This week I started reading Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The first habit that Covey addresses in that of being proactive; being proactive in one’s family life, career, and relationships with others.
Covey defines proactivity as being responsible for our own lives. It is subordinating spontaneous emotions to values, and taking the initiative and responsibility to make things happen. This is in stark contrast to being reactive – being governed by factors external to ourselves and our locus of control. “Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values – carefully thought about, selected and internalised values” (Covey). The distinction is also framed by the phrase “Act or be acted upon” – take the initiative and responsibility, or be governed by external factors that you may not be satisfied with.
In order to increase self-awareness of proactivity, Covey discusses the Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence approach.
Our Circle of Concern is comprised of factors in which we have mental or emotional involvement such as health, children, work, national issues.
Within our Circle of Concern, there are some things that we have a level of control or influence over, and other things that we do not. The things that we can do something about form our Circle Of Influence.
According to Covey, our degree of proactivity is determined by which of these circles we are focusing the majority of our energy on. A proactive person will focus efforts on the Circle of Influence, working on the things they can do something about. This positive energy causes their Circle of Influence to increase.
Conversely, reactive people focus their energy on the Circle of Concern. Things they might focus on include weaknesses of other people, environmental problems and circumstances that are out of their control, which may result in blaming, accusations and feelings of victimisation. This negative energy and lack of progress on the things that they could do something about means that their Circle of Influence decreases.
Covey’s discussion reminded me of an activity I once had to do as part of a professional development workshop. Participants had to fill in a Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence for the development of a Languages project within the school. Things that might have fallen into a Circle of Concern included curriculum constraints, length of lessons, other people’s reactions, whilst the Circle of Influence would have involved the activities, effective lesson planning, how to respond to others. It was certainly a helpful task to start to narrow down goals and to consider the what would be the most effective aims and methods of the project.
As educators, it is very important to be proactive. Proactivity helps to facilitate positive working relationships with students, parents and colleagues. In our time-poor environment it helps us to prioritise tasks and achieve them efficiently rather than labouring over things that we cannot control and experiencing negative emotions as a result of this.
And ultimately, from a well-being point of view, when we feel like we are achieving our goals – like we are being effective – we are more likely to experience a sense of satisfaction in our work and personal life.