Information on this page is © Stephen Covey, and
is from his book, The 7 Habits of Highly
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence,
then, is not an act, but a habit.
Our character, basically, is a composite of our
habits. "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an
action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a
character; sow a character, reap a destiny," the
Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because
they are consistent, often unconscious patterns,
they constantly, daily, express our character and
produce our effectiveness ... or ineffectiveness.
As Horace Mann, the great educator, once said,
"Habits are like a cable. We weave a strand of it
everyday and soon it cannot be broken." I
personally do not agree with the last part of his
expression. I know they can be broken. Habits can
be learned and unlearned. But I also know it isn't
a quick fix. It involves a process and a
Those of us who watched the lunar voyage of Apollo
11 were transfixed as we saw the first men walk on
the moon and return to earth. Superlatives such as
"fantastic" and "incredible" were inadequate to
describe those eventful days. But to get there,
the astronauts literally had to break out of the
tremendous gravity pull of the earth. More energy
was spent in the first few minutes of lift-off, in
the first few miles of travel, than was used over
the next several days to travel half a million
Habits, too, have tremendous gravity pull - more
than most people realize or would admit. Breaking
deeply embedded habitual tendencies such as
procrastination, impatience, criticizing others,
or selfishness that violate basic principles of
human effectiveness involves more than a little
willpower and a few minor changes in our lives.
"Lift off' takes a tremendous effort, but once we
break out of the gravity pull, our freedom takes
on a whole new dimension.
Like any natural force, gravity pull can work with
us or against us. The gravity pull of some of our
habits may currently be keeping us from going
where we want to go. But it is also gravity pull
that keeps our world together, that keeps the
planets in their orbits and our universe in order.
It is a powerful force, and if we use it
effectively, we can use the gravity pull of habit
to create the cohesiveness and order necessary to
establish effectiveness in our lives.
For our purposes, we will define a habit as the
intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.
Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the
what to do and the why. Skill is the
how to do. And desire is the motivation,
the want to do. To make something a habit
in our lives, we have to have all three.
I may be ineffective in my interactions with my
work associates, my spouse, or my children because
I constantly tell them what I think, but I never
really listen to them. Unless I search out correct
principles of human interaction, I may not even
know I need to listen.
Even if I do know that to interact effectively
with others I really need to listen to them, I may
not have the skill. I may not know how to
really listen deeply to another human being.
But knowing I need to listen and knowing how to
listen is not enough. Unless I want to
listen, unless I have the desire, it won't be a
habit in my life. Creating a habit requires work
in all three dimensions.
The being/seeing change is an upward process -
being changing seeing, which in turn changes
being, and so forth, as we move in an upward
spiral of growth. By working on knowledge, skill,
and desire, we can break through to new levels of
personal and interpersonal effectiveness as we
break with old paradigms that may have been a
source of pseudo-security for years.
It's sometimes a painful process. It's a change
that has to be motivated by a higher purpose, by
the willingness to subordinate what you think you
want now for what you want later. But this process
produces happiness, "the object and design of our
existence." Happiness can be defined, in part at
least, as the fruit of desire and ability to
sacrifice what we want now for what we
The Maturity Continuum
The Seven Habits are not a set of separate or
piecemeal psych-up formulas. In harmony with the
natural laws of growth, they provide an
incremental, sequential, highly integrated
approach to the development of personal and
interpersonal effectiveness. They move us
progressively on a Maturity Continuum from
dependence to independence to interdependence.
We each begin life as an infant, totally
dependent on others. We are directed,
nurtured, and sustained by others. Without this
nurturing, we would only live for a few hours or a
few days at the most.
Then gradually, over the ensuing months and years,
we become more and more independent -
physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially
- until eventually we can essentially take care of
ourselves, becoming inner-directed and
As we continue to grow and mature, we become
increasingly aware that all of nature is interdependent,
that there is an ecological system that governs
nature, including society. We further discover
that the higher reaches of our nature have to do
with our relationships with others - that human
life also is interdependent.
Our growth from infancy to adulthood is in
accordance with natural law. And there are many
dimensions to growth. Reaching our full physical
maturity, for example, does not necessarily assure
us of simultaneous emotional or mental maturity.
On the other hand, a person's physical dependence
does not mean that he or she is mentally or
On the maturity continuum, dependence is
the paradigm of you - you take care of me; you
come through for me; you didn't come through; I
blame you for the results.
Independence is the paradigm of I - I can
do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can
Interdependence is the paradigm of we - we
can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our
talents and abilities and create something greater
Dependent people need others to get what they
want. Independent people can get what they want
through their own effort. Interdependent people
combine their own efforts with the efforts of
others to achieve their greatest success.
