“Focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t.” This theme comes up all the time in my work with clients — practically every single day. Some way, somehow, we are always trying to discern where to place our energies. It’s easier said than done though, right? It’s not always clear-cut what we can control and what we can’t; even when it is, the “letting go” part can prove to be very challenging. What does letting go even look like?
This weekend I finished reading 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, a book that has been around for almost 30 (!) years. It’s kind of like a first-gen self-help book.
Full disclosure: I love all manner of self-help books. I get hooked by the snazzy titles, and there’s something alluring about the idea of the author having FIGURED SOMETHING OUT — something magical and life-changing and awesome. Most of the time, of course, there is no magic trick, or the book draws on concepts or ideas that are familiar to me. But I still read this stuff voraciously.
I think part of why I like to read the self-help/personal development genre is because sometimes, you have to hear something explained/communicated/illustrated a dozen times before it sinks in. Or you need to hear it from a specific person in a specific way, and then, suddenly, you GET IT.
I loved 7 HABITS a lot more than I thought I would. First of all, it’s substantive — clocking in at close to 400 pages — and it felt well-researched. And the edition I read had some interviews with the author at the end where he reflected on his enhanced understanding of the seven habits after so many years of seeing them in action, applied all across the world in different cultures and settings (businesses, families, relationships…you name it).
So anyway, in honor of having read this great book, and in wanting to help distill it down for those who do not have the time or inclination to read it, I thought I’d do a post on each of the seven habits, in order. Today is Habit 1: Be Proactive.
Which brings us back to my initial reflection on control. Be Proactive has everything to do with identifying what is within your Circle of Influence and distinguishing this from your Circle of Concern. The more time and energy you put toward your own physical and mental health, your own interests or advocacy efforts, your half of your marriage (all things in your Circle of Influence)…the healthier and more effective you become, and the more your Circle of Influence grows. You are feeding and nurturing what’s under your power.
Your Circle of Concern is a much longer list of things that bother you. Your partner’s eating habits, for example. The current political situation — in its broadest and most diffuse form. These kinds of things cause us to ruminate and worry and otherwise spin our wheels….but that’s about it. And while “the current political situation” might be in your Circle of Concern, whether or not you attend a local rally or fundraiser is squarely in your Circle of Influence. Often things in your Circle of Concern do have smaller, more concrete manifestations within your Circle of Influence.
Be Proactive is also about noticing the space between “stimulus and response” as the author says. Meaning we all have (or can develop) control over our reactions to things. Something may happen to you, you may experience an emotion as a result — but what you do next is up to you. You may feel rage and notice an urge to write a nasty e-mail; you may feel bored and notice the urge to eat a dozen cupcakes. OK. Now what? You could also decide to take the anger, channel it into the e-mail, save it as a draft and revisit it in the morning. You could go for a walk and see if the anger burns off. In the case of boredom, you could put the cupcakes out of sight and choose to do something else, or do nothing at all and just sit with the feeling for a few minutes (most people aren’t crazy about sitting with unpleasant feelings, but that’s for another day).
I think that since 7 HABITS was published, the word “proactive” has become pretty overused, but I like what’s at the heart of this habit. It’s a reminder that people who do well in life keep their autonomy top of mind and act in line with their values. The alternative is to be reactive — allowing other people’s behavior/choices, or similarly uncontrollable external circumstances, dictate their mood and behavior.
If you feel compelled to behave in ways that are NOT in line with your values, or you find yourself engaged in destructive behavior despite efforts to stop, you may benefit from therapy to help sort out what’s at the root of the conflict. It’s very uncomfortable to live outwardly in a way that contrasts with what’s most important to you. Get in touch — e-mail is email@example.com, text 585-568-7044, or if you’re not ready for therapy, sign up for my e-mail newsletter here: http://www.subscribepage.com/newsletterlist.