms: Paradigms that help us interpret the way things should be shape our values, while paradigms that help us interpret the way things are shape our realities.
Each person’s experiences creates different paradigms, so two people with different paradigms can look at the same facts, interpret them completely differently, and both be right.
For example, there is a well-known optical illusion titled “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law.” It is a drawing that can be viewed as the face of a young woman looking away or as the profile of an old woman’s face. Say you first see the young woman, and then someone points out the older woman; if you avert your eyes and then look back, you are likely to still see the young woman first because your initial impression conditioned how you see the drawing.
Paradigms also work this way: A lifetime of conditioning frames your perceptions and behaviors, and only with persistent, deliberate effort can you shift your paradigms. But first, you have to recognize that you have these paradigms and understand how they’re affecting your behavior.
We are so accustomed to our paradigms that we seldom even realize we have them, let alone question their accuracy. If you spent your whole life with nearsighted vision and never put on glasses to correct it, would you realize anything was wrong?
Rather than question our own views, when other people’s paradigms cause them to interpret something differently than we do, we typically assume they’re wrong. When you become aware of...
Each person has a unique set of paradigms that determine how they see the world and how they react to people, events, and situations. Use this exercise to better understand your paradigms.
Describe a recent situation in which you and another person interpreted an event or situation differently. Whether this was an interaction between the two of you or a story in the news, you both had access to the same facts but each had a different takeaway.
The 7 Habits are designed to build from the foundation up — or the inside out — to establish a mindset, habits, and skills that help you identify and achieve the things that are most important to you. You don’t need to perfect each habit before moving onto the next; as you progress and grow, you will naturally continue to improve in all the previous habits. This is not a quick-fix program that you work through once and move on, it’s an ongoing process of personal growth and change.
Your habits are the expressions of your character; more than simple actions like having a habit of showering at night or going to the gym after work, habits include tendencies like procrastination and selfishness. Habits are behaviors that we perform unconsciously and repeatedly, day after day, that reveal our values and priorities.
Habits are tremendously powerful because they are generally unconscious and are ingrained in your routines; if you persist in the same habits, you will continue to see the same results in your life. However, with time, effort and commitment, you can break your habits and form new ones to produce the life and results you want. Through new habits, you can form new paradigms while breaking old paradigms that have been holding you back.
Habits are formed at the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. All three are necessary to create a lasting habit.
Imagine you want to improve your interactions with others because you tend to talk more than you listen, and you find this approach is generally ineffective — leading to misunderstandings, tension, and dynamics that are neither harmonious nor productive. To change your habit, you need to address all three aspects.
Physically and emotionally, you can be dependent (relying on others), independent (relying on yourself), or interdependent (working with others). As you go through life, you have the potential to mature from a paradigm of dependence to independence to interdependence; you must reach each one before you can progress to the next. This sequence is called the Maturity Continuum.
Dependence is the “you” paradigm. Someone who is dependent relies on you (or others in general) to fulfill their needs.
As infants, you begin life physically, mentally, and emotionally dependent on your parents and caregivers; you can’t get around by yourself, you rely on your parents to teach you how the world works, and you base your sense of identity and self-worth on what others reflect back to you.
Independence is the “I” paradigm. Independence is all about doing things for yourself, and not relying on others.
As you get older, you are able to be more self-reliant — from feeding yourself to making your own life decisions to being financially independent. Emotionally, you learn to derive your sense of worth from within, independent of others’ opinions of you.
Interdependence is the “we” paradigm. People who are interdependent have the ability and self-confidence that comes from independence, but also understand the power of working with others to achieve more than they could alone.
As you mature, you can begin to recognize the value of human relationships, cooperation, and collaboration. Interdependence is critical to succeed in all aspects of life, from marriage to family to the workplace. Even in nature, everything is interconnected in a careful balance to maintain powerful ecological systems.
Our current social paradigm — including popular approaches to self-improvement — tends to overvalue independence. But while independence is a critical step in the Maturity Continuum, interdependence is the ultimate goal. Independence is so highly valued largely as a rejection of dependence, and interdependence can be undervalued because its emphasis on working with others appears to resemble dependence.
Sometimes people do reckless, selfish things — such as leaving their marriages or families — in the name of independence. In reality, these acts typically reveal their lack of independence: In contrast to their claims, these people are often struggling with dependencies such as feeling controlled or victimized by other people and circumstances, so they change the circumstances instead of truly developing emotional independence.
The 7 Habits are designed to help you move incrementally along the Maturity Continuum, ultimately reaching interdependence.
The 7 Habits are meant to create maximum effectiveness in your life by focusing on core principles to produce the best long-term results. There is an important difference between efficiency and effectiveness: Efficiency is getting the most done in the least amount of time, while effectiveness is targeting your efforts to get the most important things done.
The key to effectiveness is balancing short-term results with long-term results — investing too much in one reduces the other.
