The other day, I popped a bag of popcorn for a snack … then got to share it with my kids when the smell brought them running. It reminded me of Pavlov’s dogs who started salivating at the sound of a bell.
Society tells us that we are conditioned to respond to certain situations based on our environment, upbringing, or genetics. However, as humans, we have self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will, and therefore can write a new program for ourselves instead of falling back on our default reactions.
Between the stimulus and our response, we have the ability to make a choice.
The first habit for an effective life (based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey) is to be proactive. Proactivity is more than taking initiative. It’s taking responsibility for my own life and subordinating my feelings to carefully thought about, selected, and internalized values. Instead of blaming my behavior on circumstances, conditions, or conditioning, proactivity takes the initiative and makes things happen through my own resourcefulness. It acts instead of being acted upon. After all, to be responsible is to be “response-able.”
So how can I tell if I’m proactive or not? The first clue is my language. Do I tend to say things like “There’s nothing I can do,” “He makes me so mad,” “That’s just the way I am,” “I can’t,” “I have to do that,” or “If only?” If I am proactive, I’m more likely to say “Let’s look at our alternatives,” “I can control my feelings,” “I choose,” “I prefer,” ” I will,” or “I can choose a different approach.”
Another indicator of how proactive (vs. reactive) I am is seeing where I focus my time or energy. We all have things we are concerned about, but not everything is under our direct or indirect control. Instead of focusing on things I can do nothing about, being proactive means I work on the things in my circle of influence. I can expand that circle by going above and beyond. By working on being what I want to be rather than having the things I want to have. By quickly acknowledging my mistakes, accepting the consequences, making corrections, and learning from the experience. Part of being responsible is making a promise and keeping it, or setting a goal and working to achieve it.
As we become increasingly proactive, gradually our honor becomes more important than our mood. We can be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
What about you? Do you take responsibility for your choices or blame them on other factors? How often do you say “If only, I can’t, or I have to?” Is it true? Do you focus your time and energy on your concerns or on your circle of influence?