From Concern to Influence - Stephen Covey 101

7 Habits of Highly Effective People for Ah Bengs (Courtesy of

One of the oldest lessons from the incomparable 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is to be proactive.

What does being proactive mean? Well, here's what Covey's website has to say about proactiveness and its antithesis, which is being reactive:

"Being proactive is about taking responsibility for your life. You can't keep blaming everything on your parents or grandparents. Proactive people recognize that they are "response-able." They don't blame genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. They know they choose their behavior.

Reactive people, on the other hand, are often affected by their physical environment. They find external sources to blame for their behavior. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn't, it affects their attitude and performance, and they blame the weather."

While proactive people focus their energies and attention on the things which they can change for the better - what Covey calls their Circle of Influence - reactive people channel their worries on things which they have absolutely no control over (Circle of Concern). This metaphor is diagrammatically represented below.

Being proactive means increasing your circle of influence (source)

On a practical day-to-day basis, how do we live proactively instead of reactively?

For a start, be courageous in stepping forth to correct what you feel are wrongfully done. Complaining and whining incessantly about your country, your company, your boss, or your colleagues doesn't change anything. What you should do instead is to take useful steps forward that can improve things.

For example, if you are pissed that there is somebody who is constantly badmouthing you in the office, go and approach him or her and talk it out (nicely at first). Similarly, if you see somebody littering on the floor or smoking in a non-smoking zone, take the step to remind them (tactfully and courteously) that what they're doing is anti-social and inconsiderate.

Don't let cancerous cells fester - get rid of them as soon as you can.

The next thing one could do is to surround oneself with positive folks in a can-do environment. There are certain people who have a toxic personality, and who always chooses to state that the glass is half empty. For sure there is a time and place to speak out against what is wrong about an organisation, a family member, or a restaurant. However, one should do it in the right constructive rather than destructive spirit. Focusing on the negatives all the time will lead to an inevitable downward spiral which is neither productive nor useful in the long term.

You may also want to embrace a hobby or a pastime where you have greater control over the eventual outcome. Like anybody else who works for a living, there is a limit to what I can do in the office although I try to do what I can to expand my sphere of influence. However, I know that on this electronic canvas, I can influence others - hopefully in a beneficial fashion - and achieve some form of self actualisation through the power of positive influence.

What tips do you have on living a proactive, engaged and influential life?

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