Proactive Simplicity

Think of some of the best teachers you’ve ever had in your life.  Go ahead… I’ve got loads of time to wait… umm… especially since by the time you read this post, I’ll be all done with it and not literally sitting around waiting for your pondering self.  Win-win for everyone!  But in thinking about those people, what were some of their most notable qualities that made them such good teachers?  For me, I find it tends to boil down to two critical traits: a passion for teaching the subject and the ability to make the complicated simple.  Boom – there ya have it.

With that in mind, I found it interesting as I read some of the negative reviews for the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey to see what exactly people were complaining about.  The most common gripes were “It’s just common sense!” or “Typical self-help tripe!” and things of that nature.  To me, these can almost be a form of an endorsement for a book of this nature (i.e. self-help or a new way of viewing your own world).  Why?  Because it gets back a little bit to about what makes a good teacher – are you taking a concept and making it simpler or more accessible?  It’s certainly possible that the reviews could be spot on and you read the book only to find out that every page is full of regurgitated platitudes about doing good to others and being a better person.  That’s just an annoying read.

But guess what?  Not the case with this book (at least not for me).  In fact, the gripes people had I found fairly amusing because they focused on the high level themes of each section “Put first things first” and “Think win/win” without delving into the author’s thought process behind those notions. That’s just flat out missing the point, my friends.

For me, I found a nugget that hit very close to home and gave me more than a few minutes pause as I read the book last night in bed.  The first theme/habit of the book is “Be proactive.”  Pretty simple right?  If someone just told you that you needed to “be more proactive” and that was the extent of their advice, you might smile at them, give them a nod of acknowledgment and then walking away thinking “Thanks for that inspired pearl of wisdom, Plato.  No idea how I could have continued life as I know it without that one!”  Ahh, but there is much more to it than that in how Covey talks about it.  Covey’s all about values being one of the true shaping forces for being a better person and a more effective one.

So that’s why this passage I read last night struck me:

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values – carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.

Huh… never quite thought of it that way.  If you are a values/principles-driven person (and I try like heck to be exactly that), being proactive is not just a matter of going out and doing things without being asked to or having the circumstances thrust upon you forcing you to act.  It’s much more than that – it’s acting upon your values as opposed to being driven by your feelings and impulses and the circumstances around you since that is just reacting.

This strikes such a chord for me because it puts such great importance on not being reactive… because being reactive means I would be letting circumstances dictate what I do as opposed to my own set of carefully considered values.  When you look at being proactive in that light, it goes well beyond the rather banal notion of just telling someone “You know… you really should be proactive.”  It gets more to the heart of the WHY and the why is always the more powerful piece of the equation.  What would be the sense of taking the time to carefully construct where you find meaning in life only to ignore all of that and let the world dictate to you?  It’s the kind of thing that makes me re-check myself a bit because the cost to pay for wanting a values-driven life is eternal vigilence… and yes, I totally stole that Barry Goldwater line and tweaked it for myself.  I make no apologies.

So dismiss not the simple… especially if it is backed up by a depth that may not be readily apparent at a casual glance.  Those darn casual glances… always leaving the wrong impression.


Unlike this handsome fella – always leaves a good impression. (Not mine – just a houseguest until tomorrow).

5 Replies to “Proactive Simplicity”

  1. Great post. I really like “7 Habits” – I’m not as good at applying the lessons as I’d like to be but I learned a lot from his books.

    You’re right that it’s easy for some people to dismiss the top-level advice from books/speakers like this and not delve deeper into the how and why. But there’s a reason for that. Those people are looking for something they haven’t thought about before but that is EASY to apply. The problem with that line of thinking? Stuff like that doesn’t exist. There is no quick, easy path to success. Like you said, it takes eternal vigilance to live your life in accordance with your values. It takes more than just reading books and getting Twitter-like sound bite advice. It takes ACTION. Daily. In the moment. And most people (myself included at times) are too damn lazy for that. For too many people, it’s easier to be a hater towards people like Stephen Covey than it is to do the hard work of looking at their own lives and making changes.

  2. Jess – nicely put (as usual). It is really hard to get through a lot of these things and stay with them. I like the Twitter analogy – I do like Twitter, but it’s almost as if anything that cannot be done in 140 characters is too long for people to stick with. Yeesh. It does take the hard actions to effect true change – I keep thinking of the 10,000 hours mark in this regard. While some simple positive changes in your life do not require 10,000 hours of effort, they DO require consistency and dedication.

  3. the ability to make the complicated simple is the mark of true genius. Tony Robbins calls it chunking. Most successful people are able to look past all the details and think in terms of simple big picture concepts. Tim Ferris is also very good at this. Another part of your post that resonates w/me is your discussion of the WHY. WHY is more important than HOW.

    Great read.

  4. I think that’s part of the genius of Ferriss – I am re-reading the 4 Four Work Week now and while I am not in agreement with many of his methods, I like the concepts and how he brings a seemingly impossible notion and shows how it is possible.

    Now I think I should have added that as a corollary to my 2 concepts of what makes a great teacher: it’s not just making the complex simple, but also the reshaping of well-established notions of what is possible.

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