Habit One: Be Proactive

Stephen Covey wrote a foundational performance book called the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” after extensive research. This book has been used to coach high performers in almost every field there is. The next few posts are a summary of each of the habits, and my thoughts and experience on how I’ve seen them applied (and misapplied!) in my own life and by my colleagues. Let me know in the comments how you’ve applied these principles.

Habit One: Be Proactive

It’s important to first understand what it means to have a habit. A habit isn’t like an addiction (although some call their drug use their “habit”), it doesn’t come with a built in compulsion. A habit is more like a well practiced default behaviour. Think about bad habits you’ve had in the past (because we all know you’re done with them now!), and you’ll quickly identify that there were triggers involved. For example, you might have bitten your nails when you were nervous, or when you noticed that you were scratching your hands. There was a signal that your body interpreted as a green light for you to engage in your habit.

The same thing is true when you’re wanting to start up a new habit – especially one as important as this. In fact, without first establishing this one habit, you will have a hard time seeing consistent results from any of the others.

Why?

Because without a launch-pad of ownership and responsibility, it’s easy to miss days and excuse yourself. And these habits have a way of compounding that means you’re only going to experience the benefit if you put in the work on a daily basis. Now that’s not to say that there are no exceptions, but you should understand that the exceptions are costing you something, and avoid them wherever possible.

By being proactive, you are taking control of your own situation – no longer responding to the events of your morning, but settling into your environment with a sense of purpose. Events no longer drive you, but now you choose where to put your energy, and your investment of time will be rewarded with success as you reduce wasted energy.

This is why there has been so much attention on morning routines recently.

If you’re looking to establish a morning routine to take ownership of your day, I would suggest the following single thing as the most important step:

Get up an hour before you have to.

It almost doesn’t matter what you do next – the simple fact of getting yourself out of bed before you’re obliged to do so gives you the foundation of success that you will build your routine on.

From there, you have a plethora of options that are all valuable in their own way. Good options are:

  • Prayer
  • Meditation
  • Morning Pages (as described in the Artists Way) or any other form of  journalling
  • Physical Exercise

I strongly recommend that you take control of your morning to express your own creativity in some way. I’ve heard that your brain is in a transition in the morning between your dreams and your consciousness, and this is the most creative time for your brain. Even if that’s not true, by choosing to create as your first action in the morning, you are reminding yourself that you are in control of your own life. If you spend your morning reading news feeds, articles and even personal development books you’ll find that those things will immediately set the tone for your day. If you are truly stuck and don’t have the energy to create, I’d suggest reading something spiritually uplifting to ensure that you are not starting out your day with a mindset of excuses, negativity and complaining.

Like I said earlier, it’s really not important what you do with the morning, it’s mostly about the fact that you have started your day with a victory of self discipline. You are your own worst enemy, so don’t get in your own way with excuses on this one.

Finally, this is one of the hardest habits to establish – especially if you’re more of a night owl. Don’t let yourself get caught up in guilt, shame or blame here. The whole point of this exercise is to remind you of just how amazing you are, and how much success is waiting for you to take hold of it. It may take some time to get this habit nailed, but unlocking this one habit is life-changing all on it’s own. Push through the pain and the excuses, and make this a priority.

For the next 7 days, set your alarm at least 30m earlier than it is right now, and commit to getting up without using the snooze button. If you miss one morning, just start again and keep going. If you can do this for 14 days in a row, you will be sleeping better, feeling better, and you will have planted the seed for a life changing habit that will enable you to move on to Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind.

If you don’t yet have a copy of Covey’s book, get one here. If you are looking for some extra content covering this habit, I strongly recommend Jocko Willink‘s books “Extreme Ownership” and his latest “Discipline Equals Freedom“.

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