Whether we realize it or not, our thoughts, plans, and actions design our environment, relationships, and quality of life. We cultivate certain attitudes, happiness or sadness, decisiveness or ambivalence, and courage or fear. Rather than living reactively—doing nothing—blaming circumstances, genetics, parents, or any other external factor, proactive people recognize that we are responsible for choosing our behavior.
Teach that Every Action Has a Consequence
Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law states that “For every action in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” For better or worse, today’s choices shape tomorrow’s future. When we are chatting with our children, let’s point to situations where people are being proactive (or reactive). Introduce the conversation; explain how proactivity helps people get ahead and how reactivity sets people back.
Discuss both short-term and long-term implications of things, such as completing (or not completing) homework or staying with (or quitting) a team. As children imagine or encounter various situations, ask them to think through choices by considering consequences both near and far.
Teach that Staying Ahead is Easier than Catching Up
We’ve all experienced what it’s like to have to scramble at the last minute. If something is time-sensitive, understand the timeline and stay on track. Proactivity helps us avoid the consequences of procrastination. While reactive behaviors allow the world to dictate our schedule and control us, proactive behaviors allow us to create our own schedule, and to an extent, control our world.
Circle of Concern vs Circle of Influence
According to American author, Dr. Stephen Covey, life’s problems, challenges, and opportunities fall into one of two areas: The Circle of Concern or The Circle of Influence. Awareness of these two areas allow us to invest time and energy in the right places.
Proactive people focus efforts on their Circle of Influence: things that are WITHIN our control, such as how frequently we exercise, how often we read, how much quality time we spend with our children, etc. By focusing time and energy on things we can control, we find ourselves saying things like, “I can, I will, and I prefer.” The key to carving out the life we want is to focus on things we can influence. When we spend time and energy in the Circle of Influence, people recognize us as being efficient and effective, increasing both the size and power of our Circle of Influence.
Reactive people focus efforts on their Circle of Concern. These are things OUTSIDE our control, such as the weather, the state of the economy, the way people drive their cars, etc. By focusing time and energy on things we cannot control, we find ourselves saying things like, “I can’t, I have to, and I’ll try.” Victimization and blame even drain time and energy from other people in our lives. When we spend time and energy in the Circle of Concern, our peers correctly recognize our tendencies towards inefficiency and ineffectiveness; our Circle of Influence shrinks and is weakened.
A strong Circle of Influence attracts partnerships and alliances, helping us develop a better, bigger, more connected personal network. While we may not have direct influence over a certain concern, an ever-expanding Circle of Influence may enable us to align with another person who can help. Let’s teach children the crucial differences between their Circle of Influence and their Circle of Concern. This awareness will help them make better choices and strengthen their prospects in any domain. The more time and energy they spend in their Circle of Influence, the more they save themselves from undue hardship.
Teach “The Why” & How Today’s Habits Impact the Future
Why is reading important? Why are diet and exercise important? Why is preparedness important? By discussing the answers to these questions with our children, they will learn that the thoughts and habits of today influence the future of tomorrow. Knowing “The Why” stimulates proactivity. Think of this lesson from Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu, echoed later by Mother Theresa, “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
American author, John Maxwell wrote, “If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you end up focusing on repairing.” By recognizing the difference between our Circle of Concern and our Circle of Influence, we can intelligently use our time to proactively design the lives we want for ourselves.
“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
—Romans 12:21 KJV
Nathaniel “Nat” Bowditch grew up in a sailor’s world, but didn’t have the makings of a sailor; he was too small. With persistence and determination, Nat stunned the sailing community and became a New England hero.
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