- Posted by Nigel Edelshain
- On July 10, 2015
Stephen Covey’s 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is about as classic as you can get in the productivity genre. The book has sold more than 25 million copies.
It’s been a long time since I read the book so I thought it was about time to revisit it. Since it’s such a classic I thought it would be worth dwelling on each “habit” in the book and devoting a blog post to each.
Given the way our society has evolved since 1989 this book may be even more important now than it was when it was written. It’s hard to remember but in 1989 we were just starting to use email. We did not have super computers in our pockets (as an iPhone would have been called in 1989). Our ability to be distracted and frazzled seems to have multiplied many times since then. It does seem like it’s time to review some of the timeless lessons in the “7 habits.”
Habit #1: Be Proactive
We all have outside stimuli acting on us. These “stimuli” show up in huge volumes today and at the speed of light– often in our email box. Examples are requests from our colleagues or customers for help or personal stimuli such as an invitation to our child’s school show.
It’s how we respond to these stimuli that determines if we’re being “reactive” or “proactive.”
“Proactive” people think before they respond. In Covey’s way of thinking proactive people control their lives. They are responsible for their lives and actions. They do not blame circumstances or feelings for their behavior.
“Reactive” people on the other hand do not take responsibility for their outcomes. They are affected by their surroundings. Covey uses the example that “reactive people” feel good if the weather is good and bad if it isn’t. When a “reactive” person is treated poorly by others they get defensive. Their feelings drive their actions.
Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence
Covey says one way to evaluate our degree of proactivity is to see how much time we spend on things we can influence versus things we cannot.
To make this clearer he defines two circles: Our “circle of concern” and “our circle of influence.”
Our “circle of concern” is everything we think about or worry about. Examples include: Can I get my mailing done on time, will this blog post come out OK, will I keep my job, will Andy Murray win Wimbledon and will Greece stay in the Euro? Our circle of concern is big. It encompasses everything we give any mental energy.
Our “circle of influence” is everything we can have an impact on. So getting my mailing done and doing a decent writing job on this blog post are clearly within my “circle of influence” whereas helping Andy Murray or solving Greece’s debt problems are outside of my reach and therefore not in my “circle of influence.”
Within our “circle of influence” some items are under are “direct influence,” such as writing this post, whereas others require us to work with other people to get things done. Items that we cannot do alone are under our “indirect influence.” By using appropriate people skills we can grow our “circle of influence” by enrolling the help of others.
By comparing how much time and energy we spend working on tasks within our “circle of influence” versus outside of our control we can see how proactive we are (or are not).
Next Friday I will cover habit #2: Begin with the end in mind. Have a proactive week!