The major impetus in Covey's be proactive principle is that people who take control of their attitudes achieve more than people who react to life's circumstances. Covey proclaimed that people can choose feelings such as happiness, sadness and courage. Choosing happiness means that you center your attitude and choices on things that make you happy. You accept that you control your attitude regardless of what other people say and do, or what happens around you. For example, by choosing happiness, someone who is unhappy with a current job would look for another one rather than suffer in misery each day.
Be proactive is the first of seven effective work habits outlined in Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" book and workshop series. The emphasis of this particular habit is on taking control of your attitude, life and career choices.
People who live with an external locus of control tend to blame other people, events and things for the misfortunes they experience. Covey suggested that doing so prevents you from taking control and from altering the negative paths you take. For example, a young adult who blames his parents for not giving him enough attention as a kid may miss opportunities to improve personal relationships; a student who says, "I don't do well on tests because the pressure of performing in a test room is too much for me," is not prepared to take control of her situation by developing new strategies and learning new test-taking methods.
Covey made a strong connection between the language people use and their attitudes and behaviors. He referred to phrases such as I can't or I have to as reactive language because these phrases imply the speaker is avoiding responsibility. In contrast, saying I can or I'm going to is more proactive, responsible language. For example, an employee who tells a manager, "I'm going to get this to you by the deadline," is more mentally ready to deliver than someone who says, "I'll do my best" or "I'm not sure whether I can do it."
Influence the Right Circle
In Covey's discussion of the be proactive habit, he also described two circles related to each person's roles in life. A circle of influence includes the people and situations over which you have some positive control; a circle of concern includes areas of problems that you can't control, but that bog you down with worry or doubt. Proactive people are effective at recognizing and impacting their circle of influence, while reactive people tend to invest too much mental energy in concerns they can't influence. An employee getting angry or frustrated about the promotions or opportunities gained by a coworker is focused on the circle of concern, for instance.
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