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Being proactive and taking control of your life

I often refer to Stephen Covey in my classes as well as with friends. I even gave my children a copy of his first successful book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” (1) for Christmas this year. I like the simplicity of this book and the way it is divided into seven habits. Stephen Covey brings together the majority of personal development theories in one guide that is easy to follow and understand.

The first habit he recommends is ‘Be proactive’. Being proactive means being aware of two things.

The first one is that between stimulus and response, there is a space. Within this space, we have a choice of how we respond. It’s up to us to be aware that we always make a choice AND accept the consequences of that choice.

Here’s an example. An opportunity arises for you to go and work abroad. You refuse the opportunity. You made a choice. You can explain this choice in two ways:

  • Well, I didn’t really have any choice, I’ve got two teenagers who wouldn’t have been able to cope with the upheaval

  • I took the decision not to accept this offer because I chose to prioritise my family at this stage in my life

In the first response, you’re not taking responsibility for your choice – you’re putting the blame onto your children. In the second response, you are fully aware of what led you to make the decision.

Proactive people accept responsibility for the choices they make.

Being proactive also means being aware that we can have an influence on some of the areas of our lives, whereas others are out of our control.

The aeroplane you’ll be on when you go on holiday could crash. Losing sleep over it will make absolutely no difference to the probability of this unfortunate event occurring. This is focusing on your Circle of Concern.​

You’re worried that your friend who is driving you home may have drunk too much and you could have an accident. You have options such as offering to drive, going home on public transport or sleeping over. This is focusing on your Circle of Influence.

When you’re proactive, you concentrate on extending your Circle of Influence and reducing your Circle of Concern.

Covey arranges the problems we need to deal with into three categories:

  • Ones which can be directly controlled (involving our own behaviour)

  • Ones which can be indirectly controlled (involving other people’s behaviour)

  • Ones over which we have no control (we can do absolutely nothing about them)

​Neuroscientific research suggests that 90% of our thoughts are within the outer circle, i.e. the one that contains our concerns and over which we have no influence.

Being proactive means concentrating on your Circle of Influence.

When you are proactive, you take responsibility for the choices you make. By taking responsibility for your choices, you take control of your life. This boosts your confidence. You don’t waste time complaining about this or that, you concentrate on the options available when you receive a stimulus. You take your time to be sure that you are choosing the option that is most in line with your life’s aims and values.​

Be proactive, take control of your life and be free.


1. Covey, Stephen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989.

2, Conference by Mrs Frédérique Deschamps Meldem organised by the Fribourg HR Association.

What about you ? Do you have similar or different experiences? Let me know, I'll be happy to discuss it with you!

Artwork : Mélanie Bénard Tremblay, 2019, © Marakoudja.


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