If I were physically dependent - paralyzed or
disabled or limited in some physical way - I would
need you to help me. If I were emotionally
dependent, my sense of worth and security would
come from your opinion of me. If you didn't like
me, it could be devastating. If I were
intellectually dependent, I would count on you to
do my thinking for me, to think through the issues
and problems of my life.
If I were independent, physically, I could pretty
well make it my own. Mentally, I could think my
own thoughts, I could mo from one level of
abstraction to another. I could think creative and
analytically and organize and express my thoughts
in understandable ways. Emotionally, I would be
validated from within. I would be inner
directed. My sense of worth would not be a
function of being liked or treated well.
It's easy to see that independence is much more
mature than dependence. Independence is a major
achievement in and of itself. But
independence is not supreme.
Nevertheless, the current social paradigm
enthrones independence. It is the avowed goal of
many individuals and social movements. Most of the
self-improvement material puts independence on a
pedestal, as though communication, teamwork, and
cooperation were lesser values.
But much of our current emphasis on independence
is a reaction to dependence - to having others
control us, define us, use us, and manipulate us.
The little understood concept of interdependence
appears to many to smack of dependence, and
therefore, we find people, often for selfish
reasons, leaving their marriages, abandoning their
children, and forsaking all kinds of social
responsibility - all in the name of independence.
The kind of reaction that results in people
"throwing off shackles," becoming "liberated,"
"asserting themselves," and "doing their own
thing" often reveals more fundamental dependencies
that cannot be run away from because they are
internal rather than external - dependencies such
as letting the weaknesses of other people ruin our
emotional lives or feeling victimized by people
and events out of our control.
Of course, we may need to change our
circumstances. But the dependence problem is a
personal maturity issue that has little to do with
circumstances. Even with better circumstances,
immaturity and dependence often persist.
True independence of character empowers us to act
rather be acted upon. It frees us from our
dependence on circumstances and other people and
is a worthy, liberating goal. But it is not the
ultimate goal in effective living.
Independent thinking alone is not suited to
interdependent reality. Independent people who do
not have the maturity to think and act
interdependently may be good individual producers,
but they won't be good leaders or team players.
They're not coming from the paradigm of
interdependence necessary to succeed in marriage,
family, or organizational reality.
Life is, by nature, highly interdependent. To try
to achieve maximum effectiveness through
independence is like trying to play tennis with a
golf club - the tool is not suited to the reality.
Interdependence is a far more mature, more
advanced concept. If I am physically
interdependent, I am self-reliant and capable, but
I also realize that you and I working together can
accomplish far more than, even at my best, I could
accomplish alone. If I am emotionally
interdependent, I derive a great sense of worth
within myself, but I also recognize the need for
love, for giving, and for receiving love from
others. If I am intellectually interdependent, I
realize that I need the best thinking of other
people to join with my own.
As an interdependent person, I have the
opportunity to share myself deeply, meaningfully,
with others, and I have access to the vast
resources and potential of other human beings.
Interdependence is a choice only independent
people can make. Dependent people cannot choose to
become interdependent. They don't have the
character to, do it; they don't own enough of
That's why Habits 1, 2, and 3 in the following
chapters deal with self-mastery. They move a
person from dependence to independence. They are
the "Private Victories," the essence of character
growth. Private victories precede public
victories. You can't invert that process anymore
than you can harvest a crop before you plant it.
As you become truly independent, you have the
foundation for effective interdependence. You have
the character base from which you can effectively
work on the more personality-oriented "Public
Victories" of teamwork, cooperation, and
communication in Habits 4, 5, and 6.
That does not mean you have to be perfect in
Habits 1, 2, and 3 before working on Habits 4, 5,
and 6. Understanding the sequence will help you
manage your growth more effectively, but I'm not
suggesting that you put yourself in isolation for
several years until you fully develop Habits 1, 2,
As part of an interdependent world, you have to
relate to that world every day. But the acute
problems of that world can easily obscure the
chronic character causes. Understanding how what
you are impacts every interdependent interaction
will help you to focus your efforts sequentially,
in harmony with the natural laws of growth.
Habit 7 is the habit of renewal - a regular,
balanced renewal of the four basic dimensions of
life. It circles and embodies all the other
habits. It is the habit of continuous improvement
that creates the upward spiral of growth that
lifts you to new levels of understanding and
living each of the habits as you come around to
them on a progressively higher plane.
