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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
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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?

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.

  • Habits 1-3 develop independence through “Private Victories.” This stage focuses on internal growth and personal character.
  • Habits 4-6 build on your independence to develop interdependence through collaboration, cooperation, and communication. These are “Public Victories” that improve your interactions with others.
  • Habit 7 teaches you to renew and deepen your habits to continuously improve.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

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.

Habit 2: Start with the End in Mind

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: Prioritize Important Over Urgent

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.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

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: Listen and Understand the Other First

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: Create Synergies

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...

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Part One: Self Improvement from the Inside Out

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

  • Making improvements to your character before your personality
  • Focusing on principles before practices
  • Adjusting your paradigms, or how you see the world, in order to change your actions
  • Improving yourself (achieving so-called “private victories”) before you can build better relationships with others (“public victories”)

Character is the Foundation for Personality and Behavior

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...

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Shortform Exercise: Examine Your Paradigms

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.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary How the 7 Habits Can Change 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.

Habits Reveal or Determine Your Paradigms

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.

  • Knowledge: What you need to do to achieve a result and why
  • Skill: How to achieve it
  • Desire: Your motivation to achieve it

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.

  • First, you have to figure out what you’re doing (not listening) and understand why that’s creating the problem.
  • Second, you have to learn the skills to become an active listener.
  • ...

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Habit 1: Be Proactive

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.

Choose How You See Yourself

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...

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Shortform Exercise: Increase Your Proactivity

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.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Habit 2: Start with the End in Mind

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.

  • In home construction, your first creation is the blueprint, showing where every beam and doorway will be placed. To avoid expensive mistakes, you...

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Shortform Exercise: Develop Personal Leadership

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).

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Habit 3: Prioritize Important Over Urgent

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.

Four Methods for Time Management

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.

First Generation: Notes and Checklists

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...

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Shortform Exercise: Focus on Important

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?

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Part Three: Work With Others to Achieve Your Goals

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.

Keep a Positive Balance in Your Emotional Bank Account

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...

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Shortform Exercise: Maintain Strong Relationships

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.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Habit 4: Think Win/Win

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.

  1. Win/Win
  2. Win/Lose
  3. Lose/Win
  4. Lose/Lose
  5. Win
  6. Win/Win or No Deal

Win/Win: You and I Both End Up Happy

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.

Win/Lose: I Beat You

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...

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Shortform Exercise: How to Achieve Win/Win

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.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Habit 5: Listen to and Understand the Other First

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.

  • A successful salesperson strives to understand her client’s needs and concerns in order to offer the appropriate product or service. This creates loyal, long-term customers.
  • A lawyer must thoroughly understand her client’s situation, the applicable laws, and the opposing argument to prepare a solid case.
  • Product designers need to understand consumers’ needs, habits, and motives to create products that people will actually buy.
  • An effective teacher evaluates her students’ knowledge and proficiency — on an individual and group level — to determine how to approach a new lesson.

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...

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Shortform Exercise: Improve Your Listening Habits

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.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Habit 6: Create Synergies

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...

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Habit 7: Practice Self-Renewal to Keep Yourself Sharp

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.

Four Aspects of Self-Renewal

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...

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary Conclusion

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

(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.)

  • Although the book was published in 1989, Covey wouldn’t change anything about the 7 Habits. However, he subsequently released other books that dive deeper into specific habits and contextual applications of the 7 Habits, including First Things First, _The 7 Habits of...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Part One: Self Improvement from the Inside Out
  • Exercise: Examine Your Paradigms
  • How the 7 Habits Can Change Your Life
  • Habit 1: Be Proactive
  • Exercise: Increase Your Proactivity
  • Habit 2: Start with the End in Mind
  • Exercise: Develop Personal Leadership
  • Habit 3: Prioritize Important Over Urgent
  • Exercise: Focus on Important
  • Part Three: Work With Others to Achieve Your Goals
  • Exercise: Maintain Strong Relationships
  • Habit 4: Think Win/Win
  • Exercise: How to Achieve Win/Win
  • Habit 5: Listen to and Understand the Other First
  • Exercise: Improve Your Listening Habits
  • Habit 6: Create Synergies
  • Habit 7: Practice Self-Renewal to Keep Yourself Sharp
  • Conclusion