Being proactive is this month’s theme for the Leadership Programme. But what does being proactive actually mean, and how can we turn a reactive lifestyle into a proactive lifestyle? We are all guilty of reactive behaviour from time to time, usually without even knowing. When you look through the window on a rainy day for example, and decide it’s a miserable day. Changing a reactive lifestyle into a more proactive one is a practice of mindfulness that develops you into a more effective person.
Reactive behaviour is letting your feelings depend on the results of external events or processes that you have no control over. They are completely outside our sphere of influence, yet they can control our lives and how we manage our work. Reactive management is when you do not plan ahead for problems or opportunities. Instead, you react to them as they happen. As a result, you’re always a step behind. You don’t have time to look ahead to pre-empt problems, so they seem to happen “out of the blue.”
In contrast, proactive people only concern themselves with things that are inside their sphere of influence, rather than worrying about things they can’t do anything about. They focus on the things they are able to control and change, and that changes the way they react to any given situation, including situations at work. Proactive people plan ahead to avoid or manage problems. They carry responsibility, instead of assigning blame elsewhere. Living proactively is no longer thinking that external circumstances need to change, but identifying the situations you actually can have influence on.
5 steps towards a more proactive lifestyle:
- Notice your reactive behaviour: Notice your reactive behaviour in everyday situations (e.g. work, relationships). Also notice how many others do the same, and how easy it is to be reactive. Don’t judge, just watch and listen. Reactive people will often use phrases like: “If only they treated me better, I could be happy”. “I have to do this because…”. “I wish I had more time for that, but…”. The “I can’t”, “If only”, “I have to” phrases are shifting the blame to outside circumstances, getting rid of responsibility.
- Define problematic situations: Identify the problematic situations which repeatedly happen in your day to day life. Accept how you’ve reacted to those situations in the past and try to learn from them by defining how you can react more proactively to those situations in the future.
- Think before you speak: Try to consciously change your reactive sentences during problematic situations into more empowering phrases, such as: “I can”, “I will”, “I want to”, “I prefer”. This simple change in language can make a big difference. Do you feel angry and upset with someone? Before you say or do something you might regret later, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue.
- Put yourself into someone else’s shoes: If you’re dealing with a difficult individual, try to put yourself in the person’s shoes. Although empathetic statements do not excuse unacceptable behaviour, the point is to remind yourself that people behave in a certain way because of their own issues. As long as we are reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviour from others says a lot more about them than it does about us.
- Take back control: Being proactive is not about having luck, it is about choosing to be more proactive today than you were yesterday. Making goals and working towards them can help empower you and move certain problems you have in a positive, forward trajectory. If you achieve what you set out to do, you realize that you can be responsible for your circumstances, regardless of external circumstances.
The reactive lifestyle is our autopilot, as we have spent most of our lives developing reactive habits. So just take it slow and enjoy this self-reflective process of looking critically at your actions in day to day life. Good luck!