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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.
13 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 life. That starts with asking 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?
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?
Our lives are full of choices. And it’s time to take back the reins by making active choices to eliminate the things that bring you down and nurture more things than lift you up.
Set goals that you’d like to achieve. Start with the biggest goals, then break them down into smaller goals, and then break these down further into specific actions that you can take one at a time. Allow those goals to be your roadmap from your current reactive life to a life where you proactively make the things happen that you want to happen.
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.
2. Grow your self-confidence, self-belief, and self-worth.
You will struggle to be proactive if the way you see yourself doesn’t match the kind of action-oriented person you wish to be.
There are three essential elements to this: self-confidence, self-belief, and self-worth.
Self-confidence is what will make you act rather than not act. It will push you past your fears. When you feel confident, you will speak up or take action without worrying what others may think. You will not be intimidated by the task ahead or by the potential for failure or rejection.
Self-belief is what will convince you that you are able to do the things you need to do. It will eliminate your doubts or suppress them long enough for you to take the leap of faith and do whatever it is that needs doing.
Self-worth is what will make you believe that the potentially positive outcomes of taking action are things you deserve to have. You will see the rewards and be willing to seek them for yourself based on your own merit.
You ought to work on all three of these things because they will most effectively forge the proactive mindset you need when combined together.
3. 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.
4. Be solution-oriented and opportunity-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.
But it’s not just solutions to problems that you should focus on. Being proactive also means recognizing potential opportunities and grasping them with both hands rather than letting them slip through your fingers.
You can spot opportunities by looking for the yes/no choices that you come across. When your boss asks if you’d like to attend a conference with them, say yes – you’ll build invaluable connections with others in the industry. If your friend invites you along to a party where you won’t know anyone else, say yes – you might just have a great time whilst meeting new people.
These may seem like situations in which you are reacting to something, but really you are making positive choices based on the potential gains that might come from saying yes. This makes it a proactive choice.
5. 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. And asking for more work or more responsibility will definitely get you noticed.
Be the employee who tackles the hardest, biggest, most important tasks first rather than delaying the inevitable by busying yourself with the less consequential things.
At home, try to come up with your own plans for family activities or lovely romantic getaways with your best beloved. Take on more duties such as meal-planning and grocery shopping, or do the little bits of DIY that need doing around your home rather than just putting up with things being a little broken or unfinished.
See a problem? Find a solution. See a better way of doing something? Put it into action. Got a great idea? Share it with those who need to hear it.
6. 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.
7. Understand your motivations.
In order to live proactively, you’ll need to know why you want to do so. This comes back to the questions you asked and the goals you set in the first tip.
Your ‘why’ is something you need to keep in mind throughout your life because it will give you the energy you’ll need to make positive choices. Often, the easy choice is the reactive choice and you default to it because you don’t have a good reason not to. Your ‘why’ will instill passion within you and your passion will provide the motivation to make the more difficult, but ultimately more beneficial choices.
The things that motivate you might be internal, like the pride you get when you achieve something. They might be external such as having more money to give you a better standard of living. Perhaps you want to proactively build new relationships by making new friends or finding a romantic partner.
Look at the goals you set or the life you want to lead and pinpoint why those things are important to you. Use that as a source of motivation and energy to drive forward in a positive way rather than allowing the status quo to continue.
Remember: you have to want what you are working toward. If at any time you don’t feel like this, there’s a good chance that your actions don’t align with your why. Pause and reassess what you are doing, either to stop doing it or to find a different way of doing it that fits with your underlying motivations.
8. Foster your own independence.
It’s difficult to adopt a proactive lifestyle if other people or institutions do things for you. When you know that something will get done one way or another without any input from you, there is nothing to compel you to take action. Even if the outcome is not always the one you’d prefer, it’s easy to accept whatever happens because you know that you can.
It’s time to cut the strings that keep you dependent on others.
That might be the purse strings if your parents still help you out financially. By doing so, they enable you to stagnate in your career. By knowing that you need to pay the rent and bills and buy your groceries all from your salary, you’ll be motivated to perform better in your job and push yourself to make a good impression on your boss in the hopes that it leads to a wage increase.
It might also mean the apron strings if you still live with your parents or have a partner who tends to your every need. By taking responsibility for more of the day-to-day duties that are required to run a household, you’ll learn skills and become better at problem-solving which will feed into a more proactive mindset.
Seize opportunities to do things for yourself that would normally be done for you, whatever that looks like in your life. It will build your self-confidence and self-belief which are so important as highlighted earlier in this article.
9. Desire to be better.
A proactive mindset is intimately linked to a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that you can learn new things, find better ways of doing something, and develop your talents through hard work and effort.
Whether you want to be a better partner, a better employee, or simply an all-round better person, you’ll need to be proactive in making the necessary changes. You can’t think yourself into being better because to be better you must act better. Yes, it will require some thought to begin with in terms of figuring out what kind of person you want to be, but then you must do the things you have thought about in order to turn your vision into a reality.
This, again, links into your ‘why’ because why you want to do something is based largely on who you wish to be.
10. Do things for you, not because someone else told you to.
When you have a reactive mindset, you are likely to wait until someone tells you to do something before you do it. You might wait for other people to make a decision and then follow their lead rather than be forced to make a decision for yourself. Or you might even ignore your own wishes and have someone else make decisions for you. A proactive person does none of these things.
Let’s say that you want to become a vet because you care deeply about the welfare of animals. But your parents want you to pursue a career in law because it pays better. Being proactive means doing the thing that you want to do, not the thing that someone else says you should do.
Or perhaps you know that you should get that mole checked out by a health professional because it’s new and looks suspicious. But you wait and wait and wait until, finally, someone else says you should get it looked at – then you book an appointment. That’s reactive. The proactive thing to do would be to get seen as soon as you notice the mole.
When trying to choose which universities to apply to, do you wait to see where your friends apply and just apply to those universities too? That’s reactive. The proactive thing to do would be to put select the universities which suit your preferences best in terms of the course you want to take, the quality of the teaching, the entry requirements, and how far away from home you’d be willing to go.
11. 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 suggest fun activities at the weekend that involve taking a bit of exercise.
12. 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.
13. 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.
Still not sure how to take charge of your life and be proactive? Speak to a life coach today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one.
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