The late Stephen Covey was well-know for his classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Habit #3 is entitled, “Put First Things First.” It’s all about knowing what is important and honoring it by our actions. Looking at the culture, it would seem that defining importance is more difficult than one would think. People seem to be confused by this. What happens? Confusion becomes a barricade to any action, much less the right action.
Newton’s first law of motion says that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it. This is a great metaphor for human behavior. A person will move from inaction to action only when motivated by something sufficiently important. Most barricade-busting motivation fits into the following categories: Wants, Needs, and Responsibilities.
- Emptiness Chooses Wants. — People fill voids with something they want.
- Pain Chooses Needs. — People relieve pain with something they believe they need.
- Conscience Chooses Responsibilities. — People choose right actions in obedience to their consciences.
Importance is established when one or more of these motivators takes center stage in the person’s mind and heart. Sometimes people coincidentally choose Right Actions when Responsibility does not play a significant role. That is, we sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reason.
Admittedly, the formula is not quite so straightforward. The strength of the motivators is constantly rising and falling because of emotional fluctuations, changes in personal perspectives and changes in external circumstances. It’s a dynamic environment.
Here’s what I am certain about. When an opportunity intersects with importance, we give it the red carpet treatment. Which means, we mark the calendar. We rearrange appointments. We set aside funds. We post reminders. We tell people. We tweet. We follow through.
It doesn’t matter whether the opportunity is one you created or a gift from someone else. Importance is still the motivation necessary to cause action. Until then, the opportunity is just another competing option in our busy lives. Only what we perceive to be truly important finds its way onto our calendars, into our budgets and into our conversations.
What’s on your calendar? What’s in your budget? What are you talking about?