Just Do It
First Habit – Be Proactive
We all begin our lives tremendously dependent on our parents. As human beings, we eventually achieve an evolutionary advantage over the other species inhabiting the earth. But as infants, it would be hard to predict that that is the case. We are basically defenseless for years; and even then, cannot take care of ourselves for several more years.
The first habit is the first step towards personal victory and towards independence. We experience adolescence as a painful stage of development precisely because we are breaking the bonds that hold us to our parents. “Adolescence is usually described as a period in which independence is achieved. It is more accurate, however, to talk about a change in the balance of independence and dependence with other parts of the young person's system (parents, peers, community, and even health professionals)” (Christie, 2005).
This greater independence experienced often through breaks in adolescence will eventually be experienced as interdependence if the person matures fully. For now, let’s look at proactivity as a way to foster independence.
We can consider the social mirror to be “the current social paradigm and … the opinions, perceptions, and paradigms of the people around us” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 75). We hear the opinions of others constantly. They can have a lot to do with the way we come to see ourselves. Often, these opinions that come from the outside are “more projections than reflections, projecting the concerns and character weaknesses of people giving the input rather than accurately reflecting what we are” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 75). We have to be careful to avoid allowing ourselves to be determined by others’ expectations of us.
A deterministic way of looking at things is an application of the stimulus-response model that makes us think of Pavlov’s experiments. Just like the dog that salivates when he hears the bell, we perform certain behaviors simply to fit into the societal pressures that we feel. We become purely reactive people.
Freedom to choose
“Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 77). What comes between the stimulus and the response? This is what differentiates us from animals. Animals simply react. Human beings are able to reflect. Covey identifies four abilities of human beings as his great endowments. Imagination is “the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 77). Conscience is “a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and a sense the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 77). Independent will is “the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 77). Self-awareness precedes all the rest and is the ability to reflect on one’s own actions.
Proactivity is more than merely taking initiative. “It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 78). We decide about our behavior; we do not merely respond to the conditions that are imposed on us by the exterior world. This gives us a sense of interior freedom.
“Because we are, by nature, proactive, if our lives are a function of conditioning and conditions, it is because we have, by conscious decision or by default, chosen to empower those things to control us” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 79). This makes us more reactive than proactive. We begin to respond to stimuli without having the intervention of our self-awareness, our imagination, our conscience or our independent will. We become less free and more like the animals. We lose our human endowments.
Being reactive puts us at greater risk for unhappiness. While being a control freak is not a good thing, we should all want to have some control over our lives, or self-determination. This means sometimes that we have to make a sacrifice. “The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 79). They are slaves to circumstance. Proactive people think about and internalize their values, which end up driving their decisions and actions. Although they are still influenced by external stimuli, their response is value-based.
Listening to our language
It is good to listen to our language. Just as the social mirror can influence our self-image, the way we speak to ourselves can make a big difference. The way we talk to ourselves, self-talk, could be key in building up self-esteem and proactivity. “Because our attitudes and behaviors flow out of our paradigms, if we use our self-awareness to examine them, we can often see in them the nature of our underlying maps” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 85).
“Our self-talk can be cheerful and supportive or negative and self-defeating. Self-talk can be beneficial when it’s positive, calming fears and bolstering confidence. Human nature, unfortunately, is prone to negative self-talk, including sweeping assertions like ‘I can’t do anything right’ or ‘I’m a complete failure’” (Psychology Today, n.d.).
Reactive people try to absolve themselves of responsibility, while proactive people heap responsibility on themselves. They choose to be free, even in difficult circumstances. Reactive language can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The person who speaks badly about himself and the future is probably preparing the road for some disaster. The good news is that the proactive person who speaks positively about the future can find good, even in disastrous conditions. In the movie Life is Beautiful, the protagonist is able to find joy even as a prisoner in a concentration camp. Guido was proactive.
Circle of influence
We can look at two circles to understand a lot of the stress in our life. There is the circle of concern and the circle of influence. There is also a no-man’s land of no concern. The circle of concern contains all the things that we worry about: that we feel affect us in some way. The circle of influence contains all the things that we can somehow affect the outcome. When the circle of concern is bigger than the circle of influence, we have to learn to accept the things we cannot change. When we have a bigger circle of influence than circle of concern, we can come off as being jerks. Even though we are able to effect change, we simply choose not to.
Over time, by working to help those around us, we can expand our circle of influence and do a lot more to control the reality in which we live. A proactive focus gives us positive energy to expand the circle of influence. “Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 90). A reactive focus puts out negative energy that reduces the circle of influence. Reactive people “focus on the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control” (Covey, 1989/2004, p. 90).
Proactivity can be life-changing. Nike’s slogan of “Just Do It” can serve as a reminder of this principle. By learning to act positively, we overcome our reactive nature and feel more and more comfortable in our own skin. We have won the first battle on the road to personal victory and personal independence.
Christie, D., & Viner, R. (2005). Adolescent development. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 330(7486), 301–304. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7486.301
Covey, S. R. (1989/2004). The seven habits of highly effective people. Powerful lessons in personal change. Simon and Schuster.
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Self-talk. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/self-talk
Video in English: https://youtu.be/fOZdIzhohws