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Monday, August 21, 2017

Habit 1: Be Proactive | Take Charge & Widen the Space

Stephen Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Habit 1: Be Proactive | Take Charge
I recently began a series of podcast episodes the habits of effective Suzuki teachers and parents, based on the work of Stephen Covey. If you would like to follow along with the podcast habit episodes and blog articles, here are the links:

Habits of Highly Effective Suzuki Teachers & Parents (podcast & series introduction)

What is Your Habit Plan? (article about habit series introduction)

Habit 1: Be Proactive | Take Charge (podcast)

What Does Proactive Mean?

Stephen Covey's first habit is to be proactive. When I looked up the definition of the word in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary [“controlling a situation by making things happen or by preparing for possible future problems”]. I found two words in the definition that made me pause to think: making and preparing. These words are action words. These words require us to do something, not be something or observe something, but to get up and perform some action. The definition of the word "proactive" points us in the direction of action.

Why do these two distinctions matter? If we believe that we are in control of our lives and the things that happen to us (internal locus of control), then we will take the necessary steps to address problems or find solutions. We believe that we retain the power to effect change. If we allow an external locus of control, then we are more likely to view ourselves as victims and powerless to solve our problems. We focus instead on reacting to the world around us. I call this, "being buffet by the winds of fate and change."
Stephen Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Reactive: Victim, Helpless

When we consider what our current situation or problems are, then we squarely face what is in front of us. We hone our focus and turn our direction toward the personal and direct. We own our situation. We own our complaints. We own our problems. Our thoughts become more acute and realistic about what is happening in our lives.


Dr. Covey reminds us that we are responsible for our lives. One of my favorite books, The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer, discusses this subject in one of the early chapters. The runner's book frames the issue as one of the perception of control -- where we think the locus of control for our lives resides. If we believe that we are in control of what happens to us, then we have an internal locus of control. If we think that control for what happens to us lies comes from others or forces outside of our control, then that is an external locus of control.


How to Recognize Proactivity

Dr. Covey reminds us that we are responsible for our lives, that we have the "response-ability" to make our lives what we want them to be. Here are some ways to recognize proactivity:

  • We understand that we are responsible to make things happen, and we take the initiative to do what needs to be done.
  • We understand that we can choose our own actions, and even if we are unable to change or do something, we still retain the ability to choose how we will respond to the situation.
  • We understand that we can work in small areas and groups. We can work to be proactive in smaller, more focused areas of our lives and then branch out to wider areas of concern.
  • We understand that we can focus on our "circle of influence" rather than our "circle of concern." We can change what we are able to change rather than be pulled to change something that is outside of our control.
  • We understand that mistakes happen, and we learn from these errors. A proactive approach means that when we make mistakes, we correct the errors and then learn the lesson we can take from the mistake.
Widen the Space

One of my favorite Stephen Covey quotes is:
"[T]here is a gap or space between stimulus and response, and . . . the key to both our growth and happiness is how we use that space."
I offer this quote as a reminder that whatever happens in our lives -- whether we truly retain the power to control or effect change -- we will always retain the ability (response-ability) to choose our response. There is a gap or space between what happens to us and how we respond. We will be wise to widen that space as much as we can to allow ourselves the time we need to choose -- proactively -- the best response.

Building the Proactive Habit

So let us look at how the habit Be Proactive might look in the context of Suzuki teaching and parenting. How could we put this habit into practice?

First of all, make a list of those areas of your Suzuki life that may be less than satisfying. Perhaps as a teacher, you think that your students do not practice enough or that your studio parents do not follow the program as closely as you wish they did. If you are a parent, perhaps your child does not want to practice or do the work that you think he or she should do to prepare adequately for lessons. Or, perhaps you are a parent who has difficulty making adequate time for practice with your child on a daily and consistent basis.

What are the typical reasons you offer to explain why these problems occur in your life? Write down a list of the reasons you give. Then take a hard look at what you have written. If I were to tell you that it was your fault that these problems occur, what would you think? How would you approach the situation then? Let us take a closer look at the typical problems that I wrote above. I suggest that you write down what you discover.
  • Inadequate practice: What is your response to this? How do you handle this situation?
  • Unengaged parents: How do you approach the parents to discuss alternative behavior?
  • Reluctant students: How have you allowed your children to be rewarded for undesired behavior?
  • Over-scheduled parents: What are your reasons for failing to say "no" to a schedule that is too busy? How can you frame your priorities in a way that allows you to build a schedule that is more relaxed and productive?
You may answer the above questions with many possible solutions. The idea here is to frame the questions in such a way as to turn our focus toward how we can structure or explain things differently. We want to believe that we can make changes and control the way things happen. Each of these beliefs, attitudes, and spurred calls to action represents the proactive approach, which feels pretty darn good. These approaches also turn our focus to solutions rather than problems or complaints. We will diminish the attitude of helplessness and happenstance and instead increase our expectations of promise and purpose.

Signs That We Are Not Proactive

As part of my in depth look at habit one and proactivity, I considered easy ways to recognize when we were not focusing on habit one. Here are two things I watch for:
  • Complaining: When we complain, we generally make noise to someone who lacks power to make any change, and we do not point ourselves in the direction of doing anything about the problem. Complaining is easy and involves little work. Actually doing something about the problem would be proactivity.
  • Overusing objective pronouns and weak verbs: When we are not proactive, we rely on objective pronouns, such as you, he, she, it, them, me, or us rather than I or we. When we are proactive, our language reflects this attitude. We use action verbs. We put ourselves as the subject. We are the heroes in our lives. Any other type of pronoun indicates that we are sitting back and allowing others and circumstances to control us rather than taking charge ourselves.
Self-Reflection Questions (Proactive)

To set yourself up for success with habit one and being proactive, I urge you to create a system that will allow you regular and consistent time to do some self-reflection. Whether you journal, write morning pages, pray, or meditate, some sort of system that encourages you to sit quietly to reflect and consider the state of things will help you to shore up your habit one proactive skills. Get in the daily habit of asking and answering these types of questions, which are designed to turn your focus to identifying what you can do to alter your current situation and achieve your own priorities:
  • What did I accomplish?
    • What were my successful strategies?
    • What were my stumbling blocks?
    • How could I change my approach to use more successful strategies and avoid or overcome obstacles?
  • What lessons did I learn from my success or difficulties?
  • What things puzzled me?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • What am I 100% committed to do tomorrow?
Let me remind teachers and parents that what we do in the Suzuki method is so much larger than ourselves as individuals. What we do today with our students and children will have lasting impact on the future civilizations of our world. This mission is important enough to require us to spend time and focus working on our ability to use habit one to be proactive.

Most important of all, when you focus on building up the proactive habit, notice whenever you think about problems as somehow being someone else’s fault or the product of some world circumstance. When your thoughts turn this way, develop the habit of stopping at that moment to recognize that you and your thoughts are the problem there.

Until next time,


Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----


© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

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