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How to Actually Be in Charge and Take Responsibility

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” -DR STEPHEN R. COVEY

Being Proactive

Proactivity means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives.

“Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions”.

Proactive people do not wait for something to happen in order to reach their goals.

They take the initiative to accomplish their goals and take responsibility.

They think about what can be done, instead of blaming circumstances and conditions.

They acknowledge their responsibilities and their freedom of making conscious choices.

How to Be Proactive

1. Acknowledging our freedom to choose our behavior

Here is a short story from “the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” of Stephen Covey that summarizes this idea perfectly.

At one seminar where I was speaking on the concept of proactivity, a man came up and said, “Stephen, I like what you’re saying. But every situation is so different. Look at my marriage. I’m really worried. My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?”

“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.

“That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”

“Love her,” I replied.

“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”

“Love her.”

“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”

“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”

“But how do you love when you don’t love?”

“My friend, love is a verb. Love — the feeling — is a fruit of love the verb. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”

In the great literature of all progressive societies, love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling.

2. Listening to our Language

While the language of reactive people absolves them of responsibility, the language of proactive people does the opposite.

Proactive people’s use of language shows that they take the responsibility for the situation and affect the people around them by being an example, leading them to proactivity as well.

Here is another short story from the “the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”of Stephen Covey which summarizes the importance of language use.

One time a student asked me, “Will you excuse me from class? I have to go on a tennis trip.”

“You have to go, or you choose to go?” I asked.

“I really have to,” he exclaimed.

“What will happen if you don’t?”

“Why, they’ll kick me off the team.”

“How would you like that consequence?”

“I wouldn’t.”

“In other words, you choose to go because you want the consequence of staying on the team. What will happen if you miss my class?”

“I don’t know.”

“Think hard. What do you think would be the natural consequence of not coming to class?”

“You wouldn’t kick me out, would you?”

“That would be a social consequence. That would be artificial. If you don’t participate on the tennis team, you don’t play. That’s natural. But if you don’t come to class, what would be the natural consequence?”

“I guess I’ll miss the learning.”

“That’s right. So you have to weigh that consequence against the other consequence and make a choice. I know if it were me, I’d choose to go on the tennis trip. But never say you have to do anything.”

“I choose to go on the tennis trip,” he meekly replied.

“And miss my class?” I replied in mock disbelief.

3. Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence

We all have a wide range of concerns — our health, our loved ones, problems at work, the economy, pandemic.

Some of these concerns are things that we have no control over whatsoever.

But what we have control over is where we focus our time and energy.

“Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.

Reactive people, on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern. They focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization. The negative energy generated by that focus, combined with neglect in areas they could do something about, causes their Circle of Influence to shrink.

As long as we are working in our Circle of Concern, we empower the things within it to control us. We aren’t taking the proactive initiative necessary to effect positive change."

Practice Recommendation:

For a full day, listen to your language and to the language of the people around you. How often do you use and hear reactive phrases such as “If only,” “I can’t,” or “I have to”.

This content is inspired by "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People",
STEPHEN R. COVEY

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