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I have written before about how many people confuse The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with being a business book. It isn’t, never was. What it is, is a book about living effectively as an individual and as part of any relationship. It is not about fame or success, per se, but about living a principled life, which in turn can lead to those things – if they are what you want. But let’s be frank – most of us don’t want them or don’t see them as important as being a good person doing good work for the people they care about, while enjoying life – which this book promotes in spades.

I recall once attending a meeting of personal development teachers preparing to deliver the Seven Habits material to schools with the overall aim of teaching ‘leadership’, and I opined that what we would be teaching was  self-leadership, and this was even more important because while everyone has the potential to be ‘a success’ and a ‘boss’ the vast majority of young people would be the staff, the workers, the led – and they should be trained to be the best they could be at those things, too. Leaders – self-leaders – make great followers.

The Seven Habits are (and I quote) A principle-centred, character-based, inside-out approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness.

Let’s break that down a bit.

Principle-Centred. We like to think we can control events, but while we can control what we do, principles (sciences, incontrovertible truths, systems) decide the results. I’ll get deeper into that in future articles but for now I’ll explain that it means that instead of letting fame, wealth, family, church, peers, friends, pleasure, friends, enemies or work dictate how we think and behave, we let principles lead our decisions and resulting actions.

Character-Based. Our personality is what we show other people deliberately, but our character is what we really are. Personality tends to make us follow fashions and popular thought and ‘the latest thing’ so that we can fit in and benefit from that fitting in. Character, on the other hand, requires sacrifice, work and effort. But it lasts well beyond fashion, fame and money.

Inside-Out Approach. There is a tendency for folks to wait for their external world to change so that it suits them, instead of either changing it for the better themselves by changing their approach towards the changes needed. In 2020 we see protest after protest of people demanding other people change to suit their agenda – then they go home and wait for it to happen instead of engaging those in power in an effort to persuade and influence the change they want. The Inside-Out Approach is about looking into yourself and deciding what you need to change in yourself and how you need to change your approach, in order to achieve what you seek. Waiting for ‘them’ to change is ineffective.

Personal and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Effectiveness is not ‘just ‘success. Effectiveness is getting the results you want in such a way as to get them consistently – not once, but as long as they are needed. And it is not just about ‘you’ – it’s about effectiveness with and through other people, too. I have often said ‘Everything we do, we do with, for or because of other people – everything.’ So relationships are important enough to pursue with diligence. Including those we have with ourselves.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, then, are about taking responsibility for making things happen for the benefit of all those you love or serve, including yourself, while acting with good character and respecting the realities of the world.

Over the next 17 days (long story*) I intend to expand upon Stephen Covey’s work with a view to encouraging any reader to take up their own study of The Seven Habits so that they can benefit, as I have, from a better self-understanding and an improved recognition of what is going on around them, how they can respond to the challenges of the modern world – and do so without offending or being offended.

A word of warning, though – as you understand the lessons Covey taught you will start to recognise how many people are trying to tell you how to live. Covey’s main lesson is that you have that choice and it need not be imposed upon you. Reading the book will make you aware of how the world is trying to condition you – not necessarily out of malice but out of a desire to make you agree with ‘them’. After reading it, you may still agree with ‘them’. But it will be a conscious rather than popular agreement.

In the end, a major tenet of this book is this.

You can live your life or your life can be lived for you.

I hope you enjoy the work to follow.


(* Michael Heppell, personal development coach, has proposed a 17 day project for his Facebook Group and this is mine. That wasn’t as long a story as I thought.)