The 7 habits of highly effective teens part 1

Dr. Stephen Covey (1932-2012) wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It’s one of the best sellers of all times. Now his son, Sean, has written one specifically for teens. Called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” (Touchstone Books, NY, NY, 2014). It’s a delight to read with lots of graphics, true and helpful stories, great quotations, and an easily understandable text. I recommend this book especially for teens and people who work with teens, but everyone can learn from it. Effective habits work.

A habit is a behavior done so often and regularly that it becomes almost involuntary, like looking both ways before you cross the street, seasoning your food, or even treating others with respect. We can have positive habits such as always trying to make the best of a situation, or negative ones, such as putting ourselves down, and blaming everyone and everything for our problems.

Scottish author and politician Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) wrote that he believed more progress would be made by a change of attitudes, rather than a change of laws. He knew the importance of habits saying:

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;

Sow an act, and you reap a habit;

Sow a habit and you reap a character;

Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

Effective habits are ones that help people live the best lives that they can. They help people be in control of their lives and make smarter decisions. These 7 habits generally lead to happiness because one learns that things can change.

Every effective habit as an opposite, a defective habit. These habits create a sense of feeling that other people, circumstances, or things are in control of your life. They can lead to feelings of unhappiness or feeling overwhelmed.

Covey warns about the paradigms or perceptions that we hold of things. It is essential to know that how we think about something might not be a fact, but a perception. Anorexic people often see themselves as heavy even when they are at 70 pounds. Paradigms affect how we see ourselves. One of the most discouraging things for me is to hear a student feel defeated about something and say, “That’s just the way I am.” Trust Covey. Know that things change. The book is loaded with stories about how peoples’ lives changed when their thinking habits change, but I’m fairly certain that you could ask any adult about how they surprised themselves by going beyond what they thought they were. Be gentle to yourself, and meet your noble self.

The habits also have an order of importance. They build on each other. Covey refers to the first three effective habits as “Private Victory” because they relate mostly to the self. They are listed below with their evil twins, the defective habits, so you can learn learn about the positive habits from the contrast.

1. Be proactive. In other words, get motivated and take charge of how you want things to go. One says “I’ll do it.” instead of I’ll try, or “I choose to.” instead of “I have to.” When you come against an obstacle, look for all the options, and remain optimistic about finding a solution. Keep a positive paradigm of yourself. Don’t allow someone to pull you down. Then they win. Instead: stop, take a breath, Remember both of your noble selves, and allow a solution to come from that part of you. Abraham Lincoln observed that “People are just about as happy as they make up their mind to be.”

The defective habit is “To React.” You blame all of your problems on your parents, teachers, neighborhood, the government, your friends, and you feel like a victim. You give up and settle for what doesn’t work for you. Attention for your victim hood is still attention.

2. Begin with an end in mind. Set goals. Know where you want to go, and what you want to do. Do you have an over-all mission in life? That could be your great goal that will be achieved by many smaller ones. Great goals are truly what you want to achieve, and not what parents, teachers, and others want for you. They don’t know your heart or even your best skills. Goals also mature and grow as we get older, and we understand more about ourselves and the world. If you hold this great goal in your mind and heart, it will lead you to knowing what smaller, reachable goals will help you get there, and the information, resources and people you need to fulfill it will show up.

The defective habit is to “Begin with no end in mind.” You allow the universe to just toss you around, and you have to put out the fires that arise from that passivity. You are swayed by others’ thoughts about what is successful rather than your own ideas about it.

3. Put first things first. We need to prioritize. To do this you need to know your values, what is important to you. You combine your standards and your moral code with your goals. Which ones are top priority? Do them first. It takes willpower to stick to them when the inviting distractions show up. Remember your goal. See yourself living it. Study for that science test that will get you into the pre-med college of your choice even though you want to talk to your sweetie, or hang out with your friends. The test is an immediate goal to reach with a deadline. Shout out to your friends, and ask for their understanding. Celebrate after. Many successful people use organizers and calendars to help them get the important stuff in.

The defective habit is to “Put first things last.” You get distracted by something you think might interest you in the moment. But when you remember the important thing that you left by the way. There are pangs of remorse. Remember that you can change. Maybe your friends can change with you!

Try setting a goal about something this week, and stick to it. You are actually being kind to yourself, and kindness stimulates positive feeling hormones. Expect to feel good about your life and how you can have control. We’ll get to the remaining four habits next week.


Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at For more information about Hale Opio Kauai, please go to


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