Grow Your Response Ability

For those of you who have read The Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, the graphic here will be familiar. To those of you who haven’t, I can’t recommend the ideas in that book more highly.

Covey was always a master of seeing the wisdom from earlier thinkers and time-tested practices. This powerful idea was the bedrock that supported habit 1: “Be Proactive”. Often we use the term “proactive” to describe something related to scheduling, or our busy lives.

But for Covey, being proactive is about much more than calling someone before they call you. It is about acknowledging – in thought and practice – our ability to choose our response to the various stimuli in our everyday lives. The central insight is that between stimulus and response lies a space, and in that space lies our freedom to choose our response. People who are proactive and growing are expanding this space and becoming more effective in the process. They are not continually captive to reflex action in the way that their leg moves when a doctor taps their knee.

I personally have found this to be a powerful life lesson. By accepting our responsibility (or, “response-ability”), we become more free.  If you want more freedom in your life, start with that thought.

Seth Godin had a typically punchy blog post last month that addressed the same concept. I’ll leave you with Seth’s words:

Who gets to determine how we react (or respond) to the things that happen to us?

Who chooses which media we consume?

Who gets to decide what we start, and what we quit?

Who decides what sort of learning to invest in (or not)?

Who gets to look for someone to blame?

Too much is out of our control, done to us, dealt to us, allocated unfairly. But in a culture in which more and more choice is taken away from those that identify as consumers or cogs, adults still own some of the most important responsibilities of all.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are not constructive, excessively snarky, or off-topic.

  • Bill Todd

    Wow, such a simple but powerful concept. It’s been awhile since I’ve read Covey’s book, so this is a great reminder. As humans, we naturally won’t respond appropriately in all situations, but I think successful people are able to respond appropriately more often than not. Thanks Michael.

    • Michael E. Diamond

      Thanks for thoughtful comment Bill. Like many worthy habits, this is one that requires us to re-focus on it routinely. It’s easy to slip into lazy habits.