The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Mormons

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 26 2012 @ 7:13am

Stephen Covey, who died last month, was the author of the famed self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People – and also a devout Mormon. Matthew Bowman explains their connection:

In Seven Habits, Covey took a particular point of Mormon doctrine and constructed a practical system to apply it.  Covey’s PhD, after all, was granted from Brigham Young University in “religious education,” a subject particular to BYU that is closer to training in youth ministry – techniques of motivation, evangelism, and spiritual formation – than it is to religious studies.   He was interested primarily in how Mormon doctrine might explain why people functioned as they did and as a method for how they might function better.  It is no surprise, then, that Covey produced what we might call a management theology: Mormonism brought to bear on particular systems of human relationships, translated into the language of business consulting and self-help, two vernaculars endemic in late twentieth century America.

The foundation of Covey’s theology is the Mormon notion that God’s divine power derives from his understanding and manipulation of the natural laws that govern the universe, and that God has taken as his responsibility guiding and uplifting humanity toward the same capacity.  As humans learn the moral and natural laws undergirding the universe, they progress in knowledge and capacity, and hence become eligible for greater divine light.  The Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of Joseph Smith’s revelations, teaches that “Whatever principle of education we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection,” and further, “There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world upon which all blessings are predicated – and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:18-21).  Seven Habits’ conception of success closely follows the Doctrine and Covenants here; it declares of the seven habits that “They represent the internalization of correct principles upon which enduring happiness and success are based.”   That internalization “produces happiness, 'the object and design of our existence.’” (23, 48)  Covey’s source for that last quotation is Joseph Smith  Some of Covey’s habits, like the first (being “proactive”) reflect this sense of responsibility; as the Book of Mormon teaches, humans “have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon.” (2 Nephi 2:26).