HomeOpinion & AnalysisAre you proactive or reactive?

Are you proactive or reactive?

Challenges are viewed as an integral part of individual and collective life. However, it is pertinent to examine how emerging challenges are responded to in society. Too often we go through life never stopping to think about what we are doing or why.

BY Cynthia C Hakutangwi

We get up in the morning and go on autopilot and let it take us through the day. We react to whatever comes our way overlooking the many other choices we have available to us.

As human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. You are what you are today because of the choices you made yesterday.

Generally, proactive and reactive approaches have been observed when responding to situations encountered by an individual or society. These approaches have different implications for society.

Proactive vs reactive thinking

When you lose your temper, experience depression, feel irritable or uneasy, procrastinate, or answer (and/or) act before you think — you’re reacting, not responding! Reactive individuals are affected by the environment around them. Their decisions and actions are based on the outward circumstances of the moment. If someone is rude to them, they are rude in return.

They let other people decide how they are going to act and worse still, reactive people blame whatever happens to them on someone or something outside of them, empowering the weaknesses of other people to control them. It’s always the fault of someone or something else.

The proactive thinking approach encourages taking responsibility for one’s life or for society. Proactive people and societies recognise they are responsible for facing challenges to improve their situation and don’t just sit around blaming external forces for the situation. They understand their strengths as well as their shortcomings.

They celebrate their strengths and work to improve their shortcomings. They develop the insight to anticipate future challenges and devise doable strategies to deal with them wisely.

On the other hand, reactive thinking is often affected by external forces or the physical environment. Reactive individuals or societies react only when crises approach. Avoiding taking responsibility for the situation, the reactive approach sometimes leads towards blaming others for the challenges. At times, reactive people believe that conspiracies are hatched against them.

They usually fail to understand their strengths and weaknesses. They find external sources to blame for their behaviour. Proactive people are value-driven, get the most out of the environment, and are able to see and choose their course of action.

Being proactive means accepting personal responsibility for your attitudes, thoughts and behaviours — instead of blaming other people, organisations, or circumstances. If you are proactive, you have the ability to respond rather than react to circumstances.

Proactive people are more than just positive thinkers. They face reality and then create a positive, goal-oriented plan of accomplishment. They carry their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shines makes no difference to them. They are value driven and if their value is to produce good quality work, it isn’t a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not.

Stephen Covey, who has “be proactive” as the first of his famous “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, defines proactivity as more than merely taking the initiative, but focuses on “response-ability” — the ability and freedom to choose our response.

Look at the model below, which shows the difference between reactive thinking where a stimulus gives rise to an immediate response, and proactivity where there is sufficient space between the stimulus and the response for a choice of response to be made.

The power of choice

Choice is what makes us uniquely human. We are not machines that have no choice in how we react to situations, nor animals that are programmed by training or instinct.

That is why they are relatively limited and man is unlimited. If we live like animals, out of our own instinct and conditioning, we too will be limited. Proactivity means that we move from being victims of the situations and circumstances that come our way, to empowered human beings. Between stimulus and response, you have the freedom to choose.

While we are free to choose our actions, the consequences of our actions are governed by natural law. Sometimes we make choices with negative consequences, called mistakes. We can’t recall or undo past mistakes. The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct and learn from it. Success is the far side of failure.

Mind your language

Proactive and reactive people use a very different type of language to communicate the reasons for their current state in all life areas. The reactive person speaks so as to place blame on anything or anyone but themselves.

This individual absolutely believes that they are in fact determined by their external surroundings. “I am not able to choose my response,” which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Reactive people produce evidence to support these beliefs —leaving them felling victimised and out of control.

As long as we focus our attention outside ourselves, we empower these things to control us.

In contrast, the proactive person speaks with words indicative of their ability to choose their own response to any situation. A proactive person uses proactive language — I can, I will, I prefer, etc.

A reactive person on the other hand, uses language such as, “There’s nothing I can do,” “That’s just the way I am,” “I can’t,” amongst so many other negative phrases. For proactive and reactive people alike, it is this freedom to choose that ultimately determines the outcome. One of the most important things you choose is what you say.

Embrace a new way of thinking

For one month, make a conscious effort to be proactive — to make conscious choices of your responses to situations, especially those that could easily lead you to become irritated or annoyed. Think to yourself, “I choose”, “I prefer”, “I will.”

Listen to your language and to the language of the people around you. Is your language more proactive or reactive? How often do you use and hear reactive phrases such as “If only,” “I can’t,” “I have to” or “I should”? Is your language different between work and home life? Stephen Covey describes proactivity as a habit — think about whether you need to practise the habit!

Being proactive may be a new way of thinking for most of us. A lot of the things we do, we do them because they’ve always been done that way. In order to reach an ultimate level of effectiveness, one must begin by becoming proactive.

In other words, one must have both the initiative and more importantly, the responsibility to create their own successes in their life. The more you exercise your freedom to choose your response/ability, the more proactive and therefore more successful you will become.

l Cynthia Hakutangwi is a communications and personal development consultant, life coach, author and strategist. Looking at improving balance, energy, organisation, health fitness, relationships, focus, faith and happiness?

Wholeness Incorporated Coaching offers you strategies and simple steps you can implement today to become a better, more balanced, happier version of yourself. E-mail: cynthia@wholenessinc.com. Facebook: Wholeness Incorporated.

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