Covey in the 7 Habits quotes an unknown author that said "between stimulus and response there is a space and in that space lies our freedom to choose" though when you look up the quote it's attributed to Viktor Frankl.
Viktor Frankl is famous for his epic autobiography called Man's search for meaning where he describes the atrocities of the Nazi death camps and his unbelievable thought process that allowed him to survive. He called it the last of the human endowment. We have 4 human endowments-Self awareness-Independent will-conscience and Imagination. Frankl would imagine himself lecturing his students after the war and explaining his thoughts and purpose to live. He said that those that lived through the war had a common purpose and contribution yet to be made.
Covey uses this and other similar quotes to explain that "while we cannot control how people act we can control how we react". As Gandi said "they cannot take away our self respect, if we do not give it to them".
This is the foundation of Habit 1 "Be Proactive",
Being proactive is the opposite of being reactive.
If we continuously react then we are at the mercy of everyone else.
If they push our buttons we jump. (I saw a bumper sticker that read "you toucha my car, I smasha your face ;). If they hurt us, we hurt them back and its an endless cycle.
Covey also goes deep into another level, which is that most people live their lives outside in vs. inside out. Meaning, too often we focus on the externals like how to appear accomplished on the outside yet neglect to ensure that we really do what we say on the inside. Said another way-many people talk the talk but don't really walk the walk. It's do as I say not as I do!
This is the basis of dysfunctions in personal lives and in corporate lives.
They will blame everyone for their shortcomings forgetting that when you point a finger at someone three fingers point to you!
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski points out that in his work with Addicts he found one common denominator-someone to blame. Blame society, parents, spouse, etc.
It's ironic how many people will use excuses over and over to justify their poor choices and behaviors, as if a good excuses will get them anything.
My father often quoted his accountant that said "never confuse efforts for results"
Being proactive is a no excuse mentality, it's what Prof. John Izzo in his great talk refers to 100/0. It's 100% accountability and 0 excuses.
I'm including a link to his video in case you didn't see his talk.
A word to business owners-If you want your people to take ownership and be accountable-you need to be accountable. If you want a 0 excuse culture-you need to practice it first. That's what Covey means by inside out vs outside in.
There is where I see the biggest failures.
Self awareness is the first step in practicing Habit 1.