The 1st Habit of Highly Effective People: Be Proactive


Be Proactive

When I started my first job, I was handed a copy of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and informed that everyone in the office was encouraged to practice the principles in this bestselling book by Stephen Covey. I am now rereading and working through the book with a group of friends and am struck by how these principles are really at the foundation of much of the coaching I do. Since I know the big difference these habits can make if they are really practiced, I wanted to share some highlights.

The first habit “Be Proactive” means that we have the ability to choose our response, rather than blaming circumstances or other people for our behavior. It is basically the principle of taking self-responsibility (you can read more in “How to Stop Complaining”) It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.

Some of my coaching clients have been practicing this principle by looking at their situation to see what part they can take responsibility for and what actions they can take.  For example, when my client’s co-worker was trying to overstep his role and began to take control over things that were her responsibility, it was easy to identify what couldn’t be controlled (the co-worker’s behavior) and what could (my client’s response.) Rather than wasting time to complain about the other co-worker, we could determine a pro-active response (thanking the co-worker for their input) and action (communicating the next steps in the project to everyone involved.)

Why is taking responsibility so difficult at times? Because it makes us take a really deep look at ourselves and our actions. And we might not like what we find. If you admit that you have full responsibility for your responses and actions, you have to take responsibility for your behavior that maybe wasn’t so great. It might be tough, but we all have to be willing to make and accept “mistakes” if we want to learn and grow. Nobody is perfect. Not getting it “right” at times is simply part of the human experience. =)

Another part of “Being Proactive” is paying close attention to our language. We often choose language that transfers responsibility to somebody else, so we don’t have to be proactive. For example:“I have to _______.” Even if it is something like “I have to go to work”, the truth is that you are choosing to go to work. Yes, there may be consequences if you don’t go (you won’t get paid or you might get fired), but it’s still a choice. You choose to go to work because you don’t like what will happen if you don’t.

Another example is “He makes me so mad.” It sounds reasonable enough, but when we say that, we basically say that we are not in control of our feelings. And that is not true. We can choose our reactions based on somebody else’s behavior. The truth is usually something like, “When he came home late again, I chose to interpret that to mean that he really doesn’t care about me, and that thought made me mad.”

As I was paying more attention to my language over the last few weeks, I caught myself choosing some reactive rather than proactive language. I have been saying “I am busy” a lot. Now that may sound fine, but as I thought about it, I realized that I was saying it as if I had no control over the matter. And while there were good reasons for being busy (we moved, some work projects required a lot of time, etc.), in the end, I am responsible for how I choose to spend my time.

Why is choosing our language carefully so important? Because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we say things that indicate that we have no control, we reinforce that belief and then try to collect evidence to prove that we are right. As a result, we feel more and more victimized and not in charge of our life and our destiny.

In reality, the opposite is true. We can develop our own proactivity and choose what we say, how we act and respond, and where to focus our energies. Once we fully realize that, it is truly liberating! We are finally free to be responsible for our own life and happiness!   🙂


Manuela loves helping smart and creative women bring more balance, happiness and success into their lives through Professional Life Coaching!


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