7 Habits of Highly Effective People book summary

7 Habits of Highly Effective People Book Summary

I’ve known about this book by Stephen Covey for over 10+years and I thought it was stupid.

When I was in elementary school, I didn’t believe in self-help that much. I saw tons of people reading books like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Chicken Soup for the Soul and thought it was rather pointless.

Things have obviously changed a lot. I would normally not read this book since it fails my tests for what to read next in terms of relevance, credibility, time urgency, and accomplishments of the author.

However, it is one of the most well known, most read self-help books, so it made me curious. I have read this book numerous times but ended up forgetting most of what is in there.

I thought it would be good to keep a record of the most useful points. Occasionally, I will add in my own insights, stories, and lessons learned.

Let’s begin.

Between stimulus and response, human’s have the unique ability to choose what to do

This is a unique ability of humans: free will.

When animals get physically abused, they naturally recoil. As humans, we have the willpower to choose our response. If you get bullied, mistreated, if people are horrible to you, if life is unfair, you have the ability to voluntarily choose to smile and be happy.

That is amazing.

In the book, the author points to the story of a Holocaust survivor who maintained his own free will when everything else was stripped away. All of his meals, his duties, and everything about him was determined by others, but he maintained his ability to choose his attitude. He wasn’t sure if he would be killed the next day or not every single day. This won out in the long run.

Visualization Helps You Succeed

This Holocaust survivor visualized that he would one day be a guest lecturer and tell his story to the world after his survival while still being a captive. This program into his sub-conscious allowed him to survive while others gave up and died.

This correlates a lot with subconscious wealth visualization exercises mentioned in the self-help and wealth-creation world.

In Seemingly Hopeless or Unknown Situations, Don’t Use Deadlines

It’s important to note that being too hopeful with a deadline does not work in situations that seem futile. There’s a lot of books from Japanese Prisoner of Wars. One of the most famous is a book called Unbroken, later adapted into a film directed by Angelina Jolie.

The author was interviewed in another book I read (I believe it was Good to Great, it may have been another one) and he said that there was a lot of people who died of despair because they keep setting deadlines: “Oh, we’ll be freed by Christmas. Oh, we’ll be saved by Easter.”

Those times came and went and they weren’t saved. This lead to more and more despair until they gave up and died.

Note: this is specifically for unique, hopeless situations like being a captive of war. It may not apply to life or a business world. Deadlines could be good for school or business.

From my readings of tons of self-made wealthy individuals, you can often be more hopeful and persevere longer. Many of them have gone through years of homelessness and tough times, but due to their perseverance, hard work, and the beauty of the capitalistic system, they got their big break in acting, started a business that finally made it, or finally started advancing.

In a capitalistic economy, we often have much more hidden options that we think. A lot more than a prisoner of war.

Make Sure You Aren’t Projecting Your Own Desires Onto Others

The author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says that when you talk to others, look at projects, or oversee tasks, you have to make sure you aren’t projecting your beliefs, intentions, and desires onto a person or project and adding bias.

You may think you are looking at things objectively but aren’t always.

Identify and Eliminate Limiting Beliefs

This is fairly well known in the self-help community but still worth adding.

It’s important to not let limiting beliefs and assumptions that aren’t true hold you back. You may be holding yourself back from your potential by believing that you can’t do something because you’re too old, not educated enough, not experienced, or something else.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Most people react to life events, other people, changes in the business world, and unexpected events.

Rather, be proactive. Set out to do things you want to, have a plan and work towards it, and start your day with the highest priority tasks you want to achieve to get the results you want.

The greatest example of a proactive behavior is checking emails. You are reacting to other people’s demands.

Being proactive can be used throughout your life: your relationships, how you handle people, and unexpected day-to-day events.

Stop Blaming Everyone and Everything Else. Work on Yourself

Most people have an “outside-in” mindset on life: they blame everything but themselves for their situation: the economy, the government, their family, the education system, the environment, and so on.

Stephen Covey has found that the most successful people he has studied have an inside-out mindset: they focus on what they themselves can do better and stop blaming others.

Timeless, Ethical Principles Win

This is one of my favorite points in the book. There is an emphasis on timeless principles like the Golden Rule (do unto others what you want them to do to you), integrity, win-win situations, kindness, and gratitude.

He makes a point that these things are not emphasized in most other self-help books but are the principles that matter more than the quick fixes, techniques, or tools that only help you in the short-run.

I highly agree with this based off all I have learned from self-help. It really correlated to what I have learned from Warren Buffett and many other teachings I have read not only in self-help but also in spiritual, abundance, and life lesson type books.

He makes a point that many self-development books focus on short-term fixes that only serve as bandages to longer term problems. He emphasizes fixing long-term issues.

This correlates to what I have heard in the dating advice industry, especially from the Mating Grounds podcast. They said something I had never heard previously, despite consuming thousands of hours of dating advice material. They said that you have to fix deeper psychological issues that may be holding you back in dating.