In other words, effectiveness relies on the P/PC Balance.
Habit 1 is all about your power to be the master of your own destiny. As you better understand the concept of paradigms, you can begin to recognize your own paradigms, or “scripting,” and how they’re shaping your life. Once you realize you have a choice in rewriting these scripts, you can determine what principles and values you want your paradigms to reflect, which we’ll work on in Habit 2.
As humans, we have the power of self-awareness, which means we can think about our own thought processes. Unlike animals, humans are not driven purely by instinct and training — we can examine our behavior and our thoughts, and that ability gives us the power to change our behavior and thoughts by making or breaking habits.
We can rise above our moods, thoughts, and feelings, and make deliberate choices about our views, actions, and attitudes. Most importantly, we can create our self-paradigm, which dictates how we see ourselves.
When you become aware of how you see yourself, you can also recognize that the way others see themselves and the world around them greatly impacts their words and actions. This understanding allows you to relate to people on a deeper level. If you don’t have this awareness about yourself — and, thus, about others — you will misinterpret other people’s behaviors and project your own intentions and motivations onto them.
Your self-paradigm is the most critical paradigm in impacting your effectiveness. If you don’t create your own self-paradigm, you’re left to piece together a self-image that’s based on the opinions and feedback you get from others. Unless the people around you have cultivated their own self-paradigms, their reactions toward you are more likely to be projections of their own thoughts and fears than a true reflection of who you are; this can leave you with an inaccurate and disjointed image of yourself, which can cause you to behave in dysfunctional and ineffective ways.
If you don’t choose your self-paradigm and the people around you — or society or systems — are telling you that you’re not talented, have no value, and can’t possibly escape your circumstances, then why even try? You’re likely to submit to that self-fulfilling prophecy and resign to the lifestyle and level of success they say you can achieve. But if you make a conscious choice to reject their opinions and decide for yourself what’s possible for you, then your efforts and actions will reflect that.
Society and popular culture often tells us that we are the products of our conditions and conditioning — our upbringing, environment, era, culture, and other external influences. However, this popular deterministic view robs us of our personal power to create our own results.
Determinism is based on the stimulus/response theory, the idea that you’re conditioned to respond in a certain way to a given stimulus — just like the dog in Ivan Pavlov’s experiment was conditioned to salivate when he heard the whistle that indicated food was coming. There are three theories of determinism, each of which credits your conditioning to a different source.
But in contrast to Pavlov’s dog, humans have four endowments that give you the option to choose your response to a stimulus.
Breaking Free of Determinism
Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychologist who came of age in the Freudian school of thought, which subscribed to psychic determinism — that your childhood and upbringing shapes who you are.
Frankl was a prisoner of Nazi death camps during the Holocaust for several months (his brother, parents, and wife ultimately died in the camps). Amid the suffering, Frankl had the realization one day that he had a freedom the Nazis could never take: He had the freedom to choose his response to this — and any — situation.
Frankl imagined himself in the classroom, lecturing his students about the lessons he was learning there in the camp. The more he practiced this, the stronger this ability became and his mental freedom grew along with it.
Frankl’s practice inspired other prisoners and even some of the guards. After his liberation from the camp, Frankl wrote a book titled “Man’s Search for Meaning” that became renowned worldwide.
(Shortform note: For more on Frankl, see our Shortform summary of Man’s Search for Meaning. Some scholars have criticized Frankl’s accounts for being deceptive and exaggerating the time he spent in the Nazi camps and the hardships he faced while there. Others have criticized logotherapy — his ideology that says people can solve their mental and emotional issues by finding the meaning in their lives — as arrogant and also potentially applicable to justify Nazi actions, if they defined their life’s meaning by ridding the world of Jews.)
In every situation, you have the choice of being reactive or proactive. If you’re reactive, you let your conditioning...
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You need a proactive mindset to grow and make positive changes in your life. Use this exercise to examine your mindset so you can become more proactive.
Describe a recent conflict or situation in which a person or circumstance was troubling you, and how you handled it.
While Habit 1 says you have the power to create your own destiny, Habit 2 helps you to write it.
To achieve the life you want, you must start with the end in mind. This means identifying the big picture — the life you want to lead, the character traits you want to embody, the impact you want to have on those around you — and then ensuring each daily action is in line with your ultimate goals.
Think of driving to an appointment: How can you know which streets to take and turns to make if you don’t know where your destination is? Without a destination in mind, you might still make it there eventually, but it’ll be a long and roundabout route to get there. Effectiveness is following a direct route to get to your destination.
It’s easy to get sucked into the fast pace and stress of day-to-day life, working furiously to climb the ladder — but sometimes you reach the top rung only to realize that the ladder was leaned up against the wrong wall. You may accomplish a short-term goal (e.g. a job promotion, an income level, a diet goal), but when you get there you realize that along the way you sacrificed things that were more important in the grand scheme of things. When your ladder is leaning up against the wrong wall, every rung you climb only gets you closer to the wrong destination, and the more furiously you work just gets you to the wrong place faster.
