When I walked into my early morning Pilates class on Monday, I couldn’t decipher the expression on my instructor’s face. Was it compassion? Pain? Despair? “What’s wrong?” I asked. Her answer: “Las Vegas.”
I was fortunate that I’d had a more peaceful Monday morning than is typical for me. My iPad had gone missing, so I hadn’t checked my news feed or social media at all. Blissfully unaware of the tragic events of Sunday night, I spent my pre-workout hour reading an old standby: Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I sipped my coffee, Covey had been introducing the idea that being proactive means focusing on the things we can control—even in what seem to be dire circumstances. It’s amazing how things seem to come along at just the right time, even when you least expect it.
I was rereading the book to help manage my own “Post-Election Stress Disorder,” but Covey’s words hold some wisdom for all of us when the headlines are filled with news of one catastrophe after another. In just the past few weeks we’ve seen nine million children lose health insurance when Congress let the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expire, protesters clash in Charlottesville, hurricanes and floods devastate communities in the southern US, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, and earthquakes kill scores of people in Mexico. Then Las Vegas happened, and we seem to drown in the negative…again.
But there is an alternative.
If you haven’t already discovered Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, let me introduce you to the first of the seven habits. It is an important one, especially after this “September to Remember.”
Habit #1: Be Proactive
According to Covey, being proactive means taking action, but it also means taking responsibility for your own life by actively choosing where to focus your attention. He stresses that our ability to be self-aware—to consciously stand apart from ourselves to observe what we’re doing and why, and to examine the way we see ourselves—is uniquely human. Unlike animals that simply react to stimulus in the world around them, we have a choice.
What a wonderful realization.
He also talks about “reactive people” who are driven by feelings, circumstances, conditions, and environment; and “proactive people” who are driven by carefully considered, selected and internalized values. To become more proactive, look where you focus your time and energy. All the things you care about—Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, the flag, politics, your children, money, health, and more—lie within what he calls your Circle of Concern. Next, look at each of those things and identify the ones that you can actively affect, or what Covey calls your Circle of Influence.
Stephen Covey quotes Viktor Frankl who said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” On Monday morning, many people were paralyzed by the tragic events in the news. Others chose to be proactive and act within their Circle of Influence. They got in line to donate blood for the victims. They offered transportation and housing to anyone and everyone affected by the shooting. Even during the shooting, people risked their own lives to save others. What an inspiration to us all.
There will always be tragedies in our world, but I wonder how things would change if every one of us could be more proactive—if, as Covey suggests, we each took responsibility for how we reacted to the world around us and focused on driving change within our Circles of Influence. I expect we’d all be more effective. And the world would be a better place.
This concept is also true when it comes to effectively managing your finances. While many events lie within your Circle of Concern—market corrections, inflation, gas prices, black swan events—you cannot influence their outcome. Know what you can control and strive to focus on your Circle of Influence: keep your fixed costs low, maintain sufficient emergency funds, select an appropriate risk profile, and have a solid financial plan in place.
By focusing our positive energy in the right place and acting wisely, each one of us has the power to be more proactive, more effective, and drive positive change in our own lives and in the world around us. Now is the time.