Proactive (adj): taking action by causing change and not only reacting to change when it happens.
We’re often told that being proactive is the best approach to life.
That we should take the bull by the horns and in that way rise above mediocrity to a new level of success, both in our career and in our personal life.
If you’ve ever read Stephen Covey’s influential bestseller 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll know that the first ‘habit’ is Be Proactive, Not Reactive.
It’s interesting that the concept of proactivity has given rise to another buzzword of our age: empowerment.
This makes complete sense because it’s impossible to feel empowered if you’re merely reacting to events.
You need to be firmly in the driving seat to be sure that you have the power to influence your life.
As Steve Backley, author of The Champion in all of Us: 12 Rules for Success, wrote:
There are three types of people in this world. Firstly, there are people who make things happen. Then there are people who watch things happen. Lastly, there are people who ask what happened? Which do you want to be?
Clearly, it’s the first kind of person who displays proactive behavior.
And the very fact that you’ve clicked on this article indicates that you’re keen to learn more about this potentially life-changing quality.
You’d like to be someone who makes things happen.
And why not? Being proactive is undoubtedly an attractive quality to have.
Let’s face it, if you think about the people you admire the most, chances are it’s not those who react to change when it happens, or those who just roll with the punches while wondering what happened…
…it’s those who take control and actively get stuff done who stand out.
How about becoming one of those people?
With a bit of helpful guidance, it’s not that difficult to switch your mindset.
Rather than being a passive person who takes whatever life throws at you, you can become an active participant in the ups and downs, potentially with the power to control and direct them in a way that’s favorable to you.
But what if that’s not your pre-programmed personality type?
What if you think you lack either the ideas or the initiative to be that proactive person who is so sought after, especially in the world of business?
And what if you feel that your life outside of work could do with a little more proactivity?
What if your default setting is passive acceptance of the status quo, merely reacting to stimuli when needs must?
Well, if you’re now ready to break out of the cycle of being a passive receiver, there is good news: proactivity isn’t some mysterious gift that we either possess or not.
Everyone has the potential to be the kind of person who makes things happen.
It’s actually a habitual mindset we can develop and strengthen over time.
But first, let’s clarify something…
What Is Proactive Behavior?
It could be said that being proactive means having the ability to look back from the future in your mind’s eye, seeing how an active step now will affect future outcomes.
Psychologist Sharon K Parker neatly breaks down the key features of proactivity:
1. It is anticipatory – it involves acting in advance of a future situation, rather than just reacting.
For example, a factory owner may hire new staff and buy new machinery in anticipation of a surge in new business.
2. It is change-oriented – it means taking control and causing something to happen, rather than just adapting to a situation or waiting for something to happen.
For example, a marketing analyst may work with IT staff to automate an important but time-consuming daily report.
3. It is self-initiated – the individual does not need to be asked to act, nor do they require detailed instructions.
For example, a new employee doesn’t wait to be given feedback on her performance, but proactively seeks it out.
8 Ways To Be More Proactive
With this knowledge in mind, let’s now consider how you might go about shifting your own mindset from being reactive to proactive:
1. Take back control.
The first step is to take responsibility for your own actions.
Here are some ways you can go about doing that:
Ask yourself a few searching questions.
What do you really want in life?
What do you dream of which is far from your current reality?
How do you see your own ‘perfect’ life shaping up?
Our lives are full of choices.
It’s time to take back the reins by making active choices to eliminate the things that bring you down.
Where are the glaring holes in your life?
Do you need more money?
Or is it joy and laughter that are absent?
Are you in a job where you’re not appreciated?
Don’t just roll with the punches that Fate delivers. Take control of your life and you will begin to relish the feeling of empowerment it brings.
Can you do it? Yes, you can!
But you have to believe in yourself.
It’s time to make changes, ditch bad habits, and replace them with good ones.
Each positive step you take will build your confidence and take you a little nearer to your goals.
It won’t happen overnight, but keep pushing forward and you’ll get there.
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2. Accept that mistakes are inevitable.
One of the things that holds many of us back from taking the initiative is the fear of making mistakes.
Before you can truly embrace being proactive, a shift of mindset is required.
It’s necessary to accept the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Mistakes are a fact of life and represent a really positive opportunity to learn and grow.
Grasping this concept will prevent you from being stuck in a rut, unable to move forwards for fear of failing in some way.
