One of my New Year’s Plans for 2019 was to read a book each month. I kicked things off with Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in January. I had heard a lot about this book, but had never personally read it. Last summer, I came across a copy of it at a used bookstore for a good price, so I snagged it and read through the first half or so…and then life happened, and it fell by the wayside.
So I made it my January book for this year’s reading plan. Starting at the beginning again to refresh, I read it all the way through, pencil in hand to underline or circle important phrases. Upon finishing the book on January 31st, here’s my take:
WHAT I LIKED
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I always assumed when I heard the title that it was just another self-help book in the endless sea of self-help books out there, offering a list of practical things a successful person does every day, like “Wake up at 4:30 a.m.” or “Read 25 books a year.”
This, however, is not what this book is about. The seven habits are not simply actions you do every day, but principles, thought processes, “paradigms” (as Covey calls them) from which we operate. In fact, Covey goes so far as to criticize modern self-help and success literature as focusing on the superficial aspect of personality, rather than on the deeper level of character. As a result, a lot of people have learned how to manipulate their way through life with Jedi-type mind tricks, but they don’t have a lasting core of principle inside that will guide them through their decisions and interactions.
Covey, instead, focuses on character, not personality, as the root of successful living. I found this to be a welcome relief from the plethora of self-help books offering the same old, same old.
Not to mention, despite its being meaty, it’s an easy read, because he intersperses lots of personal anecdotes that perfectly illustrate his points.
WHAT I DISLIKED
There wasn’t really anything I disliked, so to speak. Although Covey is a Mormon, the principles found in Seven Habits are Bible principles. It shows that Bible principles lived out in daily interactions actually work – but it’s not written as an overtly “Christian” book. The habits are not presented with a Bible verse accompanying each, or a little prayer you’re supposed to say at the end of each chapter – and honestly, I don’t mind that. The principles found in God’s Word (such as the sowing-and-reaping principle) work even when acknowledged and used by non-Christians.
As I said, I don’t necessarily dislike that he doesn’t present these principles within the frame of spirituality. Indeed, he even affirms at the end of the book his belief that the source of the principles of truth that should guide our interactions is God’s Word itself.
However, if I could add anything to this book, it would be the disclaimer that, apart from a relationship with God, one can only go so far in living the kind of principled life Covey advocates. Not really a fault, just a personal note that I think any non-Christian should know heading into the book.
Without spoiling the book for those of you who haven’t read it, I’ll simply state the seven habits without much explanation, so you can read it for yourself to discover what he has to say about each.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
Habit 3: First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergize
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Covey takes an “inside-out” approach to address the kind of personal change that leads to efffectiveness. Habits 1-3 he calls the habits of Private Victory, those habits which deal mainly with our own selves. They move us from a place of dependence to a place of independence. Habits 4-6 he calls the habits of Public Victory, which deal with our interactions with others. These move us from independence to the highest level of maturity – interdependence. Habit 7 is a habit of renewal that works to keep all the other 6 fresh in our minds.
MY RATING AND RECOMMENDATION
5/5 stars – if you interact with people (in other words, if you’re breathing), I can’t recommend this book enough. There’s a reason it’s a bestseller – unlike the shallow pep-talk, self-esteem-building literature of today, Covey’s ideas have actual substance because they are based upon Biblical principles; therefore, they work.