This post first appeared on my http://sampathd.blogspot.com/ blog on December 28, 2005.
I had finished reading this chapter more than 48 hours ago. But since I was on vacation, and I promised my wife that I’d stay away from computers during the vacation, I could not post this earlier.
The first habit of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey, is titled Be Proactive. It is the first habit, which will move us from dependent state to the independent state, and it is the first step of the private victories that we are to achieve.
The word proactive is perhaps one of the most widely used buzzwords today. We talk about proactive approach to anything and everything. So what does it mean? Before reading Covey’s definition, for me proactive meant foreseeing the future and acting based on this foresight. Now for me, this required the ability to foresee the future, or at least a glimpse of the future and to take action to meet the needs of the future. While this may be somewhat correct interpretation of Pro-activity, Covey provides a more simpler and meaningful definition.
Proactive means we are responsible for our own lives, our own actions, and our own decisions. We have the ability to choose our response. We have the ability to choose our response, free from our emotions, based on our values. We have the ability to be our own creator.
This is somewhat in contrast to what we have been taught. There is a deterministic model, which teaches us that we are determined by what has happened to us; by the conditioning that we have received. Genetic Determinism says that we have inherited our behavior; Psychic Determinism says that our upbringing determines our behavior, and Environmental Determinism says that the environment around us is determining our behavior. All of these theories suggest that we are determined by these factors and that we are not the ones responsible for our own selves. This is lame! But there are a lot of emphasis placed on these factors that we have gone to the extent that we have started to define mankind as animals that respond to stimuli.
If we are blindly responding to stimuli, based on the conditioning that we have received, to say the least is very un-human. As humans, we posses few abilities that distinguish us from the rest of the animals. And these capabilities give us the inexcusable responsibility of selecting our response to the stimuli. Covey talks about four such human endowments: Self Awareness, Imagination, Conscience and Independent Will.
Self Awareness is our ability to think about our own thought process. We have the ability to step aside from ourselves and to look at our own self from out side. This is the ability that allows us to separate our minds from our feelings and gives us the ability to choose.
Imagination is our ability to create in our minds something beyond the future. We have to ability to visualize something that is not the present. Something that we WANT the future to be.
Conscience is our deep awareness of right and wrong. The deep buried principles in us that we have come to accept without question.
Independent Will is our ability to act, to choose the response, free from other influences.
As humans possessing these qualities we have the ability to choose our response to stimuli, without just reacting based on our conditioning. We have the ability to look at our own thought process and imagine the response that we want to select, validate that response from our conscience and choose the response, free from other influences such as emotions and feelings.
The proactive person will act based on values, not impulses or emotions. When we act based on our emotions we become reactive, allowing the emotions to guide us, not our values and principles. As the saying goes “No one can hurt you without your consent.” As Covey puts it, it is not what happens to us that hurt, but our response. What matters most is not what happens to us, but how we respond.
As humans we should act, not be acted upon. But most of the time, we wait for the right circumstances to act. We wait for the right time to come, we wait for some external factor to change to act. But, if we are proactive, we will also create the circumstance rather than wait for it to happen.
If we do not act, we will be acted upon. If we do not act, we are inviting others to act upon us. By being reactive, we are allowing the others who stimulates us to act upon us. When we are responding to a stimuli, to trigger the response, others come to learn about the stimuli that they should give us.
Circle of Concern and Influence
There are things that concerns all of us. Out of all those things that we are concerned about, there are things that we can do something about and there are things that we cant do anything about. The things that we can influence are the Circle of Influence. If we are proactive, we will focus our energy on our Circle of Influence. We will work on things that we can have an effect on. But reactive persons will focus their energy on Circle of Concern out side their Circle of Influence. The end result is simple, their energy is not going to yield any results.
All problems and situations that we face into three categories.
Direct Control problems are problems that we have direct control over. These are problems that can be solved by working on ourselves, our behaviors, our habits. These directly fall under our circle of influence.
Indirect Control issues are concerning other peoples’ behavior. We can influence them through our methods of influence. Still these fall under our circle of influence.
No Control issues are things that we can do nothing about. Things such as our past, situational realities, national economy etc. fall under this category. We have to accept these as such. We must learn to adopt to them and to live with them. Accepting this fact puts our response within the circle of influence.
No matter in what category the problem belongs to, our response should fall into our circle of influence. By choosing our response we are expanding our circle of influence. One way that we can expand our circle of influence is by working on our selves, on our being. On my being.
There is one important point made in this chapter. That is while we choose our response, we are accepting the result to that action. Though we can choose our response, we cannot choose the consequence of our action. The results to any action is governed by natural and universal law. The choice is in the circle of influence, but the results are in the circle of concern. When we pick one end of the stick, we pick up the other as well. I find this aligned with my beliefs. As Buddha has taught, all our actions carry with them consequences. His teachings are all about choosing actions which does not have bad consequences.
A few valuable lessons:
Past mistakes are also out in the circle of concern. You can’t undo them or recall them. But accept them, and learn a lesson. Acknowledge a mistake as soon as it becomes evident. Correct it and learn the lesson.
If you make a promise, keep it. When you make a decision, stick to it.
Know that we are responsible – Response – able.
Act or be acted upon.
Basically, we are own creator!
Footnote:This is the chapter summary of Steven covey’s & Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 1 – Be Proactive, as understood by me. I am placing this content in this blog following Covey’s advice on how to make the maximum out of reading the book; by reading each chapter with the intention of teaching someone it’s contents. I have instead, written the content here in the blog.