What I Learned from Covey’s First Habit: Letting Go and Increasing Influence


BeProactiveIn our efforts to Find a Better Way, Strategic Americans all attend Franklin Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop. Over the next few months, you’ll hear about each of the seven habits from a different SA associate.

What I Learned from Habit 1: Letting Go and Increasing Influence

Reinhold Niebuhr is famously quoted saying, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I’ve always been drawn to this quote. I’m a worrier. I fixate on things I can’t control. So, these have always seemed like words I should live by—even though I’ve never been the best at actually living by them. Why couldn’t I just follow these words that made so much sense to me? I believe I let myself get too busy to do it.

As a newish employee at Strategic America, I recently went through Franklin Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop (it’s a rite of passage here at SA). As we dug into Habit 1: Be Proactive, I had that eureka moment. This is exactly what Niebuhr was talking about and now I’m learning how to do it!

This habit is all about taking control of your life by choosing how you want to respond to circumstances rather than just reacting to them. You also have to understand which things you have control over, and which things you don’t. Then you work to focus your energy on those things you CAN influence. It takes time, practice and patience to make this switch.

Time? I have no time, right? I’m talking about a small amount of time here… a pause before you respond to a situation. Don’t just say “yes” to another project when you don’t have time. You’ll get angry and lose control over the situation. Instead, take a breath and think about how you want to respond. It’s always a choice. Do you have time to do the project and do it well? If not, is there another solution you can offer? Maybe you can team up with a co-worker to get it done, or maybe the deadline is flexible.

This is the piece I was missing when trying to follow Niebuhr’s advice. I would get so busy, I didn’t think I could spare a second to think through circumstances and find a better way. I was wasting time worrying about things that will never be in my control.  Habit 1 taught me to focus my energy on things I can influence and not to waste it on things I can’t.

I’m not going to say I don’t still waste time and energy worrying, but I’m trying and slowly improving. I’m taking time to think and it’s helping.


One Response to “What I Learned from Covey’s First Habit: Letting Go and Increasing Influence”

  1. Great takeaway from the first habit. That was the one that got me hooked as well. It is an easy to follow idea, one that ‘makes sense’, yet it is difficult to train your brain to practice it. It is rewarding though, every time you remember to pause, clarify and decide, you feel a sense of accomplishment that you didn’t simply react to the circumstance.

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