By beginning with the end in mind, you create everything twice: You first envision the result you want and the efforts that must go into achieving it, and then you carry it out. Begin every day by reaffirming your values and your destination, and that will help you carry out every action throughout the day in pursuit of that goal. Taking ownership of developing a vision or goal and then working every day to reach it expands your Circle of Influence.
There are all kinds of pursuits and projects in which creating things twice is standard practice.
As people, our behaviors and experiences are also created twice. If you’re reactive, your conditions and conditioning write the scripts of your first creation, and you then live out that identity; if you’re proactive, you determine your second creation by writing your own scripts.
Leaders are responsible for staying aware of the big picture — the first creation — and ensuring that each action is moving in that direction. Whether you’re leading a team or practicing personal leadership, one of the challenges of being a good leader is resisting the urge to get distracted by small day-to-day matters.
In a business setting, an organization functions like a group of people finding their way through a jungle.
Leaders are responsible for being aware of changing industry and market conditions, and effective leaders can’t have this big-picture view if they allow themselves to get caught up in the underbrush.
Personal leadership follows the same principle: You’re leading your life in a deliberate way toward your goals. Although you have to also be your own manager and machete-swinger, if you don’t keep your attention on the big picture — your first creation — you could end up in the wrong jungle.
As life constantly changes, how do you keep your focus on your values and goals? How do you make sure every small action you make is moving you closer to your destination? You can create a personal mission statement.
A personal mission statement focuses on three main things:
Think of it like the U.S. Constitution: Your personal mission statement is the standard by which everything is measured and directed. Except for a handful of amendments, the Constitution has been virtually unchanged for more than two centuries, despite dramatic environmental, social, cultural, industrial, and political changes. The Constitution is so stable because it’s based on such basic, timeless principles that its essence has been applicable across centuries in very different environments.
If you create a personal mission statement that centers around your values at the core of who you are and who you want to be, it will guide you through the many phases and changes in your life. In fact, crystallizing the...
Personal leadership keeps you on track with your big-picture goals and life values. Try this exercise to assess how well you’re exercising personal leadership.
Describe a goal you recently achieved in any area of your life (e.g. personal, work, family, relationship).
While Habit 1 empowers you to create your own paradigms, and Habit 2 explains how to translate that paradigm into a principle-centered mission statement to direct your life — the first creation — Habit 3 explores how to translate that into day-to-day choices, the second creation.
Habit 2 discussed personal leadership, climbing to the top of the tree and making sure you’re in the right jungle; Habit 3 discusses self-management, leading the effort on the ground to hack your way through the underbrush and reach your destination.
We mentioned the four unique human endowments in Habit 1: self-awareness, conscience, imagination, and independent will. You used self-awareness to take notice of your paradigms, your conscience to decide how you want to change or improve them, and your imagination to develop new paradigms. Habit 3 exercises your independent will, that powerful ability to be proactive and decide how you act rather than simply reacting to external forces.
In order to use your independent will to effectively achieve mission statement and ultimate goals, you need the proper tools of time management. Over time, four generations of time management techniques have emerged.
The first iteration of time management tools focuses on gathering all the varied tasks and to-dos into checklists and Post-It notes. The main weakness of notes and checklists is that by lumping everything onto the same list, you’re not prioritizing tasks or assessing how (or whether) they contribute to your values and goals.
The first-generation paradigm causes you to react to any task or demand that external forces throw in front of you. This is the easiest approach because you simply take things as they come — just add it to the list! — but your effort produces few substantive results and doesn’t empower you to create your own path. Furthermore, if you feel that all you can do is react to external forces, then you don’t feel responsible for the results.
People who use first-generation time management tend to feel little control and self-esteem, and are typically seen as irresponsible and undependable.
The second generation of time management takes things a step further by taking all the to-dos on your checklists and organizing them into a schedule. People who follow the second-generation method are schedule oriented and show up to commitments when they’re supposed to, so they appear more responsible than first-generation time managers.
However, calendars and planners still have no process for weighting different activities based on how they contribute to priorities and goals, so this approach produces few important results.
The third generation builds on the second generation’s scheduling techniques by adding prioritization through clarifying your values and setting long- and short-term goals. With this method, you assess your to-dos, determine how each one fits into your goals and values, and schedule them accordingly.
Additionally, third-generation time management incorporates daily planning to schedule the most important asks into each day. But planning in the narrow parameters of a single day keeps the focus on urgent tasks, not all of which are important (we’ll talk more about balancing urgency and importance in the next section).
Daily planning also easily lends itself to over-scheduling, which is often frustrating and unrealistic; say you schedule your day practically down to the minute, including a 15-minute phone call with an old friend, but when you start talking to your friend, you discover she’s been dealing with some tragic news and you can’t possibly cut her off after 15 minutes simply to keep to your schedule.
