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As an enthusiastic student of The Seven Habits® , and having shaken the hand of the great man himself, one of my pastimes has been to explore Stephen R. Covey’s earlier works and compare them to those with which many leaders and businesspeople will be more familiar.

I’d gamble most of you would be aware of the first Habit, ‘Be Proactive’, which uses the ‘you are the programmer’ computer metaphor to describe how individuals have control over how they live their lives – to a greater extent than they may otherwise have thought – because they have the ability to choose their response to what happens to them.

In 1971, I suggest, ‘proactivity’ the term was yet to be invented by Stephen Covey. But the idea of humans having ‘choice’ was not, and although the terminology has changed and become part of the business lexicon (like ‘journey’, which is now grossly over-used, so stop it), the concept remains valid.

In his work ‘How to Succeed with People’ (Deseret Books, 1971), a 2½ page chapter referred to how there is a gap between our knowledge about things, and our ability to act on that knowledge. He calls the chapter “Three Processes – Knowing, Choosing and Doing”.

He suggests that many of us fail in our efforts to be better despite the fact that we know what we should do, because there is a disconnect between that knowledge and our ability, or perhaps our willingness, to act on that knowledge. Put simply, our failures lie in how we choose, or fail to choose, to act.

Here’s a direct lift.

“Choosing means to pause and stand back for perspective, to think deeply, and then decide our own actions and reactions. Choosing means to accept responsibility for ourselves and our attitudes, to refuse to blame others or circumstances.

Choosing, then, means to commit ourselves strongly to that which we decide to do. This committing process often involves a real internal struggle, ultimately between competing motives or between conflicting concepts of ourselves.”

He goes on to suggest that making the better choice can break the binding power of habit, and it is habit that tends to keep us where we already are, and away from where we want to be. Moreover, habit teaches us ‘you’ve failed before, you’ll fail again’. As Covey also put it – ‘Private Defeats precede Public Defeats. Choice can over come the pull of habit.

Choice, therefore, creates an important link between the engine of knowing and the gearbox of drive.

The best leaders have the ability to choose well. Their better choices overcome the largesse and stasis created by habit, and habit is the enemy of change for the better. (While a great servant, habit is a poor master. Occasionally.)

Stephen Covey said that principles endure. The principle of choice – whether you use the expression ‘Knowing, Choosing, Doing’ or ‘Be Proactive’ – endures.

It’s fun finding that out by reading older works. Makes me feel all scholarly.