Even if you didn’t go through crazy, childhood trauma, you could still have psychology issues that are holding you back. And all the techniques and tips in the world won’t help until you fix these invisible scripts. 

The best-selling author Ramit Sethi has said the same thing when he tried to coach people on progressing in the professional career and getting a dream job.

Begin With The End In Mind

It’s really important to remember that we all die. Too many of us have short-sighted goals that lead us to a bad end goal.

You want to picture your funeral and coffin. I do this myself by occasionally reading the Obituary in the newspaper or visiting cemeteries.

What will people say about you when you die? Will they only care about the money you left behind? Do the people who you want to love you actually love you? These things matter more in the long run than money.

Make sure you begin your decisions with long-term goals in mind so you don’t forget or sacrifice important things like family time or meaningful relationships.

This may be slightly different for everyone. Some of you might realize your long-term goals aren’t what you really want after all. A great example would be people who make a ton of money and retire early. Once they do, they realize that they get quite bored of golf or sitting on an island and want to get back to work!

Hopefully, you can save a few years of time by understanding this now. Others have to learn the hard way because they just can’t believe that a certain thing will not make them happy until they experience it for themselves.

Don’t Let Material Accomplishments Consume You

Many people are too consumed with their pursuit of wealth, reputation, fame, or awards. When they get these things, they sometimes are too controlled by them.

This can be a castle built on sand. The foundation can fall apart at any moment. If they were to lose that money or fame, their whole sense of worth is lost because they have put too much of their worth into such a thing.

An accomplished, effective person builds his sense of worth from within regardless of money or fame. These things can come and go and he or she will still feel accomplished and worthy. 

When you are younger and more naive, you may value money, wealth, fame, sex, or travel like it’s the most important thing in the world. When you get older and more seasoned, these pursuits could come to be realized as fruitless or meaningless. 

Find A Powerful “Yes” So You Can Say “No!” And Stay Motivated

Having a strong and clear purpose to say Yes to will help you stay motivated and say No! to distractions.

It is OK and imperative to say No! unapologetically. In life, we are bombarded with a ton of distractions, requests, or obligations to do tasks that are not impactful, effective, or a good use of your time.

Almost everything you do in life involves saying No to something else and that’s OK. Having a really strong purpose to say Yes! to allows you to say No! clearly to other things and for you to stay motivated.

A strong purpose usually goes beyond “I want to be rich!”

It may be something as simple as “I want to help homeless people in our local area get jobs!”

Make sure it’s specific enough so it’s not too broad.

Oprah Winfrey mentioned how she had to learn this the hard way in her book What I Know For Sure. She was burned out and exhausted from pleasing everyone but herself. She responded to all requests to donate to charity and go to events. It exhausted her. Plus, she was giving to charities she didn’t fully believe in or understand.

She decided to change all that one day by deciding to only say Yes! to things she can emphatically, 100%, with no doubts, say YES! to.

I have also gotten advice from successful people to say Yes! to more things when you’re starting out.

Bottom line: Say Yes! to more things when you’re young and starting out (networking events or professional or hobby-related activities you’ve never been to). You never know where it will lead. However, you should always be strategic with it and say No! to things that are clearly a waste of how you spend your time (TV, video games, junk food, mind-numbing activities). As you get older and get more requests of you due to your success, you have to become more and more good at saying No!

Warren Buffett is incredibly good at deciding what is the most effective use of his time. In order to do this, he’s had to get really good at saying No! to most distractions.

What is the #1 Thing You Could Do Now That Would Have The Most Impact On Your Long-Term Success?

Keystone Habit of Exercise

Ask this question about your business, job, life, fitness, dating life, or any other goal.

What the author, Stephen Covey, found was that people could easily answer the question. He asked a group of business people this question and they all answered that developing relationships with store owners would be clearly the most effective.

Yet when tracked, they were spending less than 5% of their time on the task. The 5% they did spent was in very negative or transactional-based relationships with these store owners.

Even though you know what you should do, for some reason people are distracted by so many other things and don’t do it. 

For me and most people, this #1 thing is daily aerobic exercise. This would mean at least 10 minutes of cardio or high intensity interval training.

Why? Because science has shown that exercise is a keystone habit that paves the way for numerous other good habits to form, it makes you happier, reduces depression, makes you look better which helps you in the dating and career realm, makes you healthier and more productive, gives you more energy, extends your lifespan, clears your mind, and focuses you.

Yet we have trouble doing it consistently.

Things Can Be Made More Efficient, But Not Always People

Stephen Covey makes a point that people cannot always be made more efficient.

At first, I didn’t agree with him. But it made more sense as he explained:

Imagine the last time you tried to make your spouse, co-worker, or child more efficient.

People are not objects and you can only change someone so much. Rather, it is better to realize that humans are not always rational robots. They are emotional and sometimes make illogical decisions based on habits or bias.