Goal setting and daily planning fail to allow enough flexibility in your highly scheduled day to respond to unexpected events and opportunities that contribute to your principles and goals. In particular, opportunities to build relationships and have spontaneous experiences — both of which add to quality of life — tend to suffer in this efficiency-first, time-controlled model. This rigidity can be enough to turn people away from the third generation and back to the first or second generation tools.
Whereas the third generation strictly manages time, the fourth generation is about managing yourself so that you can actively decide which tasks will have the most value in your life and adjust accordingly as things come up. The fourth-generation approach involves planning on a weekly basis rather than a daily schedule, which gives you a broader lens and better context to schedule your priorities instead of prioritizing your schedule.
The flexibility built into this method empowers you to mold your time to fit your values, while also helping create more realistic expectations of your time; as you accomplish those tasks that move you toward your goals, your satisfaction with yourself and your life will increase. Effective people use the fourth-generation approach, keeping their focus on the activities that keep them on the path to realizing their personal mission statement.
Take a moment to think about your life and your goals. What are some things that you could do — but aren’t doing — that would significantly benefit your life and get your closer to achieving your goals? This is an important task, and one that you’re neglecting.
All tasks can be categorized based on their urgency and importance: An activity can be one (either urgent or important), both, or neither. Urgent matters are time sensitive, and they tend to grab your attention; this can be something as simple as a ringing phone. Important matters contribute...
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Step through each of the time management quadrants to figure out where you should be focusing time.
What do you currently do that is urgent and important? List the major activities. Are all of these really urgent and important?
We saw on the Maturity Continuum that you can’t reach interdependence before achieving true independence; this is why the first three habits focus on tapping into your self-awareness and honing your self-control and self-discipline. Only once you have a clear understanding of your paradigms, principles, and goals can you effectively build relationships with other people.
And it’s worth the effort: Human relationships provide enriching and meaningful experiences, greatly improve your productivity, and help you learn and grow.
But human relationships can also cause you deep pain and frustration. Of course, you also cause yourself pain when you poorly manage yourself and your life, but this self-inflicted pain is chronic so you’ve probably gotten used to it; when someone else causes you pain, it feels more intense because it seems sudden and acute.
It’s important to remember that the acute pain you feel from interpersonal problems always stems from a chronic, underlying problem, so when you attempt to resolve the issue you must address the root, not the symptom.
For example, you made plans to see a movie with a friend, but something has come up that’s keeping you at work late and you have to cancel. You apologize to your friend, but she rejects you apology and lashes out. You are baffled and hurt — you couldn’t have anticipated this and it’s out of your control. But the deeper issue is that you have a track record of prioritizing work and other commitments over quality time with your friend, and she’s grown frustrated with your habit of changing and canceling plans.
Every relationship comes with an Emotional Bank Account that stores the trust between two people. In nearly every interaction, each person makes deposits and withdrawals from the account: kindness, honesty, integrity, caring, and courtesy are all deposits, while disrespect, discourtesy, mistreatment, criticism, and betrayal are withdrawals.
If you’ve built up a large reserve, the other person will likely give you more grace and forgiveness when you have to make a withdrawal. However, if you have a very low balance or are overdrawn, you have little room for another withdrawal.
An Emotional Bank Account is as active as the relationship. If you see someone constantly — like a spouse or close friend — you must make consistent deposits with acts of kindness and respect, because there may be automatic withdrawals in your regular interactions (like your chronic lateness), some of which you might not even realize are withdrawing from the account. On the other hand, if you interact with someone sporadically, your balance will carry over from your last visit.
It’s possible to build up a positive trust balance in a low or overdrawn Emotional Bank Account, but it takes time. There are six things you can do to make substantial deposits.
1. Make an effort to understand the other person, and do things that are important to her. Some actions that you value and that would constitute a deposit for you — like going to a movie together — might not be a deposit for the other person. You must understand what’s important to the other person, and by virtue of you caring about that person, that makes it important to you.
(Shortform note: This is similar to the concept of Love Languages, which says that there are five ways of communicating love, each valued differently by different individuals: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Understanding how you express and interpret love helps you to ask for the kind of affection that is most meaningful to you, and understanding how your partner expresses and interprets love helps you to make deposits and recognize when she is showing you affection. To learn more about this, see our Shortform summary of The 5 Love Languages.)
2. Don’t underestimate the power of small actions. Small acts of kindness and caring can speak volumes and make large deposits into your Emotional Bank Account — for example, bringing your spouse flowers for no reason, or remembering your friend’s favorite meal and showing up with it for dinner. Similarly, small acts of disrespect and discourtesy can make large withdrawals.
