Be Proactive: Habit 1 for Highly Effective People

I’m a huge fan of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people. The book is full of smart ideas and principles for conduct and can help anyone in business and in life.

Throughout the book, but certainly in chapter 1 Covey’s advice works.

In chapter 1 after highlighting the idea of our own individual paradigms, he instructs us to consider and to review our own language.

Over a day or a weeks’ time do you hear yourself or others using reactive or proactive language?

It’s a good challenge and bit of advice.

There’s nothing I can doLet’s look at our alternatives
They won’t allow …I can …
If only.I will.

In my 20s I came to a similar realization about life and would often say, “The only thing we must do in life is to feel the repercussions of our actions. All other things are an “in order to” option.

For instance, we don’t have to breathe. If we don’t we’ll eventually die, but we don’t have to. We only have to in order to remain alive. Which, obviously is pretty important. The point though remains, you don’t have to do anything except endure the repercussion of your actions/ decisions.

Somewhere in the mist of all this he also highlights the well-known story of a name of Viktor Frankl. Perhaps you’ve heard the story?

Essentially, Frankl realized that though he had been he still had the choice of how he would respond. They didn’t own that part of him.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

It’s in this vein that we then began to review the concepts of the circle of concern and the circle of influence.


circle of control influence and concern

The idea is that proactive people (us when we’re being such) tend to focus on things they can directly impact or control.

  • Proactive focus on things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.
  • Reactive focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control.

As Covey explains

The problems we face fall in one of three areas: direct control (problems involving our own behavior); indirect control (problems involving other peoples’ behavior); or no control (problems we can do nothing about, such as our past or situational realities). The proactive approach puts the first step in the solution of all three kinds of problems within our present Circle of Influence.

  • Direct control problems are solved by working on our habits.
  • Indirect control problems are solved by changing our methods of influence.
  • No control problems involve taking the responsibility to … accept the things which cannot be changed.

There are things that will befall each of us in life. Sometimes all we have to offer is our response to an unplanned situation. However, often times we have the ability of not the imperative to try to look out forward, to try to anticipate and make the first move.

For those things that we do have control over – are we diligent and cultivating them?

We want to be proactive people, and to maintain a view that reminds us that we have the ability to act. We have the ability to choose and to be proactive.

Here are a few additional points of admonishment Covey offers us as we travel down and review this road.

💡 For a full day, listen to your language and to the language of the people around you. How often do you use and hear reactive phrases such as “If only,” “I can’t,” or “I have to”?

💡 Identify an experience you might encounter in the near future where, based on past experience, you would probably behave reactively. Review the situation in the context of your Circle of Influence. How could you respond proactively?  

💡 Select a problem from your work or personal life that is frustrating to you. Determine whether it is a direct, indirect or no control problem. Identify the first step you can take in your Circle of (control/)Influence to solve it and then take that step.  

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