In "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", Steven Covey wrote about seven habits that could change a person's life on an immeasurable scale. These habits are split into three distinct areas: Private Victory, Public Victory and Renewal, which cover both internal and external change.
The first habit, and possibly the most fundamental, is "Be Proactive".
What does it mean to "Be Proactive"?
The term "Proactive" has lost a lot of its meaning in recent years, as it has been picked up and bandied around as a buzz-word (much like the term "synergy"). Once you cut through the management speak, you'll see that this habit is one of the most vital that any person can develop.
Being proactive is about choosing how you react in any given situation. The more commonly held reactive model of living suggests that how we act in certain circumstances is out of our control. If someone shouts at us, we become upset. It's not our fault, it's theirs. They made us feel this way.
The proactive model says that you can decide on how you react. By living a proactive life, you take full responsibility for how you act and feel.
Steven Covey illustrates this habit with the story of Victor Frankl, a Jewish prisoner during World War 2. With the exception of his sister, Frankl's entire family perished during the war, and Victor himself was subjected to savage and harrowing torture. During his time as a prisoner, he came to realise that although his captors could take away the freedoms of his physical body, they could not take away the most basic freedom of all - the freedom to choose his response.
How do you become proactive?
Like building any habit, becoming proactive takes time and consistent effort, but it can be learnt in a similar way to most other habits.
I would certainly recommend taking a thirty day trial to see if it makes a difference. Start small and build your way up. Going in at the deep end can destroy your confidence, so start with small things. This helps to give a solid foundation as you gain experience and confidence.
A few examples of where you can try out being proactive:
- Work on a small task you've been putting off, and pay close attention to how you feel whilst doing it. Experiment with changing how you feel during the task.
- Replace reactive language such as "I can't" with proactive language like "I choose"
- Show unconditional love to another person. Don't wait for them to show it to you.
There are plenty of other ways to be proactive, so have fun and experiment. One of the great things about doing a thirty-day trial is that you can try lots of different approaches in a short space of time, but without the pressure of making a permanent commitment.
Why does it make a difference?
Everything can build upon this habit. Becoming a better person requires that you go about it in a proactive way. Getting fitter, learning a new language, starting a business, forming a new relationship or maintaining an existing one. All of these activities benefit when you act in a proactive manner instead of a reactive one.