3. Keep your promises. Don’t make commitments and promises lightly, because while keeping true to them makes big deposits, breaking them makes huge withdrawals. The infraction is even more severe when the promise you break was particularly important to the other person. On occasions when you absolutely have to break a commitment, explain the circumstances and ask to be pardoned from the promise.
4. Make sure you and the other person each understand your expectations of each other; this can include your and your spouse’s expectations of each other’s roles and goals, or your friend’s expectations of your availability in times of need. Whatever the context, unclear expectations create misunderstanding, frustration, disappointment, and tension, so explicitly state your expectations instead of assuming they’re understood — and shared — by the other person.
If you’re years into a relationship and the expectations were never laid out, you may need to clarify them. This can be extremely difficult (and awkward) and takes tremendous courage, but taking that leap can save enormous tension later and may even save the relationship from ultimately deteriorating.
5. Show your personal integrity by being honest, keeping promises, meeting expectations, and treating everyone with the same values and principles. One way to do this is to show respect and loyalty for people who are not present; if you gossip with your friend about someone else, how can your friend trust that you won’t gossip about her when she’s not around?
When you do make a withdrawal, sincerely and promptly apologize. A sincere apology actually makes a deposit into the Emotional Bank Account....
With stresses and demands in your day-to-day life, it can be hard to maintain strong relationships with high Emotional Bank Accounts. Use this exercise to think of ways to keep your relationships healthy.
Think of an important person in your life and your typical interactions. Describe how high you think the Emotional Bank Account is and why.
Interactions between people constantly include some sort of negotiation, big or small: Where are we going to dinner? What movie are we going to watch? How much will you sell your product for? How much will you buy it for?
How do you reach a resolution? There are six paradigms for these interactions.
The Win/Win paradigm aims to find a solution that benefits both sides, where everyone is happy with the decision and committed to the plan. People with the Win/Win frame of mind value cooperation over competition and believe that there is plenty — of money, success, happiness, and good fortune — to go around.
Reaching a Win/Win resolution can be difficult, and sometimes feels impossible. It often requires you to persist in dialogues longer, even when it feels you’ve reached an impasse. You also must listen carefully and genuinely try to understand the other person’s perspective and goals, then explicitly and respectfully express your own point of view (we’ll go into detail about how to do this in Habit 5). Eventually both parties can reach a solution that neither could have come up with on her own.
The Win/Lose paradigm makes everything a competition, making it seem that one person’s success must come at the expense of someone else’s success. Leaders with the Win/Lose mentality use an authoritarian style of leadership; people with this mindset tend to use their authority, power, status, or personality to get what they want.
Most people have a deeply embedded Win/Lose mentality that’s taught early on and reinforced through different life experiences.
When a child is compared — explicitly or implicitly — to her sibling or other children, it creates a Win/Lose framework; if you’re being judged and valued based on how you stack up against someone else, then there’s no way both people can win. As children get older, they often look from their parents to their peers for validation, and other children raised with the same scripting are likely to reinforce the Win/Lose paradigm.
In school, grades are another form of external value. Distribution curves and percentiles inherently measure students’ performance against their classmates’, regardless of individual effort or immeasurable strengths and weaknesses: The position of a child in the 90th percentile depends entirely on the 89 percent of her classmates getting lower grades and 10 percent getting higher grades.
Sports is built on the Win/Lose paradigm: You can’t win a game unless the other team loses. And even our system of law is designed to determine who is guilty and who is innocent.
While there are situations when a Win/Lose approach is appropriate, most of life calls for cooperation, not competition.
People with the Lose/Win paradigm are more interested in taking the path of least resistance than getting what they want. They generally want to appease and gain acceptance by the other person, and they tend to be intimidated by others’ strengths and shy away from expressing their own wants and feelings. Leaders with this paradigm have a permissive, indulgent style of leadership.
Win/Lose people enjoy dealing with Lose/Win people because they face no resistance in getting what they want. But both the Win/Lose and Lose/Win paradigms stem from personal weaknesses and insecurities that are being expressed either in a power grab or acquiescence.
People with a Lose/Win mindset lose not only in their interactions, but also in their own well-being: They tend to suppress a lot of feelings, which can fester and bubble up in anger, resentment, cynicism, and psychosomatic illnesses that can especially affect the respiratory, nervous, and circulatory systems.
When two people with a Win/Lose paradigm get in a standoff, their attitudes can devolve into a vindictive Lose/Lose mentality, meaning that you want the other person to lose so badly that you are willing to take a hit as well. Lose/Lose is the result of getting so focused on the demise of your enemy that you become blind to everything else, including your own well-being. You may also develop a Lose/Lose paradigm if you’re very dependent and have no sense of personal direction, so you think that if you’re unhappy then others should be, too (think: misery loves company).
Ugly divorce battles are often examples of Lose/Lose. In one case, a judge orders a man to sell assets and give half the money to his ex-wife. The man sells his car, worth more than $10,000, for a meager $50 and hands $25 to his ex-wife. He does the same with the rest of the assets, selling them for far less than their true value just so that his wife also gets less money.