The Seven Habits are habits of effectiveness.
Because they are based on principles, they bring
the maximum long-term beneficial results possible.
They become the basis of a person's character,
creating an empowering center of correct maps from
which an individual can effectively solve
problems, maximize opportunities, and continually
learn and integrate other principles in an upward
spiral of growth.
They are also habits of effectiveness because they
are based on a paradigm of effectiveness that is
in harmony with a natural law, a principle I call
the "P/PC Balance," which many people break
themselves against. (IN an earlier chapter,
Covey quotes Cecil B. DeMille, "It is impossible
for us to break the law. We can only break
ourselves against the law.") This principle
can be easily understood by remembering Aesop's
fable of the goose and the golden egg.
This fable is the story of a poor farmer who one
day discovers in the nest of his pet goose a
glittering golden egg. At first, he thinks it must
be some kind of trick. But as he starts to throw
the egg aside, he has second thoughts and takes it
in to be appraised instead.
The egg is pure gold! The farmer can't believe his
good fortune. He becomes even more incredulous the
following day when the experience is repeated. Day
after day, he awakens to rush to the nest and find
another golden egg. He becomes fabulously wealthy;
it all seems too good to be true.
But with his increasing wealth comes greed and
impatience. Unable to wait day after day for the
golden eggs, the fanner decides he will kill the
goose and get them all at once. But when he opens
the goose, he finds it empty. There are no golden
eggs - and now there is no way to get any more.
The farmer has destroyed the goose that produced
I suggest that within this fable is a natural law,
a principle - the basic definition of
effectiveness. Most people see effectiveness from
the golden egg paradigm: the more you produce, the
more you do, the more effective you are.
But as the story shows, true effectiveness is a
function of two things: what is produced (the
golden eggs) and the producing asset or capacity
to produce (the goose).
If you adopt a pattern of life that focuses on
golden eggs and neglects the goose, you will soon
be without the asset that produces golden eggs. On
the other hand, if you only take care of the goose
with no aim toward the golden eggs, you soon won't
have the wherewithal to feed yourself or the
Effectiveness lies in the balance - what I call
the P/PC Balance. P stands for production of
desired results, the golden eggs. PC stands for
production capability, the ability or asset that
produces the golden eggs.
Three Kinds of Assets
Basically, there are three kinds of assets:
physical, financial, and human. Let's look at each
one in turn.
A few years ago, I purchased a physical asset - a
power lawnmower. I used it over and over again
without doing anything to maintain it. The mower
worked well for two seasons, but then it began to
break down. When I tried to revive it with service
and sharpening, I discovered the engine had lost
over half its original power capacity. It was
Had I invested in PC - in preserving and
maintaining the asset - I would still be enjoying
its P - the mowed lawn. As it was, I had to spend
far more time and money replacing the mower than I
would have spent, had I maintained it. It simply
In our quest for short-term returns, or results,
we often ruin a prized physical asset - a car, a
computer, a washer or dryer, even our body or our
environment. Keeping P and PC in balance makes a
tremendous difference in the effective use of
It also powerfully impacts the effective use of
financial assets. How often do people confuse
principal with interest? Have you ever invaded
principal to increase your standard of living, to
get more golden eggs? The decreasing principal has
decreasing power to produce interest or income.
And the dwindling capital becomes smaller and
smaller until it no longer supplies even basic
Our most important financial asset is our own
capacity to earn. If we don't continually invest
in improving our own PC, we severely limit our
options. We're locked into our present situation,
running scared of our corporation or our boss's
opinion of us, economically dependent and
defensive. Again, it simply isn't effective.
In the human area, the P/PC Balance is equally
fundamental, but even more important, because
people control physical and financial assets.
When two people in a marriage are more concerned
about getting the golden eggs, the benefits, than
they are in preserving the relationship that makes
them possible, they often become insensitive and
inconsiderate, neglecting the little kindnesses
and courtesies so important to a deep
relationship. They begin to use control levers to
manipulate each other, to focus on their own
needs, to justify their own position and look for
evidence to show the wrongness of the other
person. The love, the richness, the softness and
spontaneity begin to deteriorate. The goose gets
sicker day by day.
And what about a parent's relationship with a
child? When children are little, they are very
dependent, very vulnerable. It becomes so easy to
neglect the PC work - the training, the
communicating, the relating, the listening. It's
easy to take advantage, to manipulate, to get what
you want the way you want it - right now! You're
bigger, you're smarter, and you're right! So why
not just tell them what to do? If necessary, yell
at them, intimidate them, insist on your way.
