With more than 25 million copies sold worldwide in more than 40 languages, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is one of the most popular self-help books of all time. In this book, author Stephen R. Covey ignored psychology fads and instead offered seven proven principles of fairness, integrity, honesty and human dignity.
The book has changed the personal and professional lives of millions, including Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, author Seth Godin and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington.
While Covey’s philosophies have undoubtedly helped millions of readers, there are still people who fall into the traps covered in the book. For truly successful people, working with those who don’t follow the seven habits can be stifling, frustrating and downright irritating. Consider the following traits the antitheses of the seven habits — and learn how to avoid them at all costs.
1. Being Reactive
Successful people are repelled by reactive behavior, like worrying about conditions over which you can’t control or negative language, such as, “I can’t.” Whether it’s happiness, sadness, decisiveness or ambivalence, every moment and situation gives you an opportunity to choose a response.
The book’s first habit is “be proactive.” That means you’re in charge, and you’re the creator. When you act like you aren’t responsible for your life, you shift the blame to external sources like your parents, your boss or even the weather.
Instead of reacting to life’s events, focus your time and energy on something you can control — yourself.
2. Losing Sight of the End Goal
When people lose sight of the end goal, they achieve successes that are empty or victories that come at the expense of things that were far more important to them. They lack the imagination to envision the future and ability to make their vision become a reality. They come across as directionless, unfulfilled and disconnected.
Covey’s second habit teaches people to “begin with the end in mind.” You must first imagine in your mind what you cannot yet see with your eyes. Then you can empower other people and your circumstances to shape you and your life. When you begin with the end in mind, you own your destiny, control your desired direction and secure the future you envision.
Life becomes out of balance when you overextend yourself and try to do everything that comes along. As well-intentioned as you might be, saying yes to everything takes the focus off your priorities and devalues the most important aspects of your life.
Covey’s third rule says successful people “put first things first.” Highly successful people know how to organize and manage their time and events and reserve the right to say no to others and yes to their priorities, both personal and professional. This approach allows them to live a more balanced existence and stay focused on what matters most.
4. Thinking Win-Lose
When you think of life as a win-lose situation, you base your self-worth on comparison and competition. You appear to lack character and look at life as a zero-sum game. You are out to get the biggest piece of the pie — no matter the cost.
If you follow the fourth habit, “think win-win,” life becomes a cooperative arena instead of a competitive one. Highly successful people get to be courageous, considerate, empathetic and confident. Their minds and hearts constantly seek mutual benefit, so agreements and solutions are much more satisfying. Everyone gets to eat and enjoy the pie.
5. Talking Over Others
When speaking and getting your point across comes before listening to others, you ignore other people and filter everything you hear through your own frame of reference. But don’t feel bad if you’ve developed this habit — it’s incredibly difficult to listen to others without planning your response in your head.
Because communication is one of the most important life skills, people have to retrain themselves to become active listeners and stop prematurely deciding what other people are communicating before they are done speaking. When you follow the fifth habit, you stop judging others, giving unsolicited advice, and overanalyzing others’ motives and behaviors. You build relationships and develop high levels of trust with others.
6. Operating Alone
Two heads really are better than one, and people who follow Covey collectively drive synergy, which is the sixth habit. When they work with others who prefer to operate alone, they feel inhibited and isolated. People are much less likely to discover things on their own. Encouraging and embracing different points of view allows people to expand their horizons.
Synergy results in teamwork, open-mindedness and progress. When people are open to each other’s influence, they gain new insights and enhance their creativity. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With synergy, anything is possible.
7. Working Hard, Not Smart
When you work yourself to the bone, your body becomes weak; your thoughts can become mechanical and insensitive; and your actions can become selfish. No one wants to work with this type of person, especially those who follow Covey’s habits.
The final habit, “sharpen the saw,” means preserving and strengthening your greatest asset — yourself. To lead a balanced life, you need to constantly nurture the most critical areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual.
If you want to grow your personal or professional life, you must constantly sharpen the saw, which means improving your knowledge and developing skills. Doing so keeps you energized to continue growing and perfecting the other six habits.
Remember: Every day is a new opportunity to recharge yourself and lead a more fulfilling life.