A Win paradigm is different than Win/Lose or Win/Win because it only focuses on your own outcome; if you have a Win mentality, you want to get what you want whether the other person wins or loses. The Win paradigm is an every-man-for-himself mentality — you’re concerned with taking care of yourself, and you expect others to do the same for themselves.
Sometimes a Win/Win resolution is impossible, and it’s better for the relationship if you walk away from a negotiation altogether. If it’s clear that the two parties aren’t going to see eye to eye, or they have entirely different goals and expectations, it can save a lot of tension and problems in the relationship to forego a deal and keep the relationship healthy and options open to collaborate on something else down the road.
This is where the Win/Win or No Deal paradigm comes in: With this framework, you’re determined to find a solution that benefits both parties and, if that’s impossible, you’re at peace with walking away from the deal, knowing that your goals and values...
Reaching a Win/Win solution can be difficult, depending on your emotional attachment to the conflict, your relationship with the other person, and her willingness to strive for Win/Win. Follow this exercise to improve on your current approach.
Describe a current or recent disagreement you’ve had with someone.
Habit 5 tackles how to have an effective interaction with someone: First work on understanding the other person’s perspective, then help her to understand your perspective. Only then can you determine the kind of mutually beneficial solution that a Win/Win paradigm strives to achieve.
Generally, many aspects of interdependent situations are out of your control and in your Circle of Concern, including certain problems, circumstances, and other people’s actions. Habit 5 focuses on acting within your Circle of Influence — understanding the other person and expressing yourself. Those actions, in turn, can help you effectively influence other people, which can influence situations that impact you, which expands your Circle of Influence.
Communication is a critical aspect of productive interpersonal relationships. When truly effective interdependent people communicate, they first try to understand the other person’s perspective before expressing their own.
On a larger scale, this principle holds true in many professions.
There are four forms of communication: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Despite all the training and education we get to learn how to speak, read, and write well, we receive very little instruction on effective listening. The listening techniques we do learn tend to fall in the Personality Ethic, without setting up the paradigms for the necessary character-based foundation. Techniques provide the skills, but you also need the genuine desire to understand other people, work together, and develop Win/Win solutions; in order to have productive relationship in which you can work with and influence another person, you must first understand her.
We discussed in Habit 4 that an essential step in reaching a Win/Win solution is to try to understand the other person’s perspective and concerns. The key to truly understanding people is empathic listening, which is listening with the intent to see their perspective.
When a friend comes to you with an issue he’s having, how often do you respond with a story about your own similar experience and what you did to resolve it? Or how commonly are you met with this kind of response when you are venting to someone else?
Although well-intended, this response offers a solution without really trying to understand the problem or that individual’s perspective. It can cause the first person to be reluctant to share more because she doesn’t feel understood, and she may be even more reluctant to take any advice offered: How can she trust your advice if it’s not coming from a place of actually understanding the problem?
We do this all the time in communication — prescribing a solution before diagnosing the problem — but think of how ridiculous this response would be in another context.
Imagine you go to the eye doctor because you’re having trouble with your vision. You start to explain your problem to the optometrist, and she quickly takes her own glasses off her face and tells you to try them on. The glasses do nothing to help your vision, but when you tell the doctor this, she insists that the glasses work perfectly for her, so they should work for you too; she tells you to try harder. As hard as you try, the glasses still don’t help your vision.
Empathic listening requires a paradigm shift for most people, because often people listen in order to reply, and their responses are based more on their own experience and interpretation than what the other person is saying. People typically listen in one of four ways:
None of these is sufficient for truly understanding.
Empathic listening is the fifth form of listening; empathic listening goes beyond attentive listening, because you’re not only hearing every word but also listening with an effort to understand the other person’s paradigm. You don’t need to agree with that person, but simply to understand the way she sees things. You must open your mind to do this, and accept the possibility that this level of understanding could also influence the way you see things.
Empathic listening takes in information from all forms of communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Experts estimate that the words we use constitute only 10 percent of our message, the sounds of the way we speak (e.g. tone, cadence, and volume) make up another 30 percent, and our body language represents 60 percent of our communication. When you listen empathically, you pick up on all these communication cues to understand what the person is really trying to express.
When we fail to listen empathically — from the other person’s perspective — we listen autobiographically, interpreting everything through our own lens and experiences. Autobiographical listening tends to yield one of four...
We all have misunderstandings from time to time — and sometimes the consequences are more severe than others. Use this exercise to see how you can practice careful, empathic listening to avoid misunderstandings in the future.
Describe a recent situation in which you misinterpreted or misunderstood someone.
Habit 6 is the major achievement of independent relationships: the ability to create synergy with another person. Synergy creates an outcome that’s greater than the sum of its parts, as in 1+1 = 3 or more. In other words, two people working together can create greater results than would have been possible separately.
