Habit 1: Be Proactive

One of the things that resulted from my taking The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People course is that I have committed to share these principles with someone else as I work through them on my own. I seem to work better with written words than oral words, and I figure a few people out there could benefit from this stuff, so why not blog about it?

The first habit Stephen Covey talks about is being proactive. What does that mean, exactly? It means to realize that who and what you are isn't a result of circumstances, but rather a result of choices we as people make. Now that might seem self-evident, but it's difficult concept for a lot of people to live. I can't claim to do it all the time—I don't think anyone can—but it is certainly the ideal.

Let me give an example from my own life. Those who have known me for a long time know or at least have heard me talk about the fact my parents were not shining examples of humanity. They had their good qualities and bad, but on the balance they would not be considered ideal parents—and they were divorced to boot. For many years, I chose to obsess over that in a very negative way. It affected my social and emotional skills greatly. To some extent, it still does.

When years later I finally realized that my upbringing had no bearing on how I chose to live my life, my life improved dramatically. My whole outlook on the world changed. I was free to choose, and it felt wonderful!

When I was five or so, I had a very defining moment in my life. I'm not exactly sure what precipitated this thought in my adolescent brain, but it is a thought that has defined a huge part of who I am to this day. That thought? I would not put my kids through the same divorce crap I was going through then. The result? I'm married to someone who is just as committed to not divorcing as I am. Whether my kids will turn out better than I remains to be seen, of course. ;)

Had I realized back when I was five that I could make a choice, not just in that circumstance, but in anything that happened to me, man, would my life have turned out differently! That being said, I can't do anything about the past and can only resolve going forward to always choose my response to stimulus. I can be a transition person and stop the negative patterns from being given to my children.

Nazi Death Camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote:"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Frankl observed that the main difference between the people that survived Auscwitz and the people that didn't were the people who realized that despite all the oppression, the one thing that the Nazi's couldn't take away from them was their freedom to choose their response to what was happening.

Human beings are endowed with four things that other creatures don't have: self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will. These things help create the space between stimulus and response, give us guidance about how to respond, the ability to visualize the result, and ultimately, the ability to act as we choose.

One other thing about being proactive is knowing what you have influence over and what you do not, and focusing on only that which you have direct control over. So what do you have control over? Your actions, your responses. These are within your Circle ofInfluence. Your Circle of Concern, which is a superset of your Circle of Influence, includes stuff you do not have any control over, such as external events and other people's reactions and responses to you. It is a waste of time to focus on things which you cannot control. By focusing on your Circle of Influence, you and your Circle of Influence will grow substantially.