Stephen R. Covey on Personal Change – Habit I “Be proactive”

Probably many of you heard about Stephen’s book called “The seven habits of highly effective people”. I’m not sure what have you heard, if you liked what you heard or in fact already read the book. I just got to habit 3 and the book is nothing  I have expected. It’s way more than that.

I decided it’s so good I want to share my thoughts with you and I will start one by one exploring what the habits mean to me. Hope it’s interesting for you and maybe you can relate to it.  I recommend that you read the book because my posts won’t be an abbreviation of it, rather loose thoughts in the subject.

Before I start on habit one though, complynn left me this link in a comment maybe you would like to have a look at it as well :)

Seven habits


We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from them and from the animal world. (…)

There are actually three social maps – three theories of determinism widely accepted, independently or in combination, to explain the nature of man. Genetic determinism basically says your grandparents did it to you (…) it’s in your DNA. (…) Psychic determinism basically says your parents did it to you. Your upbringing, your childhood experience essentially laid out your personal tendencies and your character structure. (…) Environmental determinism basically says your boss is doing it to you – or your spouse, or that bratty teenager, or your economic situation, or national policies. Someone or something in your environment is responsible for your situation.

I remember one lesson my Dad gave me when I was little. We used to talk a lot, or rather I used to listen to him a lot. He said something like this: if you put the responsibility and blame of what happened to you on other people or circumstances, you will never be able to change your situation, because you cannot change what does not depend on you. My parents were like that all the time. When I was going to a party saying “Oh I know it will be boring” my Mum would say “You will only have as much fun as you make/allow yourself to have”. When I was young, I wasn’t convinced, but now I know it’s true.

I guess the biggest problem I had with this approach is that, if it’s all down to me, there is only one person I can blame if it doesn’t work out, that is myself. And who likes to think badly about themselves? This is when I had to learn to forgive myself constructively (draw conclusions and do not make the same mistake twice). When I look back at my life I can’t see things that I really wanted and didn’t achieve. Not very modest, but I honestly think that when I really wanted something I did achieve it. It doesn’t mean that I’m happy with my life now, as most of the time I have a problem with deciding what I want. I tried a lot of things and got bored with them quite quickly. Now my concern is it will happen again and again, and as the things take more time to achieve I will be wasting my time.  On a two day seminar in personal coaching we called it the fear of achieving your goal.

Can we control our feelings? I guess not. We can control how we react to what we feel. We can’t control other people to behave so that they don’t make us feel certain way, we can choose how we interpret their behavior and what we are going to do about it. We can also look for the intentions and not always believe what we hear literally. There are so many examples that pop into my head from my life and lives of my friends, but it calls for discretion as feelings are such a touchy subject.

Some people believe in destiny, other that we create our own destiny. What is the truth? (I’m Sagittarius, so I have tendency to look for truth – see, there we go again, determinism) The truth as I see it, is: we can let others and conditions rule our life – this is when destiny has it’s rule, or we can choose how we respond to conditions, how we act upon them, transform them to achieve what we want – this is when we create our own destiny.

He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. (…) They had more liberty, more options to choose from in their environment; but he had more freedom, more internal power to exercise his options. (…) fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

Within the freedom to choose are those endowments that make us uniquely human. In addition to self-awareness, we have  imagination – the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality. We have conscience – a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and sense of a degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them. And we have independent will – the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all influences.

Liberty versus Freedom. I used to be very independent, or self-dependent. For a long time in all relationships I was chasing external proofs of freedom that possibly I didn’t have inside.  I remember the fear of loosing myself in another person, in relationship. So I wanted to make my own decisions and let it be seen, do everything myself,  leave the party when I wanted to leave and so on. It is still very important for me but it’s not an exaggeration anymore. Though I still reserve the right to go somewhere without saying where I’m going, which some people do not understand. Funny, it does not happen often but when it does the most unexpected people give me hard time about it. I’m learning the freedom of response. I’m learning how and when to give up things I want now to invest in things that are important to me long term.

I have this thought in my head for a while now that whatever I do and wherever I am I can be happy if I decide to be, that I can make my life “work” anywhere, so why am I not happy now? Why do I feel the urge to leave? I suppose I just need a change because I’m bored.

Independent will – free of all influences. How free of influences can one be? Even if you decide not to follow the path somebody/somethings presses upon you, you still are conditioned by the decision you make. You may feel excluded by the choices you’ve made. What then? I remember reading a book in which a girl said “They drew a circle and I was outside of it. I knew I just had to draw a circle that would contain us all” (not really sure what book it was). Freedom does not mean loneliness, just necessity to look for things in common that might not be apparent.

Now down to the definition of PROACTIVITY

It means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.

Look at the word responsibility – “response-ability” – the ability to choose our own response. Highly  proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is product of their own choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.

Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them. (…) reactive people are also affected by their social environment, by the “social weather”. When people treat them well, they feel well; when people don’t, they become defensive or protective. Reactive people build their emotional lives around the behavior of others, empowering the weaknesses of  other people to control them. (…)

Proactive people are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social or psychological. But their response to the stimuli, conscious or unconscious,  is a value-based choice or response. As Eleanor Roosevelt observed, “No one can hurt you  without your consent.” (…) It is our willing permission, our consent to what happens to us, that hurts us far more than what happens to us in the first place. I admit this is very hard to accept emotionally, especially if we had years and years of explaining our misery in the name of circumstance or someone else’s behavior. But until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday”, that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”


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