As author, counselor and life coach Craig D Lounsbrough puts it:
To fall is not to fail. To fail is never to fall because I never got up in the first place.
Sure, you may need to spend time resolving the error, but once that time is past and you’re back on track, it’s important to ask yourself what you can learn from the setbacks.
Consider how you could have done things differently and how you might approach such a situation in the future with a more positive outcome.
Use the experience as an opportunity to grow and learn.
3. Be solution-oriented.
Another vital part of shifting your mindset toward being proactive involves changing the way you look at problems.
If you allow yourself to put problems center stage, you’ll inevitably see them as insurmountable, negative hurdles.
Switch that around, however, by focusing on the possible solutions, and the answers are more likely to present themselves.
There’s a saying that goes something like: “There are no such things as problems, merely opportunities.”
Keep that in your mind and you won’t go far wrong.
4. Seek out proactive people.
Although only you can take the necessary steps to becoming more proactive, it’s important to surround yourself with people who are similarly motivated.
Take a look around you. If your friends or colleagues are lazy, negative, or defeatist, do yourself a favor by stepping back from those relationships.
That’s not so easy with family, but you can still take positive steps.
You can identify those with a downbeat attitude and pledge not to allow yourself to be influenced by their negativity.
If you’re going to become more proactive, you need a circle of people around you who’ll encourage you to excel.
You’ll understand how this works if you’ve ever played tennis, for example, with someone who is a better player than yourself.
You’ll have noticed how you instinctively upped your game.
And, of course, the reverse happens when you play with someone of a lower ability: your own game tends to get worse.
The same is true in life
Now that you’re on a mission to embrace proactivity, make an effort to surround yourself with driven, motivated people, and you’ll be more likely to stay motivated as well.
5. Don’t sweat about things you can’t control.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed in the face of things which are out of your control.
But, the reality is that there will always be things that you can’t actively change, no matter how much you might like to.
Don’t waste your energies on such matters; they’ll only leave you feeling frustrated.
Instead, tackle tasks which you know you can succeed in doing.
If your partner, for example, is overweight and unfit, you can’t make him/her lose weight.
You can, however, take control of the grocery shopping, selecting healthier options, and suggesting fun activities at the weekend that involve taking a bit of exercise.
6. Don’t sit on the sidelines.
Enough sitting back and being merely an observer.
Embrace your new proactive approach by participating actively wherever and whenever you can.
At work, don’t just listen to ideas generated by others, try to contribute suggestions of your own.
Try to take active steps to become involved in the decision making process rather than sitting back and waiting to be told what to do.
The way to impress is not just to complete a task efficiently when asked to do so, but to come up with creative suggestions for doing it even better.
At home, try to come up with your own plans for family activities or lovely romantic getaways with your best beloved. They’ll thank you for it!
7. Don’t give in to the negative gremlins.
There will be times when you feel overwhelmed or anxious, especially as a newcomer to the game of being proactive.
It’s important not to let yourself get stuck in a negative cycle with a tendency to overthink things.
Instead, try to switch your focus away from the bigger issue and channel your energy in the short term to taking on smaller, less daunting tasks.
Even mundane activities like sweeping the yard or tidying a very messy room, where there is clear visual evidence of your hard work and proactivity, can give you a sense of achievement.
These activities will help to banish the worries, making you feel productive and positive.
Once you’ve reset your emotional compass, you’ll be able to get back in the driving seat and get on with the original task.
8. Celebrate your successes.
Make sure you take time to reward yourself for a job well done when you’ve taken the initiative, seized the moment, and made something positive happen.
Whilst it’s important to learn from those inevitable bumps in the road, it’s also vital to celebrate your successes, both big and small, as you take control of your life by being more proactive.
So, are you ready to become proactive, not reactive?
Think on this quotation from Craig D Lounsbrough before you answer that question:
I can wait for life to shape me in whatever manner it chooses. Or I can shape me to make life whatever I choose.
The bottom line is that is your life.
Only you have the power to make it a great life.
Nobody else will do it for you.
But in order to be proactive, you will have to be organized and motivated, and that requires self-discipline.
The rewards will be worth the effort, though, since leading a more proactive life will transform your home, social, and professional life for the better.
Your confidence will grow, and you will feel empowered, happier, and more fulfilled.
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