7 Habits of Highly Effective People

UPDATED: May 13, 2024
PUBLISHED: July 16, 2012

"The world has changed dramatically since The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was first published," the late Stephen Covey wrote in the foreword of his 1989 personal development classic. "Life is more complex, more stressful, more demanding." Covey died today, July 16, 2012 at the age of 79, his daughter announced. 

Said Covey, "My answer: the greater the change and more difficult our challenges, the more relevant the habits become. We face challenges and problems in our personal lives, our families, and our organizations unimagined even one and two decades ago. 

His holistic, principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems is as relevant today as it ever was. His habits–which Covey says create a composite of our character–provide a step-by-step pathway for living with fairness, integrity, service and human dignity.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Being proactive means more than taking the initiative, Covey wrote in this 2008 article for SUCCESS. "It means that we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions. Not our conditions."


Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Begin today with the image or picture of the end of your life as your frame of reference by which everything else is examined.  It also means start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means know where you're going so that you better understand where you are now and so the steps you take are always in the right direction.


Habit 3: Put First Things First

It's very easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it's leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy—very busy—without being very effective.


Habit 4: Think Win/Win

It's the basic idea of the Golden Rule. It's mutual respect and mutual benefit. If you have a win-win spirit, you want the other person to win as well. 


Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

When both parties are trying to be understood, neither party is really listening. Covey called this interaction, "the dialogue of the deaf." But to understand is an important key to interpersonal relationships and can magically transform the course of discussions. By making the investment of time and effort required to understand the other party, we change the dynamics of the interchange.


Habit 6: Synergize

The highest forms of synergy focus the four unique human endowments, the motive of Win/Win, and the skills of empathetic communication on the toughest challenges we face in life. 


Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

First of all, decide what is truly important and distinguish it from that which is urgent but not important. Half the time people spend is on things that are urgent but not important, like a ringing phone, something that is pressing, something that is proximate or popular, but it may not be important at all. You must learn to say no to the unimportant so you can say yes to the important.

Read more about the life of Stephen Covey on SUCCESS.com. Which of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People do you identify with most? Join the discussion with the SUCCESS community below. 

Journalist, podcaster and southpaw Shelby Skrhak is the former director of digital content and social media for SUCCESS.com. Before joining SUCCESSmagazine, Shelby launched the weekly suburban newspaper Plano Insider, and covered topics ranging from cops and courts to transportation and fashion. Her handwriting should be a font.