For example, two pieces of wood joined together can hold more weight than they could have separately. In addition, when an egg and sperm come together they create an entirely new human life.
Synergy is the culmination of all the previous habits — you need a deep conviction of your principles and values, a Win/Win paradigm, and the skills to develop and nurture effective interdependent relationships. Part of the reason that 1 + 1 can equal 3 is that the relationship itself adds value and creates the ability to synergize; the joint between the two pieces of wood adds strength beyond what each piece can carry. Similarly, the teamwork, high Emotional Bank Account, and mutual understanding between two people add to their collaborative creative power.
Communicating synergistically means opening your mind and heart to different realities and possibilities. This requires vulnerability and comfort with (or at least tolerance of) uncertainty and some level of chaos; in its essence, synergy is a creative process — you’re working with others to create new possibilities — and that means you don’t know what the outcome will be when you start the process. You’re not entering the situation to push your proposition or blindly accept the other person’s, but rather to come up with a third alternative.
Sometimes situations devolve into chaos instead of evolving into synergy, and those negative experiences can make the people involved skittish about opening up in the future to the possibility of synergy. For example, this can happen when a company creates policies that give employees the freedom to allocate some of their time to develop new ideas — as long as they still get their work done in a timely manner — but a handful of people abuse it and scare executives into reforming or revoking the policy.
Additionally, many people have paradigms that cause them to mistrust other people and interact in protective or defensive ways. Often these people only have brief glimpses of synergy, such as when people come together in an exceptionally cooperative and collaborative way in response to an emergency. These events can seem like rare, extraordinary occurrences, but with the right approach you can experience synergy regularly.
Synergy can build upon momentum in a relationship or group dynamic. One person begins by being courageous enough to be authentic and open-minded, which empowers others and makes them feel safe to be open and authentic as well. This can build back and forth as everyone gains new insights, and those insights open new ideas, and the creative energy swells.
Think of brainstorming sessions you’ve been in: The first ideas might’ve been more obvious and conventional, but all it takes is one out-of-the-box suggestion to lead to more innovative and unexpected ideas, and that winding road can take you to places you never expected. Plus, the people involved in that process tend to come out of it more excited about and committed to the plan than if it had been a run-of-the-mill idea produced from a stale collaborative session.
Because synergy requires vulnerability and openness, it’s critical that the people involved trust each other. There’s a positive correlation between trust and communication; higher trust allows for higher levels of communication that improve interdependent relationships and make synergy possible.
Low-trust situations foster the lowest levels of communication, in which people are protective and defensive. You see this in situations like divorce settlements, where people feel the need to close all loopholes and cover all their bases for lack of trust and fear of being taken advantage of. Ironically, this kind of communication further erodes trust and spooks people into being even more protective and defensive. This form of communication leads to Win/Lose or Lose/Win frameworks.
A moderate level of trust creates respectful communication, when people are polite, honest, and genuine, but avoid opening up enough to risk confrontations. People who communicate at this level understand each other’s positions intellectually, but don’t assess their own paradigms or open their minds to new possibilities. Without the necessary components to come up with creative new ideas, this kind of communication tends to lead to compromise, a low form of Win/Win.
High trust leads to high levels of communication that produce creative, synergistic results. The trust allows everyone involved to feel safe and comfortable openly sharing their ideas and paradigms, with the knowledge that others will try to understand their perspective and build on it. This level of communication nurtures the P/PC balance that fosters even greater trust and positive results.
A productive relationship with a high Emotional Bank Account lays the groundwork for synergy, and each time the people involved achieve synergy it further builds their relationship.
For example, your annual family vacation is coming up and, per tradition, you’ve booked a beautiful cabin and week full of fishing and relaxation, but your mother-in-law is sick and your spouse sees that week as the only opportunity to spend time with her before her health continues to decline.
Instead of getting frustrated and exasperated about how much you’ve been looking forward to this vacation and how you’ve already made reservations — which would likely make your wife defensive and insistent about the importance of seeing her mother — you can acknowledge how much this means to your wife. This response gives her...
Habit 7 is the habit of self-renewal, which maintains and improves the quality of all the other habits. You’re the instrument of your life and performance, and self-renewal is a form of the P/PC balance — your good habits and positive behavior are the P, and your physical, mental, and emotional ability to effectively carry them out is the PC. Just like you have to do maintenance on your car to keep it running at peak capacity, you need to take care of yourself to continue functioning at your best.
Imagine you came across someone sawing down a tree. She tells you she’s been working for hours and is exhausted by the hard labor. When you suggest she stops for a moment and sharpens her saw to make the work go faster, she insists she has no time to sharpen the saw — she’s too busy sawing!
