I agree with the many people who feel that the 7 Habits is one of the best business and self-help books books of all time. However, Covey, in my opinion, made two major mistakes, which may have been avoidable. As a result of these mistakes, many people read the 7 habits, and love the 7 habits, but can not implement them because they forget them. In an article in Forbes, Eric Johnson says that although he read it 4 or 5 times, and tried to habitualize all of the skills, he couldn’t remember a single one of the 7 habits. I’ve also asked fans of the book, to name the habits, and they usually fall short.
Covey’s first mistake is that he crammed a lot of material into the book, which is a common mistake that we pointed out in the post “Did I Just Read That? Why Great Non-fiction Books Don’t Seem to Stick.“. Too much information leads to people not remembering, and the 7 habits are really 7 categories, each of which contains many concepts.
The bigger mistake that Covey made is that he did not provide a good structure to make the habits easier to remember. His first goal should have been to help the reader install the habits in their long term memory by providing and repeating a memorable structure. Once the 7 habits and their basic meaning are in long term memory, it is easier for the reader to learn and recall the remaining detailed material.
Covey does provide an overview and a structure, but after 60 pages of introduction before the first habit, few people will be able to recall the 7 habits. Covey structured the habits by grouping them as follows:
Public Victory: 1) Be Proactive; 2) Begin With the End in Mind; 3) Put First Things First;
Private Victory: 4) Think Win/Win; 5) Seek First to Understand; Then to be Understood 6) Synergize;
Renewal: 7) Sharpen the Saw;
Unfortunately that structure does not lead to better recall. It’s very possible that Covey was not focused on whether people remembered the information or not. In fact,t he supplemented the book with corporate training seminars for companies that were really serious about implementing the habits.
In the near future, we will be releasing a free 3 minute video, which will help you remember the basics of the 7 habits. After viewing the video and installing the 7 habit structure in your long term memory, reading the book will yield many more fruits.