7 Habits Of Highly Effective People: Habit 1

Important words you’ll find in this post:

  • Freedom
  • Choice
  • Proactive
  • Influence
  • Respond vs. React
  • Responsibility
  • Commitment
  • Integrity

Habit 1 of 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People is the cornerstone for all of the other Habits Of Highly Effective People. Habit 1 is about personal empowerment and being responsible for the decisions we make. It’s about how we live and how we engage with ourselves… and the people / world / work around us. 

Stephen R. Covey believes many of us have learned to react to our feelings – our moods – our thoughts. A reaction is an involuntary response – one we didn’t think about. Instead, habit 1 of 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People suggests we need to learn how to actively (or proactively), choose to respond – and to be accountable for this choice. As Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn (leaders in the field of Mindfulness), might suggest, it’s a choice to be Mindful how we respond.  Our ability to choose and to be mindful is one of our greatest human abilities.

A closely related approach Stephen R. Covey looks at in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to ‘Act’ or be ‘Acted Upon’. If we wait for someone to tell us what to do (to act upon us), we absolve responsibility, choice and control; we become a follower. You can identify when someone has given up control when they start sentences with, “I had no choice…” or “I have to…” Sentences like this give away almost all of our ability to be a powerful influence and to experience creative, independent thought.

Example: Your company downsized and you lost your job. 

You have choices:

  • You can stay home in your bathrobe saying “I have no choice, there are no jobs”, or…
  • You can see it as an opportunity for diversity and to upgrade your skills, change your Linkedin profile and sell yourself to high-potential new employers.

Sure, getting laid off is often awful, yet I agree with Stephen R. Covey when he suggests that in any circumstance we have choice whether the pain will be short term or long term. Our former employer is not responsible long term; we are. Only we can shape how we respond to a circumstance; only we have the choice to respond in a way that demonstrates our proactive choice and leadership.

Is being proactive easy? No, Habit 1 of 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People takes work to master and often takes coaching. Challenging events will always happen around us that we cannot control so… we will always have opportunities to practice.

Stephen R. Covey quotes Eleanor Roosevelt “No one can hurt you without your consent.” And Gandhi, “They can not take away our self respect if we do not give it to them.”

Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern

This all seems like a great idea but you might be asking, “How do I know where I should be spending my time?” Stephen’s ‘Circle of Influence’ identifies where you can make a difference. It can also mean empowering the people around you and turning them into positive leaders.Screen

I discuss ‘Circle of Influence’ within my Time Management training.

Where do we have influence? What do we choose to be, do and feel from this moment forward? It’s up to us if we are happy at home, successful at the gym, influential at work. This is our ‘Circle of Influence’.

Example: There are things like the weather we are never going to change – our circle of influence has no influence – but we can change our response to the weather. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People suggests our circle of influence helps us respond to the things that will have positive impact.

    • I can listen without interrupting or making judgments.
    • I can listen with empathy.
    • I can validate what I understand they said they need / want.
    • I can identify other needs they may have that they don’t realize they have.
    • I can stop complaining and be proactive.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 7.32.33 AM

You are the beginning – success it’s all about your influence. When you:

  • Focus on influence you will increase success.
  • Focus on concern you will reduce your influence and increase failure.

This is further discussed in Habit 2 of 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.

Our Choices Have Consequences

Finally, if our choice is to influence things in a positive way there will likely be positive consequences.  If our choice is to influence things in a negative way (rob a bank), the consequences will likely be bad – we will likely go to jail.

We are able to choose how we respond and try to influence the consequence – but we cannot 100% predict and control a consequence (we might not get caught if we rob a bank). 7 Habits of Highly Effective People suggests that while we cannot control consequences, we do have to be responsible for them… whether those consequences are 100% predictable or not.


Be a solution:

  • Thoughtful, proactive people respond using their listening skills, values and empathy
  • Reactive people use their feelings. They let the circumstances or people around them control their actions.

How we respond is always important. Even when you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, learn from it, be part of relevant proactive change and then move on.

Happy communicating, creating workplace harmony and reducing employee turnover.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Multigenerational Training, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

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I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

Reference Material:

  • Stephen R. Covey: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ©
  • Michael Bungay Stanier: Do More Great Work ©
  • Zindel Segal  Jon Kabat-Zin (general)
  • My experience

About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

8 Responses to 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People: Habit 1

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