Proactivity is the first habit of the Seven Habits. From the title it may seem to be a very simple concept, but this is only the surface impression. As with all other habits in the book, the knowledge that it encompasses is much broader than can be transferred through one name.
The main idea of proactivity is that there is a gap between the external stimuli and our responses to them. Whenever something happens to us, we have the opportunity to make a choice. This is valid both for external responses (our actions and words) as well for internal responses (feelings and thoughts).
However, very often, we give away this opportunity and make a “default” choice, predefined by our cultural and social norms, by what people typically do in such situations, by what we consider to be an appropriate response. We do this automatically in reaction to the situation (thus, reactively) and assume that this is the only possible/viable choice.
The reactive responses often are based on self-victimization and results in complaining and blaming other people and circumstances for the outcome of life events. The verbal reactive responses use phrases as “I have to”, “I should”, “If only”, “It is their fault”. Proactivity, in contrast, is based on recognizing one’s own strengths and taking a responsibility for results and outcomes, being reflected in words like “I choose to”, “I prefer”, “Let’s consider alternatives”, “Let’s see what I can do”. Forming the habit of proactivity means recognizing that gap between external input and your response and slowly training your ability to exercise your power of making better choices.
One of the suggestions that I found very useful both for understanding and for developing this habit is making and keeping promises to yourself. Start from very, very small promises (based on the right principles), and slowly take on bigger ones as you increase your confidence and strengthen your “proactivity muscle”.
From another perspective, proactivity is introduced to the context of two circles, the circle of concern vs the circle of influence. The circle of concern includes all areas to which we devote our attention, all subjects which we contemplate or worry about. The circle of influence consists of areas to which we are able to contribute.
It is quite common to have a circle of concern much larger than the circle of influence, i.e. spend our mental energy and time for the things which will not be changed a single bit because of it. Following the proactive approach one focuses their energy in the circle of influence, which, in turn, causes the circle of influence to expand and become larger. The reactive person gives away the power to other people and the situation, thus causing their circle of influence to shrink.
The two circles imply the division of our life problems into three classes: direct control, indirect control and no control. The problems under our direct control are dependent on our own thoughts and actions, and are completely in our circle of influence. The problems under indirect control depend on other people, may require us to develop our methods on influence (and, probably, not necessarily will yield the desired outcome). The problems under no control concern the environment and circumstances which we cannot change. The only true way to “deal” with such problems is to accept their existence and learn to live with them, get used to their presence.
As always, you are welcome to ask questions, provide feedback or share you experiences on this topic in the comments below!