Instead of changing people, acknowledge them for who they are. When you can, get the right people around you to support you rather than trying to change people who are bad for you.

Seek To Understand Others First

Most people jump to conclusions about other people’s perspectives without trying to see things from their shoes. Mr. Covey gives these examples:

  1. A man’s children who are screaming on a bus makes him burst out in anger. It turns out that this man’s wife just died and their children were screaming to cope.
  2. His son was screaming and hammering the door while he was working from home. He burst out in outrage. It turns out that his son was trying to get some bandages because his brother was bleeding from the mouth. It turns out that he had ignored his son the same way last week.
  3. He tried all his sales techniques to try and close an important sales deal and failed. When he tried to really just listen and understand that person, he ended up closing the deal because they got to know eachother’s struggles on a deeper level.  (very similar to a story in The Greatest Salesman in the World: a newbie salesman beat out veterans on a deal by simply being curious and spending time with a potential client)

Seek to understand another person’s values too. What you value may be completely trivial to another person. You may think that fancy gold watches and cars are the most awesome thing in the world, but to another person or child, they are trivial.

LISTEN. Spend more time listening than talking. You have 2 ears and 1 mouth.

Most people don’t listen. Richard Branson also says listening is one of his most important success traits as a manager and CEO.

The Golden Rule

You should use the Golden Rule (“Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you”) but to a deeper level: understand deeply what their desires and pains are.

Some people may deeply value things that others do not care about at all. Therefore, you can end up doing a disservice if you don’t understand this well.

Most people don’t use the Golden Rule. One of the worst ways of breaking trust and taking from someone else’s emotional bank account is to break a promise.


There’s a great example of a dialogue between father and son in this book. It illustrates a common dilemma of a son not enjoying school and his father trying to convince him that it’s worth it.

I highly encourage you to read it because it seems like pretty good parenting advice. The whole exchange shows that there’s so much behind the scenes in terms of psychological effect and implication that a child goes through when you respond in a certain way or lash out in outrage.

This really opened my eyes in certain ways because it is was most parents and what I might have done. The only issue is that it’s not backed by science or anything. It is anecdotal: his advice on how you should respond instead is based on just his own opinions.

Regardless, it brings up good points. He advises you to avoid probing and evaluating in your questions and responses. Instead, use empathic listening and reflecting on their responses.

Always Aim For Win-Win Situations

These are situations when both parties win. A great example that happens all the time in the social and internet realm are when two thought leaders in a space (fitness advice, nutrition advice, Youtube advice) collaborate and make their followers aware of each other.

It comes from a mentality of abundance where there is enough for everyone.

Avoid win-lose, lose-win, or lose-lose situations where at least one person loses out in the interaction. Many small-minded people still come from a scarcity or win-lose situation. Don’t do it.

Many people also believe that win-win is idealistic and impossible. Covey asserts that this is not the case at all.

He says that these are usually excuses or limiting beliefs. In fact, most realistic situations have to be win-win. A good business survives by making a profit AND providing great value for the customer so he or she returns. If you scam a customer or give away so much you become unprofitable, one party loses out and you eventually go bankrupt.

Scannable Summary

  • Don’t let material accomplishments or pursuit control you or determine your sense of worth
  • Begin everything in life with the end in mind
  • Always use timeless, ethical principles like the Golden Rule, kindness, win-win situations, and integrity
  • Stop blaming anyone or anything else. NO MORE VICTIM MENTALITY! You are responsible for your dream life.
  • Use visualization techniques
  • Be pro-active, not reactive
  • Between stimulus and response, humans always have the ability to choose what to do
  • Find a strong Yes! to stay motivated
  • Be willing and strategic in saying No unapologetically no tasks
  • Find and do the #1 thing that will give you the highest impact in the long term (aerobic exercise is a good one)
  • Seek first to understand another person.


Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars

Good book with solid lessons. It fails in that it is very anecdotal: many of his lessons in th e book are based off his own one-off stories and experiences. It’s not as reliable as someone who has been more scientific and tested thousands of trials. His own experiences may have been unique or lucky.

I tried to learn more about his life story to see if his advice was credible but had difficulty pulling anything up. There is very little information on his net worth or any notable, recognizable business he founded. It seems like he made most of his money from selling millions of copies of his book. For that reason, I would not rely on this book as gospel truth or foundational wisdom.

If anyone has verifiable information to disprove this, you’re welcome to leave a comment and let me know.

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  • Peter

    March 28, 2016

    I’ve also always thought this book sounded kind of stupid but after reading this I think I’ll be adding it to my list of things to read.

    • Will

      July 6, 2016

      Thanks so much for the comment. There’s definitely some interesting points. It’s most known for win-win relationships which I think is always a great rule of life

  • Peter

    March 28, 2016

    I’ve also always thought this book sounded kind of stupid but after reading this I think I’ll be adding it to my list of things to read.


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