NOTE: Originally written in 2017
I recently started reading this book by Stephen R. Covey, and I am finding it to be a great gem of knowledge! I’ve made so many highlights in the book that I have lost count! This blog post and following ones will be for noting key passages I find in each chapter.
Habit #1 –
Mr. Covey covers in this section the importance of being proactive, rather than reactive. He says this habit is absolutely crucial to have because it lays out the groundwork to work on the other habits he will discuss later. In other words, if you do not implement this habit first and foremost, the other habits will suffer because of it.
The Proactive vs. Reactive Approach
He explains that being proactive is not only about taking initiative; proactive people will also acknowledge they are in greater control of their lives. Knowing this, they will choose how to respond to their environment. Reactive people will do the opposite and let their environment dictate their responses. In many of our lives, we tend to respond reactively because it has become a habit over time. Think of when people say they are having “a bad day”; the cause is generally rooted in their environment.
“Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people carry their own weather with them…Proactive people are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social, or psychological. But their response to the stimuli, conscious or unconscious, is a value-based choice or response.”
APPLICATION: Think of a moment where you responded reactively. How could you have instead responded proactively?
The Importance of Meanings
Being proactive also includes associating strong meanings into your life. When our environment gives us doubt, uncertainty, and hopelessness, the meanings we apply to these events will either help carry us forward or let us falter.
An example Mr. Covey uses is Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and author of the book “Man’s Search For Meaning”. In his book, Mr. Frankl details his biographical experiences in a WW2 concentration camp. He notes the reactions of inmates, how some of them were brought into the camps already in their minds preparing to die. But despite his environment and the odds against him surviving, Mr. Frankl never gave up. He suffered greatly, but he provided a stronger meaning to his suffering and his will to live. He immersed himself daily with thoughts of hope, seeing his loved ones again, being free, and eventually being able to share his story so no one would have to experience the same suffering. His proactivity literally saved his life, and he became a great voice for the power of meanings.
APPLICATION: Think about your daily actions. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do I do what I do?
- How does it make me feel?
- Is the meaning I am giving to it strong and effective enough for long-term fulfillment?
The Importance of Language
The words and phrases you use will also affect on whether you take a proactive or reactive approach in your life. Think of when people say: “Why does this always happen to me?!”, “I can’t have a good day!”, and “I hate doing that!” These are all reactive responses. When you say definitive questions and statements like these to yourself and to others, it becomes self-defeating and a part of your reality.
“A serious problem with reactive language is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
APPLICATION (from the book): “For a full day listen to your language and to the language of the people around you. How often do you use reactive phrases such as ‘if only’, ‘I can’t‘, or ‘I have to’?” What are proactive phrases you can start to use?
Additional Notes of Importance
- I don’t believe anyone is 100% proactive or 100% reactive. While you may actively pursue a proactive approach, there are instances where you could unintentionally go back to a reactive response. I have experienced this myself personally. It seems to me that it’s always an ongoing process.
- Making changes in your habits is not easy. It takes extra effort, determination, awareness, and discipline. Studies have shown that forming a habit can take as little as 20 to as many as 200 days (James Clear, Huffington Post). It also depends on the person’s willingness to change.
- Mistakes will happen. They are a natural part of life, and it is very important to acknowledge them the instant they are made. But instead of seeing them as a form of failure, see them as a new opportunity you have been given to learn from. In turn, this makes the “failure” actually a “success”!
Mr. Covey ends the chapter on a final note:
“Knowing that we are responsible – ‘response-able’ – is fundamental to effectiveness and to every other habit of effectiveness we will discuss.”
Please note that this is only a summary, and there is a lot of material I didn’t include from the chapter. I encourage everyone to read the book for themselves. Knowledge is only potential power until you start applying it. Thanks for reading, and I hope you find this useful!
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