Proactive, Reactive and My Sketchy Science

The video from my last post about being more active/proactive in my life has been rattling around in my head ever since I recorded it in Shanghai.  For one, that concept of being proactive really locked into something I had been feeling for a while without expressing as well as I could – namely, that I had been letting life happen to me without taking an active stance on what I wanted out of life.

But the second reason it really hit me didn’t become clear until I was looking through my notes in Evernote on the flight back home.  I came across a note from September 5, 2010 from when I was reading Stephen Covey’s classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“.  I couldn’t believe the serendipitous timing of recording that video and then seeing this exact note a few days later:

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

As a person highly focused on my own values and trying to live them as best I can, it seems the concept Mr. Covey described in his book never really left me, but had decided to lurk for a while in the back of my mind, waiting for the most opportune moment to rise again… or at least to be kicked to the front of the line by some catalyst of thought.

So what’s the point of all of this?  Simply this: My own personal level of happiness and satisfaction is highly correlated (and maybe even directly tied) to how active I am in living to my values.  If I am reactive (or worse still… inactive) about all of this, I am far less happy.

Prowler pushes = 100% proactive.

I realize that there is much of this that isn’t earth-shattering news on the level of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian dating.  I mean, that’s just important stuff for all people of the world to ponder deeply.  Anyone could easily say, “Really Kev?  You are a values-driven person and you aren’t happy when being focused on your values?  How is that surprising in any sense to you?”  And anyone who did say that would be pretty on point in asking those questions.

But here’s where I think it gets interesting and something I return to again and again – it’s very easy to let the daily buzz of life, work, busy-ness, family, friends, baseball games, hustle, bustle, goat farming, charity work, car maintenance, yard work, laundry, assimilation to the Borg and whatever else takes up your day to draw attention away from what is truly important.  It doesn’t excuse losing sight of what’s important, but it does one hell of a job explaining why.

That’s my assignment going forward – the mindfulness on this.  It’s actually something that is ascending to the level of a truism in the Pantheon in my head… that when I am being proactive and really mindful of expressing my values through my actions, I am 100X happier.  When I don’t, I find myself flopping around like a fish on a dock.  Not a pretty picture.  Another truism is that if I get sick with a cold or any other nasty little bug, it’s almost always during a period of higher-than-usual stress.  It’s uncanny.  Hmm… the funny thing may even be that I have higher-than-usual stress when I am not proactive about my values… never even thought of that.

So there you have it, my friends!  Be proactive in your values or catch colds.  Irrefutable science… just without all of those pesky double-blind studies in peer-reviewed journals to muck up all my fun.

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).

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