By Jack Whittier, Director
UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center
Choosing to act, rather than be acted upon, is a principle I’ve been taught since childhood. Today, when circumstances seem to be mounting as challenges to many aspects of life, I believe this principle has even greater importance than previously.
While thinking about this recently, I recalled reading Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit One identified by Covey is “Be Proactive.” Portions of Covey’s advice are available online at: http://www.quickmba.com/mgmt/7hab/. I’ve inserted a few segments from that source in this month’s Insights article since Covey does a much better job of describing this principle and providing context than I could.
Covey says, “A unique ability that sets humans apart from animals is self-awareness and the ability to choose how we respond to any stimulus …Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived [World War II]. While in the [concentration] camps, Frankl realized that he alone had the power to determine his response to the horror of the situation. He exercised the only freedom he had in that environment by envisioning himself teaching students after his release. He became an inspiration for others around him. He realized that in the middle of the stimulus-response model, humans have the freedom to choose…
"… We … can choose to be proactive and not let our situation determine how we will feel. Reactive behavior can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By accepting that there is nothing we can do about our situation, we in fact become passive and do nothing … Proactive people use their resourcefulness and initiative to find solutions rather than just reporting problems and waiting for other people to solve them.”
Covey further says, “Being proactive means assessing the situation and developing a positive response for it…Once we decide to be proactive, exactly where we focus our efforts becomes important. There are many concerns in our lives, but we do not always have control over them. One can draw a circle that represents areas of concern, and a smaller circle within the first that represents areas of control. Proactive people focus their efforts on the things over which they have influence, and in the process often expand their area of influence. Reactive people often focus their efforts on areas of concern over which they have no control. Their complaining and negative energy tend to shrink their circle of influence.”
In summary, I’d like to provide a bit of Jack’s insight to this topic of being proactive rather than reactive. This week will determine leadership in many quarters of the nation, state and local offices. How we respond to these leadership adjustments is a matter of choice for each of us. Whether we are proactive and choose to work to find solutions within our circle of control, or if we are reactive and focus negative energy on things we have little or no control over, is up to us individually. The example of Viktor Frankl, when he realized that he alone had the power to determine his response, has helped me personally over the years. Perhaps it will provide a level of insight to you as well.
Have a great month!