Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Value of Proactivity

For work, I've been reading the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People for the first time.  Now, I promise I'm not going to turn this blog post into a sermon on the 7 Habits - mostly cause I haven't even finished the book - but also because I know there are a lot of people who look at the book as a gimmick.  I know I did for a lot of years and in some ways, I still think it is.  However, there are also a lot of people who have been excited about this book for a long time.  I think it's because the book does contain truth, and when truth is perceived and received, it excites the human soul and motivates us pursue that truth.

So, with that warning in mind, I want to elaborate on a truth I believe is presented in this book and apply it to my own efforts.  That is the first habit of Proactivity.  In relation to health and exercise, I look at proactivity as my own efforts to "become" better - to eat healthier, live a more active life, desiring to be a better dad and keep up with my children as they grow - rather than on the desire to "have" better - have a better looking body, have more energy, etc.

First, a little context.  Covey talks about the idea of a circle of concern: being inside that circle represents all the things that concern us, worry us - weight, health, world peace, car breaking down, war, failing marriage, natural disasters, next paycheck, the econimic crisis, etc.  Within that circle is a smaller circle - the circle of influence.  These are the things we can actually do something about, that we have some control over.  And the process of pushing the circle of influence outward, of growing it to encompass more concerns, is proactivity.

For example, before, I was concerned about my weight and my health.  I didn't want to die of a heart attack or get cancer.  I didn't want to look fat.  I wanted to like exerice or to have a better physique or to wear smaller clothes.  But, during that period, I allowed those concerns to sit outside of my circle of influence - I wasn't actively doing anything about them.  Then, I started to work - I read the blog post on about the One Fact of weight loss and that truth triggered in me the desire to be better.  I pushed my circle of influence outward to encompass those concerns and started to take action on them.

The nasty thing about proactivity, as Covey cleverly realized, is that its a habit.  If I don't keep working on it, I'll fall off the wagon.  I'll fall back into old ways.  I'll fail.  On the reverser side, the nice thing is that the habit is transferable - as I learn to be proactive in one area of my life, I automatically aquire the ability to be proactive in others.  Recently, I've noticed this key concept in my efforts and that's what I wanted to share - the value of proactivity in everyday life.

More context - Covey divides the 7 habits into three types - the first three he calls "private victories" because these are things that may never be seen by the world; the second set of three are the "public victories" and are immediately obvious to those around us as we practice the; the last is to restore and revitalise the other six and so is a mix of both.  And context over.

When I first started working on trying to incorporate the proactive habit, of trying to be rather than to have or seem, the first thing I decided to work on was my marriage.  I was feeling a loss of love and a lack of personal commitment, which is odd because I would call myself very happily married.  But I just didn't feel the spark anymore and I missed it.  And since it was all about becoming something more, about changing self rather than others, I decided I was going to be happy, truly happy, when I came home.  Easy enough to do because I really have no desire to keep dwelling on the stuff I do at work.  I also decided I was going to be more helpful - looking for ways or things to clean up around the house and if I didn't know what to do, to ask Stacie.  And it worked!  I noticed immediately that I like being with Stacie more, we had more fun together, we suddenly got better about holding hands, hugging in the kitchen, and teasing in the bedroom.  It suddenly felt new again.  I loved it.  I still love it.  And it can still get better.

But coming back to my key point, that proactivity is transferable, I've noticed a proactive approach to my work has become a lot easier.  It's easier to make myself work on a project I don't want to do because I desire to "be" more productive at work, to "be" a more valuable employee, to "be" a person of integrity and put in the time and effort needed by work instead of being lazy and sliding along.

So what's the next step - to transfer the learning, to apply it to my next area.  Since proactivity is about changing who we are, the "be" nature of our lives, my next item to enter my circle of influence is this - I want to "be" a traceur.  That means someone who does parkour.

Notice, I don't want to do parkour, or have the skills, or have the strength.  I want to BE.  That's the paradigm shift we all have to make.  That's how we become proactive and make it useful to us.

So, what do you want to be? 

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