Stephen Covey: ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ – in seven paragraphs


1. Ever since I completed my degree in Stating the Bleeding Obvious from the highly prestigious University of Utah, I’ve worked with people in business to achieve synergetic outcomes during holistic paradigmatic shifts. The overarching lesson I’ve extracted from this process has been to leverage simple, well-worn concepts into superfluous verbose nonsense. As a quick keyword search on WikiQuote reveals, Henry David Thoreau once said “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” Another thing I’ve learned has been the importance of dropping profound-sounding quotes into my work to give the impression that I’m incredibly well-read and therefore extremely perceptive. We all experience problems in our lives. For example, my teenage son was once an immense disappointment to me. He was failing to satisfy the various performance-based architectures I had designed for him. And he was an uncoordinated gimp. But through a combination of outstanding parenting and intense prayer, my son quickly became a straight-A student, an all-star athlete and basically the greatest person who has ever lived. Follow the mawkish, commonsense platitudes in this book and your human capital (and your management-speak vocabulary) will grow as a result of enhanced internal and interpersonal functionalities. As [confirm source later] said: “Search your own heart with all diligence for out of it flow the issues of life.”

2. You might think from this book’s title that I have studied successful people, such as business leaders and innovators, and drawn out the qualities that contribute to their effectiveness. Wrong. Instead, I’ve just selected my own personality traits of which I am most proud, then cherry pick some famous people who appear to share them. I advise you to take these characteristics and incorporate them into your internal processes, in order to vectorise a dynamic paradigm shift. By which I mean: make a few changes and sort your life out. Paradigm shifts occur all the time. I haven’t always been an incredibly successful author of soft-skill pseudoscience. I had to change my paradigm from being someone who aspired to write intelligible books, to one who aspired to write one stuffed full of grandiloquent, palaverous shite. I had to examine my matrix of values, which act as a guiding force for any successful person. For example, I am not afraid to put on record that I abhor torture, rape and murder. These principles form a vital part of my strong character, an essential component of effectiveness. I also believe that we should be aiming to reduce current global levels of child poverty. My integrity and emotional intelligence mean that I WILL NOT argue otherwise. Showing courage in standing up for one’s beliefs is just one habit of highly effective people like me.

3. It is said that “A thousand-mile journey begins with the first step”. This is true literally, if you are going on a long walk. However, look closely and a second meaning emerges: big changes are often made up of many smaller changes. This is usually the first piece of advice I give. People approach me all the time and say: “Stephen, you’re clearly a highly effective person: you’ve achieved all your goals and have stayed grounded and humble. How can I be more like you?”. I tell them in plain English that they need to adopt an Inside-Out, upward-spiraling, values-driven paradigm shift. At first they look confused and ask if I’m a charlatan selling a form of knock-off Scientology. I am deeply offended by the suggestion. Scientology is nonsensical claptrap that relies heavily on complex jargon to obscure its basic hollowness. The Seven Habits are a fine-grained strategic staircase for personal growth. So it should be obvious that the comparison is ridiculous. This book is about Habits. To be clear: a good Habit is like a golden egg-laying goose, which for no apparent reason we shall call PC. The golden eggs we shall call P. Focus too much on P, and PC will be neglected. This is bad. That is the core message of this book. Got that? Good. Let’s begin.

4. I can exclusively reveal that effective people like me are proactive and take the initiative.  These people strike a healthy P/PC balance. They are true to themselves. Their values cascade in a virtuous circle. They buy in to using vacuous buzzwords to grossly embellish simple points. Isn’t it so obvious, when phrased in this way? The best way to become more proactive is to identify things over which you can exert influence. I call this the Circle of Influence™. Things over which you cannot exert influence, such as nuclear war and a tendency to be seduced by cliched garbage, are in your Circle of Concern™. A reactive person tends to focus on his or her Circle of Concern. Ah, I feel another smug, self-congratulatory anecdote coming on in the absence of any scientific support for my points. I once worked with an organization run by a dictatorial CEO, who was difficult to work with. In a seven hour seminar, I encouraged employees expand their Circles of Influence by working much longer hours and sucking up to the CEO so that he would look upon them favourably. Feedback data suggested that everyone felt 2.34% more job satisfaction after having their time wasted in this way. I personally felt 6.3% happier as a result of trousering a five-figure sum for imparting simplistic management-speak bollocks to a captive audience.

5. I recommend that you read this next section in a quiet, safe space as it is highly likely that your mind will literally be blown. The second habit highly effective people demonstrate is the ability to plan ahead. When you begin a car journey, it’s helpful to know where you are going! Am I right? One person who had the ability to plan ahead was Jesus Christ Our Saviour. Jesus knew that his time on Earth was limited and so used several effective time management techniques to perform miracles and reveal himself to be the Son of God. He was also very proactive (see Habit 1). To become as effective as me or, to a lesser extent, Jesus, you need to have the courage to rescript your own paradigm and exhibit personal leadership. Develop a personal mission statement as early as possible. Map out each year of your life in detail, from now until your death. Try to visualise being more successful. If you visualise hard enough, it will inevitably materialise in reality. Think about the “centres” in your life that matter to you (such as work, possessions and family) and learn to balance these competing priorities, rather than letting one become an unhealthy vector on your life path. I like to call this mental process “A normal person living in the real world”™, and believe it to be utterly revolutionary.

6. Habit three is the second creation: the actualisation of habits one and two. By this, of course, I mean personal management: putting first things first. Engineer for yourself a time management matrix, split into four quadrants. Quadrant I is for emergencies. Things that are urgent, such as buying food or overpriced self-help manuals from Amazon, put in Quadrant II. Make sure you take care of these first. Things that are less urgent, such as socialising or pulling your head out of your arse, put in Quadrants III and IV. You’ll be amazed at just how more efficient you’ll become overnight. Maybe you don’t quite grasp what I’m saying, so let me employ yet another infantilising, self-serving example. Pastimes that are important to me include coaching the soccer team of the local orphanage and volunteering at soup kitchens, because I happen to be a person of the utmost integrity. And I like to bask in my moral superiority over others. I make sure I prioritise these activities over Quadrant III/IV pursuits. You also need to learn to scale back some activities. If yet another charity approaches you and asks you to serve on its board of trustees, you may have to decline. This takes courage and confidence, two key components of Quadrant segmentation. But, as Nietzsche probably would have said, “The Quadrant II Self Management Paradigm is important”.

7. The fourth Habit is to always think “Win-Win” – always try to seek mutually beneficial outcomes where possible. This manifests itself in a belief in the Third Alternative: a higher, better form of consciousness that forbids looking at life as a zero-sum game. Effectively these are just words, words words with no meaning or substance whatsoever, but I’ve committed to seven Habits so I’ve got to pad them out somehow. A good example of the Win-Win paradigm is found in workplaces all the time. If you are competing with a colleague for a promotion, consider the Third Alternative: ask that you both be promoted. This will demonstrate initiative and problem-solving skills. The fifth Habit is work on your social intelligence. Don’t be a dick at work and piss people off for no reason, ‘cos it won’t get you very far. Next! The sixth Habit is synergize. In case you hadn’t realised, groups of people tend to work better when they work together towards a common goal. Who knew?! Put simply, efficient, solution-driven work frontiers proactively generate fully networked dialogues. Need I say more? The seventh and final Habit is “sharpen the saw”: balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. In other words, do a bit of yoga. You are now a card-carrying effective person. Welcome to the club.

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