Mindset and mental strength are key components of success. The correct mindset will influence action. Understanding how to act can be the difference between the status quo and that new job, or achieving a goal you set forth or falling just short. Below we explore ‘proactivity’, one of seven habits covered in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” – Henry David Thoreau
Breaking the Habit of Determinism
There are some among us that believe our futures are largely determined; that our control over outcome is limited. There are three theories of determinism:
Genetic: The belief that our DNA has predetermined our trajectory and has the greatest influence over our destiny.
Psychic: The belief that our character and personal tendencies are rooted in the past. These past experiences, especially those concerning family and parents, have preconditioned us to react or behave in a certain manner
Environmental: Something in your current environment is holding you back. Maybe it is an over-demanding boss, an overbearing family member, or a lack of time.
These three theories forget one thing: the principle of self-awareness. This principle states that, between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose. Thus, it is up to the individual to take ownership and to decide how to respond to a given circumstance. With self-awareness comes the habit of proactivity.
Being Proactive and Taking Control
To be proactive is to take control of our lives and be responsible for our own actions. Although we may sometimes think that our actions are a consequence of our conditions, they are actually a consequence of our decisions. Again, we have the ability to choose how we respond to a given stimulus.
When we take control, we have the ability to recognize an opportunity and consciously pursue it. Under such circumstances, we do not wait. When obstacles arise, we don’t harp on what could happen, we focus on what we control. This allows us to set forth plans to overcome such obstacles and stay focused on the goal.
“Proactive people… are value driven; and if their value is to produce good quality work, it isn’t a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not. Reactive people are… affected by their social environment, by the “social weather.” When people treat them well, they feel well; when they don’t, they become defensive or protective – Stephen Covey
Proactive vs. Reactive
If we decide to empower conditions and environments we have become reactive. When we are reactive, we shift responsibility outside our control. With such mindset, it is easy to create excuses for inaction. Just like reactive people, proactive people are influenced by environment. However, they recognize that their response and subsequent actions are under their control.
One amazing example of this is the story of Victor Frankl. During World War II, Mr. Frankl was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps and witnessed his entire family, with the exception of his sister, be sent to their deaths. Amid such horrific times he realized that he could not control his environment, he could not control his conditions, but he could control his response. He helped others find their reason for survival and maintain their dignity while imprisoned.