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The Teachings of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Habit 1 – Be Proactive (Part 2)

October 26, 2023
The Teachings of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Habit 1 - Be Proactive (Part 2)

Previous articles for this series can be found here.

The first characteristic of a proactive person is having proactive language. The language we use can often reveal whether or not we feel we are in control of our lives.

Language is everywhere. Listen for a moment, and you’ll hear it wherever you are. Body language can be read to know how someone is feeling and what they want to leave unspoken. Billboards, the internet, and signage are jam-packed with language to either instruct us or as a marketing tool to drive us to buy a product or service. So, we need to understand how important language can be in everything we do.

The Power of Our Word Choice

Let’s say, for example, that a room in our house caught fire. We INSTICTIVELY know as adults that we need to communicate something, and quickly.

Language to anyone inside the home who can hear you: HELP! FIRE!
Action: Grab the fire extinguisher or use another method to put out the fire.

Let’s continue with this example. The fire wasn’t able to be contained quickly, so you believe things will escalate. You call for emergency assistance (9-1-1 in the United States).

Language to 911 operator: Help, there’s a fire here at (insert address here).
Language to anyone inside the home who can hear you: Get everyone out of the house!

Notice the way language was used. This was not the time nor place to go into the long story of how you think the fire may have begun, or to remind anyone they plugged too many cords into an electrical outlet, or to waste any time at all. It’s the time for brevity, for saying what needs to be said as quickly and concisely as possible. What you say matters, and the tone you use also matters. It implies you are serious and your instructions need to be followed as a matter of life or death.

Yippee Ki Yay

If you’ve ever watched an action movie, you’ve noticed that during an emergency, one character might say something like, “We’re all going to die!” That person panics, and the language they use spreads to others who now begin to let pessimism sink in and kill their hopes for survival. That is, until the LEADER makes a different statement. He may not have been the leader before, but he is now, simply because of his language — “We can get out of this. We have to focus on the solution. Let’s try escaping through the upstairs window by jumping from the roof into the pool.” Everyone survives because one person dismissed the reactive language of the naysayer and proactively thought of a way to make it out alive.

Proactive language sounds like this: “I can, I want to, I choose to…”
Reactive language sounds like this: “I can’t, I have to, that won’t work…”

The difference is easy enough to spot. The results though are even easier. You can tell a lot about a person’s proactive or reactive nature by listening to their language. The lies we tell ourselves are deeply seeded in this reactive language.

The lie: “I can’t… because of x, y, and z. If you knew my story, you’d understand.”
The truth: “I can, I simply haven’t yet. I realize there are people out there who have overcome the same obstacles I’m facing now. When one solution didn’t work, they tried another and another, and so can I.”

The lie: “I’ll never be able to go on the vacation I want. It costs too much to go on a big trip, so I’ll just take several small ones to the same old places. I don’t see how I can make it work.”
The truth: “I can take my dream vacation if I put funds into savings every month for it. I can, if I skip some of the small trips and set aside those funds. I see how I can make it work.”

Living Proof That It Works

As a leader, your employees are looking to you, and the language you use will tip them off if you are someone who will help them succeed or not. Speaking from experience, I thought the power of positive language and the power of positive thought was all fluff when I first heard about it. And then one day, I decided to sincerely try it, and it has made all the difference. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy because since that moment I gave proactive language serious consideration, I’ve believed the seemingly impossible was possible. And I’ve let nothing get in my way of succeeding ever since, especially not reactive language.

I believe that one of the reasons I’m successful in my companies and also in my public speaking is because I choose not to speak in disempowering language. I always think there’s a way to succeed. We often have to find a way to make things work and yes, it takes effort. Those who find solutions when others cannot are people who are clearly in charge of their own lives.

I highly encourage you to read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wherever you buy books (or audio tape, podcast, streaming, etc.) While I will cover some of the highlights, the author, Dr. Covey, dives in with great detail into this life-changing path. Next time, we’ll talk about another characteristic of the proactive person.