Are you the kind of person who is easily affected by the weather or other parts of your physical environment? Does a negative newscast or social media posts upset you and ruin your day?
If you find yourself frequently derailed by external stimuli in your life, becoming more proactive can increase your resiliency. Proactive people are those who, despite bad circumstances, find the silver lining in every situation and do their best to move forward.
Dr. Stephen Covey is a world-renowned author who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which helps people learn about themselves, how to change their habits, and how to be more effective in their personal and professional lives.
The first habit he discusses is being proactive because that outlook sets the foundation for any other improvements you might want to make in your life. This habit helps you look inside yourself to see what kind of person you are and how you choose to interact with the world.
Covey famously said that being proactive means telling yourself, “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” Upon that foundation, we can build habits to master ourselves and strengthen our relationships with others.
Being proactive is all about taking responsibility for the things that happen in your life and knowing that you have a say in how you react to the world around you. Truly proactive people understand that their futures are not determined by the many things that have happened in their past.
Our experiences can inform our future decisions, but they should not be the determining factor in how we see ourselves and the world. We should not blame genetics, accidents, or other factors outside of our control for our behavior. We can learn to choose our behaviors and how we interact with the world around us.
This kind of self-mastery allows us to more fully and freely participate in God’s will for our lives. Each of us was created uniquely for a purpose, but we’ll never discover that purpose if we allow our circumstances to determine our future. Being proactive is not about controlling our own destiny — it’s about increasing our capacity to become the people we’re created to be.
To better understand what being proactive is, it might help to look at what it isn’t. The opposite of being proactive is to simply accept your circumstances as the way they are and admitting that there isn’t much you can do about it — that it’s out of your hands.
You’ll often see people who aren’t proactive reacting to things based on their moods and feelings. They will usually blame others for their situations, accuse others of causing their misery, and using victim language to explain their circumstances.
They are wasting their time and energy on people and things they can’t control. If you find yourself doing those things, it’s important to begin to change your paradigm — the way you interpret the world informs how you interact with it.
Instead of letting their moods and feelings determine their reactions, proactive people do three things:
- They pause to intentionally respond to situations based on their values and goals.
- Instead of looking at others to explain why their situation is the way it is, they use proactive language to help them understand their circumstances for themselves.
- And finally, instead of wasting time and energy on things they can’t control, they focus on the things that they actually have some influence over.
This lesson on habits helps us realize that between every stimulus and response we have a moment of time when we can decide what that response should be. In most cases, we have an opportunity to pause and assess our options before we act — that action is an intentional choice we consciously make. This is the essence of being proactive.
This intentionality is so simple, but often very difficult to do consistently. When you give yourself time to think, you can better assess the situation and consider your desired result: If I respond to this social media post or speak to this person a certain way, will it help me achieve the result I want? Is my response based on the principles and morals that I want to portray in this world?
The next step in forming this new habit of proactivity is to understand our circle of influence. It takes experience and wisdom to recognize the things we can and cannot control. From trying — and failing — to control forces in our lives, we learn just how wide our circle of influence may be.
As you work on understanding your own circle of influence and mastering your own duties, you may come to find that others will seek out your abilities and input. Increasing your circle of influence is a by-product of mastering your own circle of influence. When you understand your own abilities and show others that you are capable of managing yourself and the situations you are in, they will gravitate toward you for your expertise.
Forming good habits takes time and effort. With a strong desire to change bad habits and the persistence to stay the course, you will find that intentionally chosen habits will serve you well throughout your life.
Dr. Covey’s teachings are still relevant today — perhaps more relevant than ever, given the way we are bombarded by stimuli from every direction. It is critical to be proactive in how we approach the world, which starts with understanding of ourselves. The goal is for each of us to realize that we are free to choose our responses to this world, and that we are responsible for our own happiness.