Self-renewal requires a proactive mindset to commit time to self-care activities, which fall into Quadrant II: important but not urgent. It can be difficult to prioritize something like going to the gym or journaling when you have so many urgent tasks pulling at your attention; however, if you neglect it too long it will eventually become an urgent Quadrant I need, like developing urgent health problems because of lack of exercise.
Self-renewal also improves how efficiently and effectively you’re able to practice the other six habits; it creates an upward spiral of growth and self-improvement. Self-renewal nurtures your conscience, the small voice that pushes us toward what’s right and aligned with our principles. As you feed and strengthen your conscience, your conscience helps you stay disciplined and focused on a principle-centered path that fosters growth through the 7 Habits.
To continue performing at your peak, you need to prioritize self-renewal in all four dimensions of your nature: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.
First, take care of your body, which entails eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep and relaxation. This not only benefits your physical being, but also reinforces Habit 1 by strengthening your proactivity; each time you get yourself to the gym or make a healthy meal choice, you increase your self-esteem, self-confidence, and integrity.
Second is spiritual renewal, which can take many forms, such as prayer, meditation, reading, writing, and spending time in nature. This form of self-renewal is vital to inspire and uplift you while reconnecting you to your center and your principles. Spiritual renewal supports with Habit 2 by keeping you closely tied to your personal mission and helping you to practice personal leadership.
Third, mental renewal means continuing your mental development and education after leaving school, especially by reading, writing, and exposing yourself to new information. The regular organizing and scheduling that Habits 2 and 3 call for requires a sharp mind, and is also a form of mental development and renewal in itself. Mental self-renewal helps you in examining your paradigms, opening your mind to others’ perspectives, and effectively communicating your own views, as we practice in Habit 5.
Finally, social/emotional renewal centers around public victories and happens in everyday interactions with other people because your emotional life is largely developed and expressed in your relationships with other people (whereas physical, spiritual, and mental renewal are essential to private victories and require you to set aside personal time). Practicing the principles of interpersonal leadership, empathic listening, and synergy discussed in Habits 4,5, and 6 improves your emotional well-being; these practices require a sense of personal security, while also reinforcing that sense of security by reassuring you that Win/Win solutions, synergy, and meaningful, productive relationships with others are possible.
Self-renewal needs to be balanced among all four dimensions; neglecting any aspect of self-renewal impedes the effectiveness of the rest. In this way, a balanced approach to self-renewal is synergistic because investing in one dimension raises your ability to improve the other dimensions.
Self-renewal also applies to organizations: In a business context, the physical dimension is economic success, the spiritual dimension is the company’s purpose or contribution to society, the mental dimension relates to developing and recognizing employees’ talents, and the social/emotional dimension deals with how employees and customers are treated. A company that focuses on making money to the exclusion of fostering good relationships with its customers and employees will suffer from high turnover rates and low customer loyalty. On the other hand, a company that is heavily invested in a social cause and in creating goodwill among its employees and customers also needs profits to make the business viable.
Self-renewal helps us attain inner peace and stability that improves our effective interdependent relationships. People’s relationships with others create a social mirror that reflects images of themselves back to them and affects their paradigms. This is essentially the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy.
You’re part of that social mirror, and how you react to others affects how they see themselves. Do you want to reflect back a clear, positive image that emphasizes a person’s potential, or a distorted one based on assumptions, stereotypes, and misunderstandings?
The Abundance Mentality assures that if you choose to reflect positive images back to the people around you — affirming their proactive behaviors or potentials, attesting to their principles, and holding them to high standards — it doesn’t take away from your own self-image and self-worth in any way. In fact, being a positive social mirror also benefits you because your positive reflection of others supports them in becoming more proactive,...
Understanding how paradigms affect everyone and recognizing your own paradigms gives you the power to find space between a stimulus and your response; in other words, when you know what’s guiding your behavior, you can make a conscious effort to refrain from acting out of those paradigms and actually choose how you respond to a person or situation.
Although this book largely focuses on identifying paradigms that you want to change, as you examine your own paradigms you’ll inevitably recognize scripts that you already have that positively impact your life. Your self-awareness and self-assessment will help you to see and appreciate the positive habits you already have, which you’ve probably taken for granted as because you were unaware of them.
Parents are in a unique position of strongly influencing their children’s scripts. From this position, a parent who’s self-aware of her own paradigms can be a “transition person,” choosing what she passes on to her children and which scripts she rewrites. Without self-awareness, many people pass on the negative paradigms and behaviors they got from their parents; for example, if you were abused as a child, you’re statistically more likely to abuse your own children.
Children benefit greatly from being part of a closely connected intergenerational family, where they have different kinds of interdependent relationships to draw strength and positive examples from. Feeling connected with a larger “tribe” gives children the security and reassurance that there’s a whole network of people who know and love them.
(Shortform note: In the afterword, Covey shares questions he’s often asked and his answers. We’ll summarize those that pertain specifically to the application of the 7 Habits and how he developed them.)