One of the best books, and most impacting books, I have ever read is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I loved this book. I read it this past January, and even as much as I loved it, find myself forgetting a lot of what is included. It’s with this in mind that I wish to spend the next seven or so letters hashing out these habits and how I’m applying them to my life, with the hope that you’ll too be able to apply them to your life as well.
The seven habits are as follows:
- Be Proactive
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Put First Things First
- Think Win/Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
- Sharpen the Saw
The sub-title of Habit 1 is “Principles of Personal Vision.” It relies on the strictly human endowment of self-awareness, our ability to think about ourselves, to have an imagination, a conscience, and an independent will. Animals don’t have any of these. And because we have them, we’re able to essentially “write our own programs,” or craft our own plan for life. With this in mind, being proactive simply means taking initiative. It means taking responsibility for our own lives, and realizing that our behavior is a function of our decisions, and not our conditions.
Covey points out that the word “responsibility” is really the combination of two words: response and ability. The ability to choose our response. My friend Phil Lapp coined a great phrase, something along the lines of “Become a producer of your own environment, and not a product of your environment.” I’m thinking he read this chapter in Covey’s book.
We can learn a lot about our current psyche of being proactive vs reactive by examining the use of our own language. A reactive person may say “There’s nothing I can do,” while a proactive person may say “Let’s look at our alternatives.” Reactive: “He makes me so mad!” Proactive: “I can control my own feelings.” “I can’t” vs “I choose.” “I must” vs “I prefer.” “There’s no jobs out there” vs “I’ll find a job.” Covey says that the language comes from a basic paradigm of determinism and responsibility.
The image I included with this letter is a circle of concern (problems at work, national debt, nuclear war, the economy) outside a circle of influence (our behavior, friends, activities) – and these two circles represent things we have control over and others that we really can’t do anything about. The proactive person spend his time in the circle of influence, and expanding that circle of influence increasingly outward. Reactive people, on the other hand, focus their efforts in the circle of concern, and because their focus is always in that circle of concern, their circle of influence actually decreases. The essential lesson of the diagram is simply to work on the things that you have control over.
So – what does this have to do with me? I applied this directly to my work life. There are a number of issues flying around that circle of concern that I have no control over. A chaotic stock market, an uncertain economy, an overall distrust of financial professionals, my young age in a preferably “mature” industry, etc. These are, obviously, things I have no control over. And for a part of my career, I focused only on these things, and I was draining myself. Instead, I focus on my circle of influence. These things include my behavior at work (work hard, pursue education, get to know everybody), my perspective on the stock market and economy (ebb and flow), and the fact that I embrace my age (fresh ideas, extra level of concern, and access to newer technology). Complete paradigm shift, Jack.
We can choose to act or to be acted upon. Covey argues that it’s our nature to act – but I actually disagree. I think it’s our nature to be acted upon, and we need to fight the urge to be passive. Take charge of your family, your career, your goals – because if you don’t, someone else will. Embrace proactivity, and expect good things. Till next time, Jack,