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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Redux: Habit 1 – Be Proactive

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7 Habits Redux: Habit 1 Be Proactive
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This post is part of my “7 Habits Redux Series” in which I take another look at the “7 Habits of Highly Effective people” 6 years after my first reading of it. All posts in the series are listed here, and you can read my 2008 take on the 7 habits here.

Hi! If you’re new, check out the first post in this series The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Redux : Overview.

Being self-aware (that is aware of our thoughts, feelings and emotions) allows us to be self-reflective and allows us to shift our beliefs and modify our perceptions and interactions not only with those around us but with ourselves too.

We have the freedom to choose. Whist we may say that things are out of our control thanks to genetics, our upbringing or our current environment we have the ability to change our thought processes, attitude, surroundings and a whole host of other contributing factors that may be holding us back. In order to do this, we need to be proactive and decide to make the change rather than hoping it’s going to magically happen for us and everything will automatically fall into place.

The dictionary defines productivity as:

Creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding after it has happened

If we “act after a situation” that has already occurred we are reactive rather than proactive, often acting without thinking and not necessarily improving the situation – maybe even making it worse. It is also this reactive attitude that causes us the emotional pain and problems with others.

If we are proactive – “acting before a situation presents itself” – in our actions and dealings with people and situations anticipating the need that may arise we can avoid all sorts of issues both personally and professionally.

You don’t have to come across as a “know-it-all” or bossy when anticipating these needs, in fact many people may appreciate the initiative you’re taking. Quite often this proactivity can be something as simple as changing the way we speak when discussing issues.

Covey cites several examples of reactive versus proactive language such as replacing “there’s nothing I can do” with “let’s see what our alternatives are”. If you use negative language: “I can’t… there’s nothing I can do… it’s his fault” then we get bogged down in a self-perpetuating circle of negativity.

Being proactive though does have its limitations. We need to understand that there are certain things outside our control and that we have very little change of changing. Using our energy (emotional, physical or mental) to try and rectify these issues takes away our focus on other items we can control.

Covey calls this a “Circle of Influence”. Sure, we all have things we’re concerned about – climate change, the economy, asteroids hitting the Earth etc. – but there’s little or nothing we can do about these things. This is our “Circle of Concern”. Items that we can influence (job, fitness, family issues, learning an instrument) are in our “Circle of Influence”.

7 Habits Circle of Influence

There are some things in our Circle of Concern such as other people’s behaviour that can be modified using later habits, so our Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence can change size dependant on circumstances and our mastery of the various habits.

Being proactive allows us to expand our circle of influence. For example if we anticipate that our Boss will need extra data based on information he’s already asked for, we can proactively gather this data for them. The next time they want something doing, they already know that we’ll do a good job and will ask us – our Circle of Influence is increased.

So, how do we decide what is in our Circles of Influence or Concern? Some items (such as an asteroid hitting the Earth!) will seem quite obvious, others not so.

Covey suggests that we can separate these items into “have’s” and “be’s”. If an item is a “have” item such as “I’ll be happy when I have paid my mortgage off” or “If I had more obedient kids” these are in your Circle of Concern. If an item is a “be” item such as “I can be more patient” or “I can be a better guitar player” then these items are in your Circle of Influence as you can actively do something about them.

This can be quite a difficult “paradigm shift” to make admits Covey, we’re so used to blaming outside influences or other people for issues that crop up in our day-to-day lives it can be quite a difficult shift to take ownership of problems, or indeed recognise an issue before it even occurs.

So, how can we be more proactive and expand our Circle of Influence? Firstly we can listen. We need to listen to others – what do they need and what are they really saying? We need to listen to ourselves – what is our own language saying, are we being negative ninnies? Could be “be” more? Could we be more of an attentive partner, be more helpful, be happier?

One thing in our Circle of Concern that we cannot change are the consequences and mistakes of our actions. Whilst the majority of our actions bring positive consequences, there are some which are out of our sphere of influence completely. Whilst these mistakes and consequences may cause regret, it is even more of a mistake not to learn from these, just merely dwell on them which again draws us into a spiral of negativity.

How do we practice the habit of being proactive? Covey asks that we try to use this habit for 30 days to see what impact it has on our lives. Along with listening to how we speak (and are spoken to), we need to:

  • Look at past situations where we may have been reactive and try to figure out how we could have been more proactive and what the improved outcome would be.
  • Take an example from our home or work, see whether it’s “direct” (in your control), “indirect” (under another person’s control) or no control at all.
  • Identify how you can use your Circle of Influence to help solve this issue and then take the necessary step.

Habit 1: Be Proactive Round-Up

So, in order to master this habit we need to:

  • Stop being reactive, try to identify areas where we can be proactive
  • Listen to yourself and others
  • Don’t be negative, try to see the positives in every situation
  • Don’t blame outside forces for events
  • Examine your Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern
  • Try being proactive for 30 days

You can check out my original posts from 2008 here, or the list from 2015 which I’ll keep updated as a new post goes up.

Next Monday, we’ll look at Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.

Over To You

Are you proactive or reactive? So you think that it matters if you’re more of a reactive person or are you so proactive people think you’re psychic? Let us know in the comments.

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