Self Awareness And Proactivity
Now try something else. Think about the mood you are now in. Can you identify it? What are you feeling? How would you describe your present mental state?
Now think for a minute about how your mind is working. Is it quick and alert? Do you sense that you are torn between doing this mental exercise and evaluating the point to be made out of it?
Your ability to do what you just did is uniquely human. Animals do not possess this ability. We call it “self-awareness” or the ability to think about your very thought process. This is the reason why man has dominion over all things in the world and why he can make significant advances from generation to generation.
This is why we can evaluate and learn from others’ experiences as well as our own. This is also why we can make and break our habits.
We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from them and from the animal world. Self-awareness enables us to stand apart and examine even the way we “see” ourselves — our paradigm, the most fundamental paradigm of effectiveness. It affects not only our attitudes and behaviors but also how we see other people. It becomes our map of the basic nature of mankind.
In fact, until we take how we see ourselves (and how we see others) into account, we will be unable to understand how others see and feel about themselves and their world. Unaware, we will be unable to understand how others see and feel about themselves and their world. Unaware, we will project our intentions on their behavior and call ourselves objective.
This significantly limits our personal potential and our ability to relate to others as well. But because of the unique human capacity of self-awareness, we can examine our paradigms to determine whether they are a reality- or principle-based or if they are a function of conditioning and conditions.
In discovering the basic principle of the nature of man, Frankl described an accurate self-map from which he began to develop the first and most basic habit of a highly effective person in any environment, the habit of Proactivity.
While the word proactivity is now fairly common in management literature, it is a word you won’t find in most dictionaries. It means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.
Look at the word responsibility — “response-ability” — the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.
Because we are, by nature, proactive, if our lives are a function of conditioning and conditions, it is because we have, by conscious decision or by default, chosen to empower those things to control us.
In making such a choice, we become reactive. Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shines makes no difference to them. They are value-driven; and if their value is to produce good quality work, it isn’t a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not.
Reactive people are also affected by their social environment, by the “social weather.” When people treat them well, they feel well; when people don’t, they become defensive or protective. Reactive people build their emotional lives around the behavior of others, empowering the weaknesses of other people to control them.
The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values — carefully thought about, selected, and internalized values.
Proactive people are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social, or psychological.
But their response to the stimuli, conscious or unconscious, is a value-based choice or response.
As Eleanor Roosevelt observed, “No one can hurt you without your consent.” In the words of Gandhi, “They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.” It is our willing permission, our consent to what happens to us, that hurts us far more than what happens to us in the first place.
I admit this is very hard to accept emotionally, especially if we have had years and years of explaining our misery in the name of circumstance or someone else’s behavior. But until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”
It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. Of course, things can hurt us physically or economically and can cause sorrow. But our character, our basic identity, does not have to be hurt at all. In fact, our most difficult experiences become the crucibles that forge our character and develop the internal powers, the freedom to handle difficult circumstances in thefuture and to inspire others to do so as well.
Frankl is one of many who have been able to develop personal freedom in difficult circumstances to lift and inspire others. The autobiographical accounts of Vietnam prisoners of war provide additional persuasive testimony of the transforming power of such personal freedom and the effect of the responsible use of that freedom on the prison culture and on the prisoners, both then and now.
We have all known individuals in very difficult circumstances, perhaps with a terminal illness or a severe physical handicap, who maintain magnificent emotional strength. How inspired we are by their integrity! Nothing has a greater, longer-lasting impression upon another person than the awareness that someone has transcended suffering, has transcended circumstance and is embodying and expressing a value that inspires and ennobles and lifts life.
Viktor Frankl suggests that there are three central values in life — the experiential, or that which happens to us; the creative, or that which we bring into existence; and the attitudinal, or our response in difficult circumstances such as terminal illness.
The highest of the three values is attitudinal, in the paradigm of reframing sense. In other words, what matters most is how we respond to what we experience in life.
Difficult circumstances often create Paradigm Shifts, whole new frames of reference by which people see the world and themselves and others in it, and what life is asking of them. Their larger perspective reflects the attitudinal values that lift and inspire us all.
Taking the Initiative
Our basic nature is to act, and not be acted upon. As well as enabling us to choose our response to particular circumstances, this empowers us to create circumstances.
Taking initiative does not mean being pushy, obnoxious, or aggressive. It does mean recognizing our responsibility to make things happen.
Over the years, We have frequently counseled people who wanted better jobs to show more initiative — to take interest and aptitude tests, to study the industry, even the specific problems the organizations they are interested in are facing, and then to develop an effective presentation showing how their abilities can help solve the organization’s problem. It’s called “solution selling,” and is a key paradigm in business success.
The response is usually agreement — most people can see how powerfully such an approach would affect their opportunities for employment or advancement. But many of them fail to take the necessary steps, the initiative, to make it happen.
“I don’t know where to go to take the interest and aptitude test.”
“How do I study the industry and organizational problems? No one wants to help me.”
Many people wait for something to happen or someone to take care of them. But people who end up with good jobs are the proactive ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles, to get the job done.
Holding people to the responsible course is not demeaning; it is affirming. Proactivity is part of human nature, and although the proactive muscles may be dormant, they are there. By respecting the proactive nature of other people, we provide them with at least one clear, undistorted reflection from the social mirror.
Of course, the maturity level of the individual has to be taken into account. We can’t expect high creative cooperation from those who are deep into emotional dependence. But we can, at least, affirm their basic nature and create an atmosphere where people can seize opportunities and solve problems in an increasingly self-reliant way.
Act or be Acted Upon
The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don’t is literally the difference between night and day. I’m not talking about a 25 to 50 percent difference in effectiveness; I’m talking about a 5000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware, and sensitive to others.