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Timeless Lessons From 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 1. Be Proactive, Not Reactive. 2. Begin With The End In Mind and Work Backwards. 3. Put First Things First...

Jerry Zhang
Jerry Zhang

6 min read

I never liked reading as a kid. In fact, I would never read anything on my own unless it was fiction or it was a requirement for class. My reading life has been all but dormant until I turned 21, when some strange butterfly flapped its wings and caused me to walk into Barnes and Noble and come out with a book. That book was 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People is the first book I read that started a chain reaction, which caused me to go on a reading spree. I highly recommend this book to someone who is just starting their reading journey. Here’s a summary of the lessons I’ve taken away that continue to benefit my life today!

1. Be Proactive, Not Reactive.

Effective people take ownership of their lives by being proactive rather than reactive. Proactive people take action on their own, whereas reactive people take action when required. Reactive people scrape by doing the bare minimum, and as a result are at the mercy of their circumstances.

Listen to how you think and how you speak. Reactive people say things such as “there’s nothing I can do” or “that’s just the way I am”. Proactive people instead say things like “let’s look at other alternatives” or “I will do this”. Notice the difference–one chooses to not do, whereas the other chooses to do.

Shia LaBeauf summarizes this pretty well with “Just Do It!

2. Begin With The End In Mind and Work Backwards.

Many have said that life is a journey and not a destination. However, even those who believe that will admit that having a destination will greatly assist them throughout their journey.

Define a vision of what you want. To be honest, this is so incredibly difficult because we mere mortals are just about the most indecisive beings on the planet. Predators in the wild can’t afford to take too long to decide which prey to pursue, or else they will starve. We humans on the other hand have the luxury of endless options, which also turns out to be a curse. Defining a vision forces you to eliminate all the unimportant things so you can focus on the things that matter.

Write a personal mission statement. It doesn’t have to be long–just clear enough that you can understand it with absolute clarity. This personal mission statement will serve as a reminder and accountability tool on whether you are on track in life. As an example, my personal mission statement revolve around stewardship (doing the best we can with what we’re given) and discipleship (learning from your seniors and mentoring your juniors), which I’ll share in a future post.

Then, reverse engineer the steps required to reach your goals.

3. Put First Things First: Prioritize and Eliminate.

Again, we live in a day and age where there are constantly too many options. Those that are able to successfully prioritize and eliminate will have a clear advantage over those who cannot distinguish their priorities.

Stephen Covey categorizes all tasks into a 2×2 matrix with the following categories:

Important means the results contribute to your mission and goals. Urgent means it demands our immediate attention.

The goal is to move as many things in our lives into Quadrant 2 as possible. The benefit is as follows: reduced urgency allows us to manage our energy better. Instead of having to constantly react to the next urgent thing, we can take things at a more friendly pace. We also don’t care about unimportant things.

My strategy for moving as many tasks into Quadrant 2 is:

  • Ruthlessly eliminate unimportant tasks
  • Reduce the urgent tasks into non-urgent tasks by launching preemptive strikes whenever I can

4. Think Win-Win. Abundance over Scarcity Mindset.

We’ve all witnessed zero-sum games. Gambling is a primary example–in poker, there can only be one winner. In life, however, the rules are far less restricted and there are near limitless options.

Everybody has their own agenda. When it comes to interacting with other people, we would be wise to consider their needs in the processing of acquiring ours.

A common example is sharing when the resource is low by diluting your resources a bit. It goes without saying that you should not be doing this with the expectation that you’ll get something in return. If you keep track, then you will have failed at this habit.

Long term is where the true value exists. You may be able to make a short term gain by enacting a win-lose situation, but then you may not be able to win from that person ever again. Being patient is a way to invest by giving up something now so you can potentially enjoy more later.

This habit does not mean being a pushover. Rather, it’s mustering up the maturity and courage to forgo that short-term gain at the expense of somebody else. Through patience, you will

5. Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood. Be Empathetic.

This is probably the easiest habit because it involves doing nothing. All you need to do is listen. I mean, who doesn’t love talking about themselves? So just let them talk.

When we show the other person that we are willing to take the time to listen to them and understand them, they will be much more willing to understand us. Of course, this is not guaranteed, so you shouldn’t keep track with the expectation that the other person will in turn listen to you. But you never know. Lower your expectations, and let yourself be surprised.

Okay, so I may have lied when I said this habit involves doing nothing. Of course, empty listening doesn’t really mean much. You need to be genuinely interested in the other person. Listen to their story, their struggles, their goals, etc. Once you feel you have enough context, feel free to start participating in the discussion to see how you connect with them. I can also say with a fair amount of confidence that understanding their story will also indirectly benefit you.

This habit has the power to prevent wars. All political turmoil happen because of this. The US political landscape has become so disgustingly bipolar that neither side is willing to make even the smallest of compromise. I declare that politicians have failed to follow this habit, and if they did, we would be in a much better state.

You can agree to disagree. But at least listen and show your willingness to understand. Be civilized.

6. Synergize. Multiply the Effects of Teamwork.

Through the power of collaboration, humans have been able to accomplish remarkable things: the printing press, the steam engine, the internet, the personal computer, landing on the moon, etc.

No one person can possibly hope to achieve something of this magnitude. NASA needed aerospace engineers, but they also needed janitors. Every contribution makes a difference.

Thanks to writing, people in the past are able to create a written record of everything they have learned so that their work can live on. As I type this, we are currently sitting on the culmination of several generations’ worth of discoveries. How many computer engineers did it take to build this computer?

Point is, the power of teamwork can be more than just linear. It’s when we start to take advantage of each other’s strengths and build on top of another that we can truly achieve many magnitudes more than the combination of our individual contributions.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

7. Sharpen The Saw. Continuous Improvement.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Practice makes perfect better. Develop the muscle memory.

In summary, I think Stephen Covey totally cheated by adding this as the last habit, because this habit basically says to repeat all of the above endlessly. It’s similar to when the Genie grants you 3 wishes, and your last wish is for more wishes.

We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Through continuous trial and error, we learn to become better at what we do and better human beings. There are an infinite number of possibilities, and there’s no chance any human can do it all. So remain humble knowing that there are always things we can learn.

Never should we become too proud to stop improving ourselves.


7 Habits of Highly Effective People—Powerful Lessons In Personal Change

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Jerry Zhang

Programmer, YouTuber, and amateur musician. I like to write too!