Books that changed my life: “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”  ― Stephen R. Covey
“When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.” ― Stephen R. Covey


The book is about changing your behaviour to become more effective in you dealings in business as well as life. If excellence is a habit, you’ll want to practice it. That’s the crux of the book.

Stephen Covey did a review of the success literature of the past two hundred years and found a distinct difference in the types of literature put out after the 1920’s which he thought was less useful and more “quick-fix” bullshit. This book was his attempt to get back on track and take all the best, most timeless and universal advice on real solutions and put it in one book.

It has sold more than 15 million copies in 38 languages worldwide. So yeah, it was a pretty big deal and still is now.

How it helped me

I read this in university and got obsessed with it pushing the books into the hands of my friends and raving about it.

I was failing a maths unit and noticed that it was because of some ineffective habits I had allowed to persist, like chronic complaining as opposed to being proactive in discovering and solving problems. I wasn’t really consciously priotising my activities and I had little notion of what I wanted to do with my life either. I was on course for a lot of failure, basically.

The book took ages to fully implement, as it’s a whopper, but I think I now practice most of these habits even today, which is a fucking incredible achievement for any self-help book several years later and not something I can say for many other books.

I’m now proactive as fuck, I do absolutely begin with the end in mind by considering first how any project, business or otherwise, fits in with my chief desired goal, with my morning routine and classification of Most Important Tasks I do put first things first, I became a much better listener by first seeking to understand and I sharpen the shit out of my saw.

The goal-setting exercise in habit 2 where he gets you to consider what you’d want to say at your own funeral… And what sort of life you’d want to be able to say you’d lived… Was one of the first actually useful goal-setting exercises I’d encountered.

I didn’t apply all the habits the precise way he teaches, but I was able to easily apply the general ideas. Which is fucking awesome.

The book got my life way more organised and introduced me to this different form of self-help literature that was actually effective.


Habit 1: Be Proactive

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Habit 3: Put 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

(I’ve listed some awesome summaries of the content at the bottom you can quickly link to)

Where in your journey this fits

‌The book is kind of a business-success book… But not really. I’d say it would make you more effective at really any personal project, and so as such it would be a useful one to read if you’re having difficulty achieving some of your goals and projects and would like to be more organised.

If you keep reading shitty self-help books that really excite you for a month but never deliver lasting impact, do yourself a favour and at least skim read the book or read the summaries to familiarise yourself with what an actually useful self-help book is like.

The book does give you a great exercise on how to choose your goals and increase your sense of direction in life, so perhaps focus in on chapter two if that’s something that you have a pressing desire for.

I’d recommend that you check out the links for further reading at the bottom of this post and then if the content is relevant to you right now, get the book and skip or skim the less relevant chapters to you, focusing on the exercises and revisiting it regularly.

Style of the book

Most other self-improvement books just amp you up and make you feel good about yourself… Whilst being totally fucking impractical. This is not one of those books.

The book certainly doesn’t provide quick-fixes, to implement all of the habits it will take a lot of time and dedication. It’s well worth it of course, but it would be foolish to expect overnight miracles to occur. Many other personal development books would probably be able to make a book out of literally just one of his chapters and just keep giving alternative examples and descriptions to build up the page count. This book is meaty and the ideas are excellent.

The examples he uses to explore each habits are typically to do with family or business.

Criticism of the book

It really shouldn’t be a criticism that something important will take time to implement, should just be a given, but yeah, that. All of these different habits took me a long time to implement and I had to do them one at a time to really focus on them properly.

Some also complained that, like most personal-development books, and particular to those that are a bit more “business-y” it can get boring and repetitive at times.

Some also complained that the advice given isn’t stuff that would make you say “Holy Fuck batman, I’ve never even heard of that concept before!” The “secret” keys to success are usually bullshit, the ones that have been known about for hundreds of years and have endured are often far more reliable. And whilst some of these ideas aren’t new to you, unless you’re actively applying them to your life, this book will help encourage and educate you on how to apply them.

Key chapters

Chapter one was a fucking revelation to me.

Similar texts

The stuff which Leo writes about at Zen Habits is often quite similar to this… Because Leo copies the content and admits it.

Because the book was so incredibly popular, you may have read other books which sound similar since they copied his, but none come to mind.

Links to learn more

Six minute animated video that summarises the content of the book quite well:

Summary of each habit by the author’s own website:

Comprehensive summary from quickmba:

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