Four powerful questions that will help you become proactive

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells us in the first chapter that we must be proactive. We must focus on our own perceptions first, examining who we are and how we think, before we will gain a deep and satisfying success.

Now before we have an argument about what defines success, let us clarify that Covey talks about how that definition (in literature and now multi-media) has changed over time.

Covey studied a vast body of historic literature looking for patterns in how success was identified, and what he discovered was that there was a notable shift around the 1920s. Prior to that shift, success was written about in terms of one’s character, morals and values.

In the post-1920 era, Covey writes that descriptions of success began to center more around personality and public image. Covey named these two approaches the Character Ethic and the Personality Ethic.

How we define success matters

When you think about successful people (who are not you personally) who comes to mind? Do you think of famous people? Or do you think of someone you know that has exhibited great character over the course of their life?

Either way is understandable. Our society is filled with media that elevates the Personality Ethic, so unless we live under a rock, it’s natural to expect that we are influenced by this conditioning.

Yet Covey writes that in order to be highly effective, we must focus on fundamental changes to ourselves first.

I was thinking about this first habit from Covey’s book today as I listened to the beginning of an interview with coach and author Jerry Colonna. Specifically, I was reminded about how common it is for a person to achieve a level of (what appears outwardly to be) success, and yet struggle with an inner emptiness.

Colonna was describing this in his own past. He was working in New York City, managing an investment fund that was worth billions. And he was unhappy. Yet he feared losing relevance by leaving that role.

He wondered: Will people still call me?

This fear – fear of leaving something that looks good on the outside yet feels dull on the inside – resonated deeply with me.

To make things even worse, in Colonna’s story, he had no idea what he would do if he were to have the courage to do something different. This lack of direction, confusion and resistance to looking inward nearly cost him his life as he contemplated suicide.

How do we figure out who we’re supposed to become anyway?

Here is where the real gold showed up:

Colonna (who, as I mentioned, is now a coach) shared four questions that, when asked and pondered consistently, will help us examine our perceptions and ultimately discover the path to ourselves. They are:

  1. How have I been complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?

  2. What am I not saying that needs to be said?

  3. What am I saying that’s not being heard?

  4. What’s being said that I am not hearing?

Asking ourselves questions like these is being proactive.

What do you hear when you ask them of yourself?


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