Stephen Covey is very likely one of those guys who, instead of easing his way into a swimming pool, he does a running cannonball jump into the deep end because he wants to get the shock of the coldness over with. Why do we think this? Because the first habit in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is by far the hardest (and the most important): Proactivity.
When most of us think of proactivity or “being proactive” we think about it in terms of action—instead of waiting to be offered a job, ask for it! Take initiative! This only slightly applies to Covey’s definition.
Covey defines “proactivity” as taking responsibility (which he calls “response-ability”) for our own lives. In other words, while we might not be able to choose what stimuli the universe throws at us, we can control how we respond to the stimuli thrown our way.
To blame the stimuli, whatever it may be, Covey says, is to be a “reactive” person. Reactive people have a harder time finding success because they allow themselves to be bandied about by circumstances, conditioning, upbringing, etc. Proactive people, on the other hand, acknowledge their circumstances and then decide what to do to improve their situation.
Covey would argue that, instead of focusing on what is outside of your control and using it as an excuse to avoid action (reactivity), you should instead focus on the aspects of your lives that you can actually do something about (proactivity).
For example: let’s say you can’t afford to buy a copy of Covey’s book. Instead of saying “well since I can’t afford to buy the book, I guess that means I won’t get to read it” (reactivity), you could get a copy out from the local library or borrow a copy from a friend. If you have a hard time reading, check out a copy of the audiobook (proactivity).
Plenty of people need some time to really understand Covey’s ideas about proactivity, expanding circles of influence, etc. It isn’t a concept that comes naturally to many. Thankfully, Covey is always completely transparent in the book about the difficulty level of this habit. He knows that it is hard and requires a lot of internal work for many of the people who seek his advice.
It is important, however, that you do the work to master this habit before moving on to the others. It is the foundation upon which every other step stands.