Or you can indulge them. You can go for the golden
egg of popularity, of pleasing them, giving them
their way all the time. Then they grow up without
any internal sense of standards or expectations,
without a personal commitment to being disciplined
Either way - authoritarian or permissive - you
have the golden egg mentality. You want to have
your way or you want to be liked. But what
happens, meantime, to the goose? What sense of
responsibility, of self-discipline, of confidence
in the ability to make good choices or achieve
important goals is a child going to have a few
years down the road? And what about your
relationship? When he reaches those critical
teenage years, the identity crises, will he know
from his experience with you that you will listen
without judging, that you really, deeply care
about him as a person, that you can be trusted, no
matter what? Will the relationship be strong
enough for you to reach him, to communicate with
him, to influence him?
One of the immensely valuable aspects of any
correct principle is that it is valid and
applicable in a wide variety of circumstances.
Throughout this book, I would like to share with
you some of the ways in which these principles
apply to organizations, including families, as
well as to individuals.
When people fail to respect the P/PC Balance in
their use of physical assets in organizations,
they decrease organizational effectiveness and
often leave others with dying geese.
For example, a person in charge of a physical
asset, such as a machine, may be eager to make a
good impression on his superiors. Perhaps the
company is in a rapid growth stage and promotions
are coming fast. So he produces at optimum levels
- no downtime, no maintenance. He runs the machine
day and night. The production is phenomenal, costs
are down, and profits skyrocket. Within a short
time, he's promoted. Golden eggs!
But suppose you are his successor on the job. You
inherit a very sick goose, a machine that, by this
time, is rusted and starts to break down. You have
to invest heavily in downtime and maintenance.
Costs skyrocket; profits nose-dive. And who gets
blamed for the loss of golden eggs? You do. Your
predecessor liquidated the asset, but the
accounting system only reported unit production,
costs, and profit.
The P/PC Balance is particularly important as it
applies to the human assets of an organization-the
customers and the employees.
I know of a restaurant that served a fantastic
clam chowder and was packed with customers every
day at lunchtime. Then the business was sold, and
the new owner focused on golden eggs - he decided
to water down the chowder. For about a month, with
costs down and revenues constant, profits zoomed.
But little by little, the customers began to
disappear. Trust was gone, and business dwindled
to almost nothing. The new owner tried desperately
to reclaim it, but he had neglected the customers,
violated their trust, and lost the asset of
customer loyalty. There was no more goose to
produce the golden egg.
There are organizations that talk a lot about the
customer and then completely neglect the people
that deal with the customer - the employees. The
PC principle is to always treat your employees
exactly as you want them to treat your best
You can buy a person's hand, but you can't buy his
heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his
loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you can't
buy his brain. That's where his creativity is, his
ingenuity, his resourcefulness.
PC work is treating employees as volunteers just
as you treat customers as volunteers, because
that's what they are. They volunteer the best part
- their hearts and minds.
The focus on golden eggs - that attitude, that
paradigm - is totally inadequate to tap into the
powerful energies of the mind and heart of another
person. A short-term bottom line is important, but
it isn't all-important.
Effectiveness lies in the balance. Excessive focus
on P results in ruined health, worn-out machines,
depleted bank accounts, and broken relationships.
Too much focus on PC is like a person who runs
three or four hours a day, bragging about the
extra ten years of life it creates, unaware he's
spending them running. Or a person endlessly going
to school, never producing, living on other
people's golden eggs - the eternal student
To maintain the P/PC Balance, the balance between
the golden egg (production) and the health and
welfare of the goose (production capability) is
often a difficult judgment call. But I suggest it
is the very essence of effectiveness. It balances
short term with long term. It balances going for
the grade and paying the price to get an
education. It balances the desire to have a room
clean and the building of a relationship in which
the child is internally committed to do it -
cheerfully, willingly, without external
It's a principle you can see validated in your own
life when you bum the candle at both ends to get
more golden eggs and wind up sick or exhausted,
unable to produce any at all; or when you get a
good night's sleep and wake up ready to produce
throughout the day.
You can see it when you press to get your own way
with someone and somehow feel an emptiness in the
relationship; or when you really take time to
invest in a relationship and you find the desire
and ability to work together, to communicate,
takes a quantum leap.
The P/PC Balance is the very essence of
effectiveness. It's validated in every arena of
life. We can work with it or against it, but it's
there. It's a lighthouse (from Covey's earlier
metaphor about paradigms as lighthouses, told in
class). It's the definition and paradigm of
effectiveness upon which the Seven Habits in this
book are based.