More on “Effective People” – Proactivity

The #1 habit of “highly effective people” according to Stephen Covey is “Be Proactive”. This makes a lot of sense to me. I believe I am already very aware of this principle, but there are probably numerous ways I could take it to heart which I have not yet tried.

The basic point of this chapter is that our freedom to choose our own actions is what makes us uniquely human. Most animals are wired up like this: (stimulus) -> (response). If an animal can be trained, that is still a pretty direct response to a stimulus. Humans are unique in their ability to decide on a different action (or no action) to a given situation. We are wired up like this: (stimulus) -> (filter: beliefs and values) -> (decision) -> (response). This is similar to something else I wrote in 2001.

Quoting Stephen Covey:
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. Our language, for example, is a very real indicator of the degree to which we see ourselves as proactive people. The language of reactive people absolves them of responsibility.

Reactive Language Proactive Language
There’s nothing I can do. Let’s look at our alternatives.
That’s just the way I am. I can choose a different approach.
He makes me so mad. I control my own feelings.
They won’t allow that. I can create an effective presentation.
I have to do that. I will choose an appropriate response.
I can’t. I choose.
I must. I prefer.
If only… I will…

A serious problem with reactive language is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People become reinforced in the paradigm that they are determined, and they produce evidence to support the belief. They feel increasingly victimized and out of control, not in charge of their lives or their destiny. They blame outside forces–other people, circumstances, even the stars–for their own situation.
–Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I challenged myself to describe a few of my problems, first using reactive language, then translating that into proactive language. Here is the result.

Reactive Language Proactive Language
I never have time to do the things I want to do. I would love to roleplay more, study Japanese, exercise, but I can’t seem to find the time. I work hard, and when I get home I don’t have energy left to study, read, exercise… all I want to do is watch some TV and go to bed. I choose how I spend my time. I often choose to spend discretionary time watching TV or reading email or LJ. I often say that I would like to roleplay more, study Japanese, exercise more, but so far I have chosen not to spend much time on these activities other than just thinking about them. I could choose to change my behavior if I want to. But perhaps I don’t want these things as badly as I claim to; perhaps they are not as important to me as I claim they are. I choose to work as hard as I do. I have already altered my lifestyle to spend less extra time at work, and to spend less time at home worrying about work. I could choose to alter this further if I wanted to, but for now I feel that working as hard as I do is a good choice, because I enjoy my job, and I would like to become even better at it. If I do not have enough time, I need to give up time I am choosing to spend on one thing and instead spend it on something else. If I do not have enough energy, I need to dedicate some evening time to going to bed early, consistently, or I need to find something that raises my energy level naturally such as exercise. I would rather not complain about the half-dozen things I want to do; instead I would rather find one thing and actually do it.
I would like to move to a new place, but I don’t have time to look for one. M would probably like to move too, but she is not motivated enough to look for a place either. I wish M would be more proactive and use her free time during the day to look for a place, but if I pressure her into doing something, she will probably not do a good job and will resent that I pushed her. I have time, but I have chosen not to use it to look for a new home. My home is not perfect, but it suits our needs for the most part. There may be better options out there, but I choose to do something else with my time other than house-hunting. M also says that she would like to move, but also has chosen other things to do with her time. That is her perogative; just because she has more free time doesn’t mean she has to be the proactive one. If it is really something I want, I should set the example first, be proactive myself, and start making calls and making appointments. If I don’t want it badly enough to do this, I should stop worrying about it and decide to stay here for the time being — and I should probably refinance and get it appraised to get rid of the mortage insurance.

OK that is enough for now. Time to go to bed.

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