In his No. 1 bestseller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R. Covey presents a holistic approach for solving both personal and professional problems. The seeds for this book were planted in the mid-1970’s as Covey reviewed 200 years of success literature as part of a doctoral program. These are the seven habits:
- Habit 1: Be Proactive
- Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
- Habit 3: Put First Things First
- Habit 4: Think Win/win
- Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
- Habit 6: Synergize
- Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
The seven habits move us through three stages or paradigms:
1. Dependence: This is the paradigm under which we’re born, relying upon others to take care of us. Some people never completely move out of the dependence stage.
2. Independence: This is the paradigm under which we can make our own decisions and take care of ourselves. The first three habits that Covey presents focus on achieving self-mastery, that is, on moving from being dependent to being independent.
3. Interdependence: Once we’ve achieved independence we can go on to interdependence, which is the paradigm under which we cooperate with others to achieve something greater than we could achieve on our own. Habits 4, 5, and 6 are about achieving interdependence.
The seventh and last habit is one of renewal and continual improvement.
This post focuses on habit 1: be proactive.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Habit 1
Your life doesn’t just happen; it’s being created by you. Highly effective people choose how they want to feel and decide how they will act in every situation; they don’t simply react to circumstances or to what other people say or do. Covey explains that between a stimulus and a response there’s a gap–imagine pressing a “pause” button–and in that gap we can actively choose how we will respond to anything life throws at us.
Being proactive is related to mindfulness: You need to be aware of yourself and of your surroundings so that you can act in ways that serve you well, instead of mindlessly allowing past programming, others, and outside circumstances to control your responses. Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine whether you’re living mindfully and are being proactive:
- Do you question any beliefs you have which may be holding you back?
- Do you blindly believe what others tell you, or do you go see for yourself?
- Do you simply accept that this is the way in which things are done, or do you question whether there’s a better way to do things?
- Are you willing to reassess the lens through which you look at the world?
See Yourself As a Creator
In addition, highly effective people see themselves as being creators of their lives, instead of identifying themselves as victims of external conditions. If they’re negatively impacted by an external event they focus on those things which are within their Circle of Influence –those things over which they have control–instead of worrying about things they can do nothing about.
David Emerald refers to this same principle of moving from a Victim Orientation to a Creator Orientation in “The Power of Ted”. As David explains, a Creator knows that he/she always has a choice, regardless of circumstances. At the very least, a person can choose their attitude in any given situation.
The Language of the Proactive Person
The mindset of a proactive person is “I am responsible for me, and I can choose.” The language used by a proactive person is the following:
- Let’s look for alternatives.
- What do I want to happen?
- What baby steps can I take to begin moving toward what I want?
- How did I either create this situation or allow it to happen?
- I choose to . . .
- I will . . .
Are You Proactive?
Here are some more questions you can ask yourself in order to test how proactive you are:
- Do you take responsibility for your life, or do you blame other people or outside circumstances for what happens to you?
- Where do you stand in the continuum between being highly reactive and being highly proactive?
- Do you worry about conditions over which you have little or no control? Or do you focus your time and energy on those things which you can control?
- Do you allow others to make choices or decisions for you?
- Do you ask for what you want, or do you expect others to magically know what you need?
- Do you take action to make things happen, or do you wait for others to act?
- Are you waiting for someone’s permission before you act?
- If you try to achieve something you want and you fail, do you give up, or do you start looking for a different approach?
- Are you full of excuses which explain why you can’t accomplish this or that?
Ways to Expand Your Circle of Influence
There are many things you can do in order to expand your circle of influence. Here are five of them:
1. Go out and meet new people; grow your network. The more people you know who have a favorable impression of you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to find someone who can pull some strings or put in a good word for you when you need it.
2. Educate yourself. For example, if you’re experiencing financial difficulties, read all you can on how to get out of debt. The more you know, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to come up with a solution to any problem you may be facing.
3. Try to turn a negative into a positive. Look for ways in which limitations can enhance your creativity. Problems can force you to look at a situation from a completely different angle, which can allow you to notice opportunities you would have missed otherwise. Scarcity can force you to focus your efforts on what is truly important.
4. Work on yourself instead of focusing on outside conditions. Focus on being instead of doing.
5. Create a diagram of all the resources that are available to you. This can include financial resources, skills, knowledge, family, friends, and anything else you can think of. Now ask yourself what are the most effective ways in which you can tap into each of these resources.
Covey explains that the first habit is the foundation for all the other habits. If you don’t take responsibility for yourself and for your actions, and if you’re not willing to take on the role of Creator, the other seven habits make little sense. In future blog posts I’ll be elaborating on the other habits in Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.