Being proactive – How it can help your life and your job

I was captured by a bald-headed speaker on the TV. Talking about managing your life. I was in a hotel somewhere in Utah. I kept thinking, “Who is this guy?” At the end of the program I had a name, and I had the name of his book. It was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey. The book was published in 1989 – a bit over 30 years ago. In total, over 40 million copies sold.

Cover of 7 Habits by Stephen Covey from the post Being Proactive

The book has made a difference in my personal life and my career. If it has affected you, I would love to hear about your experience in the Comment box at the bottom of the blog.

Dr Ken McCracken, my PhD supervisor, taught me to be proactive even before Covey wrote the book. As I finished up my PhD in Adelaide he suggested I write a job proposal letter to CSIRO, a large government laboratory in Sydney. He said tell them you know about cosmic rays (energetic protons and electrons) and how they travel from sun to earth. Suggest to them you could study how cosmic rays are energized in the sun. The cosmic rays come from big solar flare explosions and somehow magnetic energy is converted to cosmic ray particles. Tell them you could study this.

So I did, and CSIRO created a job for me.

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Myself hiking with Allan Webber and Ken Mableson in the Flinders Ranges – when I wasn’t working on my PhD. Source: Ken Mableson.

Basically, it’s the opposite of reactive. Reactive is when you wait until an event happens and then you respond. If you wake up one morning with frost on the lawn, you may realize it froze during the night and you discover the garden hose has frozen and split. And worse, your faucet has frozen and split too and is leaking like crazy. Big problem.

But the guy next door listened to the weather forecast on the day before and knew it was going to freeze. So he rolled up his hose and put it in the garage. And he bought a plastic faucet insulator to cover and protect the faucet. He was proactive. He looked ahead and imagined a problem, and then figured out how to prevent the problem from happening.

Being proactive is the first of the 7 habits in the book.

“I’m a full-time nurse to the most miserable, ungrateful man. He never expresses appreciation. He finds fault with everything I do.

And you, Dr Covey, have the gall to suggest that nothing can hurt me without my consent, and that I have chosen my own emotional life of being miserable. There is no way I could buy that.

But I kept thinking about it, and I began to ask, ‘Do I have the power to choose my response?’
When the light dawned and I realized I had chosen to be miserable, I also realized I could choose not to be miserable.

At that moment I wanted to yell, ‘I am free! I am out of prison! No longer am I going to be controlled by the treatment I’m getting from some other person.’”

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Dr Covey continues this story related in his book. It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens that hurts us. Things can hurt us physically or financially, and cause sorrow, but our character does not have to be hurt at all.





There’s nothing I can do. Let’s look at some alternatives.
That’s just the way I am. I can choose a different approach.
He makes me so mad. I control my own feelings.
They won’t allow that. I can create an effective presentation.
I have to do that. I will choose an appropriate response.
If only… I will…
I can’t. I choose.

“Dr Covey, I’m really worried about my marriage. My wife and I don’t have the same feelings for each other that we used to. I guess we don’t love each other anymore. What can I do?”

“The feeling isn’t there anymore,” I asked?

“That’s right, and we have three children we’re worried about. What can I do?”

“Love her,” I replied.

“I told you, the feeling isn’t there anymore.”

“Love her.”

“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”

“If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”

“But how do you love when you don’t love?”

“My friend, love is a verb. Love, the feeling, is a fruit of love the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”

Reactive people make love a feeling. They’re driven by feelings, and follow the Hollywood script that we aren’t responsible, that we’re a product of our feelings.

Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self. Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values. And love, the feeling, can be recaptured.

The above two stories were adapted from the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Enjoyed this post? Read more from my Inspiration and Hope category.


BLOG TOPICS: I write content (in-depth) blogs about a mix of topics: Science and Energy, and Health and Hiking, and Inspiration and Hope.
The Gray Nomad ….. Be proactive not reactive.
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.
[Book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.]

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Neil Palmer
Neil Palmer
3 years ago

Thanks for highlighting the power of choice. I’ve read books on outstanding individuals: Nelson Mandela (“Mandela: The Authorised Biography” by Anthony Sampson) and Victor Frankl (“The Meaning of Life”). Both were brutally imprisoned, Mandela in Robben Island and Frankl in Auschwitz. Both were energised by their power of choice to be positive in how they reacted to their captors. Its humbling to read them – we in the First World have absolutely nothing to complain about.

3 years ago

This a great book that I can recommend to anyone who wants to improve certain aspects of their life. Or even improvements in general. My employer bought books for all 120 employees, and organized related discussion sessions. People were amazed with the content and the wisdom contained in this book. It has also made a positive difference in my life; in my degree joy and happiness, and my outlook, etc. I should do a reread, a refresher. Thanks Ian

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