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Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Be Proactive

Recently a dear friend and i were discussing how easy it was for us to react emotionally to certain triggers or situations. The discussion reminded me of two things that I would like to share with you.

Stephen Covey wrote the best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In this book Mr. Covey lists the definitive 7 principles that when practiced regularly enough to become a habit will positively affect and raise one's quality of life.

Stephen Covey: Be Proactive

Mr. Covey's first habit refers to our seemingly innate ability to respond to things in a reactive way rather than in a reflective manner. By reflective, I mean that we take the few moments that we need to think in advance what our response might be.

For example, when reacting to something, I would give my first, non-thinking response. I would just allow my emotions to rule and take over. Like instinct. Proactive responses, however, mean that we take a few seconds to actually create a thoughtful response, hopefully aligning our response with a more reflective and principled answer. As Mr. Covey would put it in the scheme of things;

I am often asked if there is one habit out of the 7 Habits that is more important than the others. Of course, all the habits are important and they form an inter-connected whole or a continuum. For maximum effectiveness, you have to build from one to the other and apply them consistently. From that perspective, Habit 1: Be Proactive provides the foundation for all the other habits. Habit 1 is, undoubtedly, the foundation for leadership at home or at work because it begins with the mindset “I am responsible for me, and I can choose.” All the other habits are dependent upon being proactive and choosing to master and practicing principle-centered living.

The key to being proactive is remembering that between stimulus and response there is a space. That space represents our choice— how we will choose to respond to any given situation, person, thought or event. Imagine a pause button between stimulus and response—a button you can engage to pause and think about what is the principle-based response to your given situation. Listen to what your conscience tells you. Listen for what is wise and the principle-based thing to do, and then act.

Being proactive (Habit 1) becomes much more powerful when connected and related to the other habits. The key to the habits is the power of their combined synergy and meaningful purpose. Leaving one habit out is like having a four-legged chair—when you remove one leg the chair is out of balance.

The key then, according to Mr. Covey, is to develop the ability to "stop" ourselves from reacting at the moment and to strengthen our personal discipline so that we are able to "widen" the moments in between the event and our reaction to the event -- in other words, to widen the space between the stimulus and the response.

This all sounds wonderful. Where do I start? Intellectually, I understand the concept, but how do I put it into practice, especially when I have mastered the ability of reacting quickly? This is where my second step comes in handy.

Tony Robbins: Change Your State

In Tony Robbins's "Get the Edge" and "Personal Power" programs, he suggests that we make a list of the emotions we experience in a week, whether positive or negative. I would suggest that you do not make a long list for the sake of making a list! Tony then suggests that we make a note of what our body is doing at that time we are experiencing the emotion that we wish to change. What are the physical manifestations of that emotion?

In my case and the case of my friend, we were experiencing anger as the result of perceived frustration at ourselves. I noticed that when I experienced or expressed anger that I tightened my shoulders and upper back and held my breath. In fact, I even squeezed or hunkered down my shoulders into my back.

Tony suggests that we change that physical state in some way. I tried it by relaxing my shoulders and taking deep, slow breaths. Sure enough! By doing these small physical changes, I also changed my physical experience of emotion and changed what I was feeling at the time. In other words, it worked!

So, once we believe that there is value in Mr. Covey's first habit of being proactive, then we are compelled to develop the abilities that Tony Robbins suggests, wherein we work to change our physical state.

My suggestion this week is to make a list of the emotions that you experience and the matching physical characteristics associated with the emotions, and then think of your own physical transformations that could help you to widen the space between stimulus and response.

Happy practicing and teaching this week!


  1. I love Tony! I'll be breathing deep and shaking off emotions like a dog shakes off water this week! Keep my mind clear.

    My son and I have used Brain Gym for years. What comes first? The thought/emotion or the physical response? It's like a "which comes first the chicken or the egg? question. In Brain Gym and Tony's idea - the body is treated to calm the mind. Yoga too falls into that category.

    I love living in this day and age! So many choices to find what works best for you.

  2. I don't know which comes first, but Tony's suggestion of changing my state helps me to change my emotions. Hard to feel grumpy and complaining when I'm smiling or wearing my "happy face."