In our previous post, we talked about Sean Covey’s book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” and how these habits help teens live their highest aspirations. (You can read it here.) This book is so life-changing, we send it to our full-time students upon enrolling. Today, we’re digging into Habit #1 in Covey’s book: “Be Proactive”, and exploring seven practical tips on how to build this habit.
Habit #1: Be Proactive.
Covey calls being proactive “the first step toward achieving the private victory.” “Habit #1 says ‘I am the force. I am the captain of my life. I can choose my attitude. I’m responsible for my own happiness or unhappiness. I am in the driver’s seat of my destiny, not just a passenger.’”
So what does being proactive LOOK like? First, it’s helpful to know there are two types of people: Proactive and Reactive. Proactive people take responsibility for their actions. They brainstorm solutions, think about their options, and know what is in their control (and what is not.) Reactive people blame the world for things gone wrong. They don’t take responsibility, wait for things to happen to them, and think of problems or barriers instead of solutions.
Covey says, “Each day you and I get about 100 chances to choose whether to be proactive or reactive. In any given day, the weather is bad, you get a mean text, you can’t find a job, your sister steals your hoodie, you lose an election at school, your friend talks behind your back, someone graffities your locker, your parents don’t let you take the car (for no reason), you get a parking ticket, and you flunk a test. So what’re you going to do about it? Are you in the habit of reacting to these kinds of everyday things, or are you proactive? The choice is yours.”
Let’s look at seven tips toward honing this habit.
Tip #1: Examine Your Own Narrative (Then Recognize You Have Control Over It.) Did someone ever tell you you stank at something? That may have unconsciously colored your narrative about it ever since. Do you catch yourself making huge overarching statements like “I can’t do that” or “that’s just how it is” or “my little brother is dumb and will always be dumb because he’s a just dummy dumb-dumb”? Notice how these narratives are like brick walls: they don’t allow for questions, alternate perspectives, or solutions. Becoming aware of our inner narratives helps us learn when we’re being reactive because a trigger has been pressed… and when we need to take control and change a narrative that’s holding us back.
Tip #2: Be Water. (Not Soda.) Covey compares reactive people to cans of soda. “Reactive people make choices based on impulse. They are like a can of soda pop. When life shakes them up a bit, the pressure builds and they suddenly explode. ‘Hey, you stupid jerk! Get out of my lane!’ Proactive people make choices based on values. They think before they act. They recognize they can’t control everything that happens to them, but they can control what they do about it.” In other words? Be smooth. Be calm. Be water. As James N. Watkins said: “A river cuts through rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence.”
Tip #3: Listen to Your Language. Talk isn’t cheap… at least, it shouldn’t be. “You can usually tell the difference between proactive and reactive people by the language they use,” Covey affirms. “Reactive language usually sounds like this: ‘That’s me. That’s just the way I am.’ What they’re really saying is, I’m not responsible for the way I act. I can’t change. I was predetermined to be this way.”’ Conversely, phrases like “I wonder”, “I can do better”, or “Let’s look at all our options” show a person to be proactive. Huzzah!
Tip #4: Beware of the Deadly “Victimitus.” Sometimes we have a victim mindset and we’re not even aware of it. Take Sally. Sally is walking to a new job. First, her favorite bagel shop is out of cinnamon raisin, so she has to settle for pumpernickel. She gets angry at the nice girl behind the counter, blaming her for not having enough of what is the clearly superior flavor. Then, she gets a text from her sister: “Good luck on your new job! Too bad about the salary, but not everyone needs nice things.” Furious, Sally tucks her phone back into her purse, suddenly self-conscious about her last-season bag scuffed shoes. Finally, two blocks from her work, it begins to rain. Instead of looking for shelter or something to cover her head, Sally arrives soaked to her job, lamenting to anyone who will listen how bad things always happen to her. This brings us to Tip #5: Understand What You Can Control, And What You Can’t. (And Then Accept It.) Sally can’t control the weather, or the fact that the bagel shop ran out of her favorite bagel. She can’t control the passive aggressive text her sister sent her. What she CAN control is her reaction to them.
Tip #6: Turn Setbacks into Triumphs. You can do this by growing your proactive muscles and becoming a “can-do” person. Can-do people take initiative, think about their options, and brainstorm solutions. No-can-do people wait for things to happen to them, and remain fixated on problems and barriers. To turn a setback into a triumph, you have to first “choose to see this situation as a setback or a starting point.” - W. Mitchell, millionaire, speaker, former mayor, skydiver, paralyzed.
And finally, Tip #7: Push Pause. Covey says, “Sometimes life is moving so fast that we instantly react to everything out of sheer habit. If you can learn to pause, get control, and think about how you want to respond, you’ll make smarter decisions.”
Stay tuned for our next article where we’ll discuss Habit #2: Beginning With the End in Mind. Be sure to join our newsletter so you won’t miss a post!
“The real tragedy is the tragedy of the man who never in his life braces himself for his one supreme effort—he never stretches to his full capacity, never stands up to his full stature.” - Arnold Bennett