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The Seven Habits, A Practical Summary: Habit 1 - Proactivity
Nope, This is Not Proactivity
Proactivity is Not Rah-Rah
Proactivity, a word defined and made famous by the late Stephen R. Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is often misunderstood and misused:
- One person can't tell another person to be proactive. Telling someone else to be proactive is telling them how to think. And telling someone else how to think is being controlling and reactive. So one person telling another to be proactive is like a liar telling someone to be honest.
- Proactivity is not rah-rah, enthusiasm, or a push to feel motivated. In fact, Covey specifically describes such business practices as dysfunctional (7 Habits, pp. 229-230)
- Proactivity is not pushing to get done what we have to get done, or what others tell us to do.
Proactivity: Your Definition
Before reading this articles, what was your definition of proactivity? Pick the closest choice.
Anwar Sadat and Václav HavelClick thumbnail to view full-size
Proactivity is Living Our Truth
Proactivity is, however, knowing our own deepest purpose and goals from the heart of our own being and living in accord with them, day in and day out. Proactivity is the first Habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, who passed away this month, in July 2012. Proactivity can lead to success, but it is deeper than that. We can be proactive even in the face of certain failure. We can be proactive:
- In prison, as the five world leaders who were first in prison, and later won the Nobel Peace Prize did. Covey uses Anwar Sadat as an example.Václav Havel, who wrote plays challenging Soviet authority, is another. We can even be proactive in a death camp, as Victor Frankl was, helping people to survive and developing ideas that later became Man's Search for Meaning and Logotherapy.
- In day-to-day life in the corporate world. Much of Covey's work was at IBM and with other major corporations. Yet he taught people how to develop initiative and genuine leadership, rather than increase bureaucracy.
- As entrepreneurs, artists, and in many other forms of creativity and healing.
Whether our lives fit into the conventional box, or are outside-the-box unique creations, we are proactive if our lives are consciously chosen and are true to our hearts.
Do You Know What You Just Said?
Last week, I was sitting at the counter of a pizza place, eating a slice. Three friends came in - high-school aged - a guy and two girls. One of the girls was negative about everything, and the other was acting hostile. Both of them dropped the F-bomb, and, when they did, I looked up.
They saw me looking and got embarrassed. They hadn't really known what they said until I looked at them. But I didn't want them to be embarrassed, so I smiled and said, "I can use the F-word too, when I want to." And I can, but I choose not to. I haven't cursed in public this millennium.
If you want to try an interesting experiment, the next time someone is speaking thoughtlessly, you might ask them, "Do you know what you just said?"
When we know what we said, there is hope for change. When we know what we're about to say, we can teach ourselves to be polite. That's the power of Self-Awareness.
I know. About 33 years ago, I was just like those girls.
How Do We Start Being Proactive?
We develop proactivity by developing four inner skills:
- Self-Awareness, paying deep attention to ourselves to see our own words, actions, feelings, and thoughts.
- Imagination so that we can always see, and create, three or more options in any situation.
- A Healthy Conscience so that we can know what is right according to our values without guilt-tripping ourselves.
- Independent Will, where we make our own decisions and act on them. We consult others wisely, and we also know that ultimately each thing we do is our own choice, and we will live with the consequences.
We can start small. We can pick just one healthy habit to work on, or just one creative goal of our own to meet. Often, my clients are busy and overwhelmed. Carving out the time to read 7 Habits is often their first proactive choice.
Once we see the freedom of proactivity, we grasp the potential of creating our own lives. But what do we want our lives to be? That's the central question of Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind.