The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

My Journey Begins

I wanted to share with you some insights into a book I was introduced to in 1994, when I attended a week long management course on ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,’ by Stephen R Covey. I feel the book and the course acted as the catalyst that took me on a journey of self-discovery and self-development. To this day, these are habits I practice in both my personal and professional life.

It’s important to remember, we are all unique, we all perceive the world through our own eyes, no one else’s. So, as you read through my insights, my learnings, experiences and practices, bear in mind that these are my take on the book, your experience will be different.


For me, this is about taking responsibility in my decisions and my actions. Having the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen. If we look at the word responsibility in a slightly different way, I look at it as my ability to choose my response. I don’t look to blame my circumstances, or conditions, my behaviour is based on my own conscious choice, based on values.

In choosing my response to a given situation I press my “pause button.” What I mean by this is that between stimulus and response there is a space, a space where I allow myself time to process, reflect and respond in a calm, considered way. In this space we have our freedom to choose, using self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will. As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said,

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


Whatever it is I’m looking to do in life, before I proceed, I first think about what it is I want to achieve, what is the goal and the desired outcome. A good analogy for this is if you think of going on a journey, firstly you identify the destination and then you can plan the route that will get you there.

If you recall a scene in Alice Wonderland where Alice is standing at a crossroads;

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

In my work as a Wellbeing Specialist, it’s important when working with a client, I help them to get a vision of the outcome they wish to achieve. What will be happening in their life, what are the benefits for them in achieving this, or what will making these changes bring that they don’t already have.

Then we can look at what’s going on for them in their lives at this time, so they can work on taking the stepping stones that will set them on the road to bringing about the positive life changes they wish to see. Whatever it is I’m looking to achieve, or accomplish … I always begin with the end in mind


This for me is about making sure that how I think, what I do, what my priorities are, are aligned with my core values, the things that matter most to me.

“The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If we sit and reflect, do we live by this? Do we spend most of the time we have, ‘our clock,’ doing the things that matter most in our lives, ‘our compass?’ In Covey’s book First Things First, he asks the question, “how many people on their deathbed wished they’d spent more time in the office?”

My life is about balance and ensuring I am putting first things first and I take this philosophy into the work I do with my clients. I help my clients to connect and align with their core values, the things that matter most in their lives. This is so important because as I reflect back, I spent so many years working all the hours I could in the Corporate World, I lost sight of taking care of the more important things in my life.

“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life” – Dolly Parton


We are brought up, even conditioned to believe that in order for someone to win, someone else has to lose. I embrace Win-Win as a belief, a belief in a third alternative to you either win, or you lose. I look at it as not your way, or my way, it’s a better way, a higher way.

It means that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial, mutually satisfying and where all parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the plan. It means that one person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others.

A great example of this for me is within the networking I’m involved in, through collaboration and referrals. If I know of someone that can solve a problem, or provide a service that I can’t, then by referring a potential client to an expert in that field means, the client wins, the expert wins and through my actions, I feel good about playing my part and I feel like a winner too

The next time you want to achieve something, no matter how small, think to yourself, how does my achieving this impact on others … because, there could be a third way, a Win-Win way


Think about the last three conversations you’ve had and ask yourself, did I listen to the other person in order to respond? Or did I actually focus on their every word, so I could truly understand from their viewpoint?

Far too often we listen to respond, in most cases having formulated our response by viewing the situation from our own perspective of the world. At times in the past, with my Corporate Managers head on, I have been guilty of this, thinking whatever the other person says, I already know what my response will be and how this situation will play out. I’d jump in to give guidance or advice, based on my experiences and assumptions. My attitude to this at times was flawed!

Through attending the Seven Habits course in 1994, my life experiences and through my extensive training, these have helped me to hone my listening skills which has benefited me in both my personal and professional life. I’m totally focused on what the other person is saying and letting them feel they’re being listened to and understood, I remain non-judgemental, I don’t make any assumptions, I park my thoughts around my experiences and listen with empathic understanding.

It’s not important how I see things through my lens of the world, so, I always make sure I have one foot in the other persons world.


So what is synergy? It is defined by Covey as meaning that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

We can see synergy everywhere in nature, for example, if you plant two plants close to each other they will comingle and improve the quality of the soil and both plants will grow better than if they were separated. Or if we look at an Olympic team, where some disciplines are individual and the difference it makes to the performance when the individuals are involved in real team spirit generated by the whole.

For me, there’s a synergy in the way I look at the seven habits, practiced individually they are effective, practiced together, they are so much more powerful and bring a solid foundation and balance to my life. I am always looking for opportunities to bring more synergy into my life, a life more geared to service and contribution, one that is more trusting, more giving, more caring. Creating an environment that is truly fulfilling for each person, that nurtures the self-esteem and self-worth of each and that creates opportunities for each to mature.

I love this quote by the Daili Lama, which I feel captures the importance of synergy;

“As long as we live in a human society, we have to depend on each other. No one can survive as an island.”

Whether it’s in our personal, or professional lives we are stronger together …


This habit surrounds the other six habits, it is the habit that makes all the others possible. It’s about preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have … YOU.

This means exercising all four dimensions of our nature, regularly and consistently in wise and balanced ways. The four dimensions are

PHYSICAL = Exercise, Nutrition and Stress Management.

MENTAL = Reading, Visualising, Planning and Writing.

SPIRITUAL = Value Clarification and Commitment, Study and Meditation

SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL = Service, Empathy, Synergy and Intrinsic Security.

In the book, Covey tells the story of a man working feverishly in the woods trying to saw a tree down. When asked by a passer-by what he was doing, he explained sawing a tree down and exhausted by his endeavours said he had been working on it for over five hours. The passer by advised the man to take a break and sharpen his saw, the man’s reply was “I’m too busy sawing”

Sometimes in our lives we are so busy doing and constantly striving to achieve the outcome of our endeavours, we forget to take time to invest in our greatest asset … Ourselves.

For many years, I have been focused and disciplined in consistently investing time in me, time to rest, time to learn, time to meditate, time to be in nature, time to exercise, eat healthily, staying hydrated, to read, to listen to uplifting music, enhance relationships, time to just be, the list goes on …

In the way I live my life and the work I do in helping my clients, I firmly believe …

“The single greatest investment you will ever make is that of investing in yourself” – Samuel Zulu

As a final note, the clock and the compass are referenced a number of times throughout the book and when setting up my business, I reflected on my learnings and experiences over almost 30 years, inspired by Covey and the 7 Habits, my business Clock and Compass Coaching was born …

Author: Daniel O’Connor