We’re all guilty of it.
We get complemented by a cute co-worker and feel delighted all day.
We look up at the sky, notice the bad weather and decide it’s going to be an awful day.
Or we get criticised at work and sit there pondering over it for hours.
For better or worse, these are all examples of reactive behavior, where the way we feel depends on the results of external events or processes that we can’t control. They are completely outside our area of influence, yet they dictate how we live our lives. Put simply – Someone else is the captain of your boat.
THE REACTIVE BEHAVIOUR TRAP
Reactive people are essentially just actors in a movie, playing out the script. Often resembling submissive, powerless victims whose lives are run by external factors. They have little control over their emotions.
Instead, their emotions & actions are dictated by someone else; by their environment and by their circumstances.
You’ll hear phrases like “If only they were nicer to me, I could be happy“. “I have no choice but to do this because….“. “I wish I had more time, but….“. “Life is unfair, some people just get all the luck…“.
We are all guilty of being reactive at times, usually without even realizing it. It’s just how were programmed out of the box. I know I’m guilty of it.
I had a really productive coaching session with a client yesterday, which was awesome! I also had a really good workout which put me in a great mood. Sometimes though, when I get
Sometimes though, when I get creative block when trying to find new ideas for a blog post or if I’m sick, I don’t feel that great. I have no control of those events – they have control of me.
But no matter if we realise it or not, we make a choice to allow ourselves to succumb to those factors that our beyond our area of influence.
We choose to experience excitement, happiness, unhappiness, frustration, boredom and anger.
We choose to create the habits of feeling powerless, self-pity and shifting the blame.
But we don’t have to.
FINDING FREEDOM AND BEING PROACTIVE
When we’re told that the situations we end up in & the emotions we feel are largely because we choose to experience them, it can be hard to accept.
It takes a massive shift in our mindset, with us taking responsibility for our given circumstances.
The natural reaction? To resist and argue against it until eventually, the light bulb turns on. The magic moment occurs – the realisation that in fact, we are in control. If we choose to be.
Just like we can choose to be reactive and be controlled by external factors, we can also choose not to be.
We can choose not to be influenced by events beyond our control of the negative emotions of other people. If they choose to be negative, that’s their problem, not yours.
Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and psychologist stated in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms; to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
If Viktor managed to choose his reaction among the unimaginable circumstances he faced in the Nazi death camps, witnessing unspeakable suffering and losing almost all of his family; surely we could do it in our day to day lives?
This type of behaviour is proactive.
Proactivity is, according to Stephen Covey, one of the most important characteristics of successful and effective people. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey sees proactivity as the number #1 habit that sets the foundation for the other 6 Habits in his book. He stated that:
“If you’re proactive, you don’t have to wait for circumstances or other people to create perspective expanding experiences. You can consciously create your own.”
He regards proactivity as the act of taking charge of life, being in control of it, taking action to master your life and taking responsibility for your actions and emotions.
He emphasizes choice as being the key principle behind proactivity, as we always have the final choice on how we respond to anything in life.
Instead, it’s our reactions that determine how something affects us, not the action itself. People who lack this habit, tend to be reactive and perceive themselves as victims of circumstance, unable to control their reactions, hence feeling much less empowered.
People who play the game of “an eye for an eye” in an argument are in fact, being reactive. They are reacting to what they other person says, instead of being rational and taking responsibility for their emotional state. The mindset is that “he irritates me” or “she made me feel bad about myself”. Both, examples of self victimising language.
Instead, when we’re proactive, we only concern ourselves with things that are inside our sphere of influence, rather than worrying about things we can’t control. We look towards what we are able to control and change, including how we react to any situation.
We can’t always alter how someone behaves or talks to us. Unless Professor-X has gifted you with the powers of mind control, we can’t control anyone else’s behaviour. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control how other people drive. But we can choose our reactions and responses to them.
Being proactive doesn’t mean being a robot without emotion. Instead, it’s simply about being in control of your emotions. It’s about the transition – from being controlled by other people and circumstances to you being in charge of yourself.
It applies everywhere. In relationships – work on your behaviour and focus on being a loving partner, instead of worrying about your partner’s flaws. In business – work to your strengths and contribute as much as you can, instead of worrying about your condescending boss.
Being proactive is not really a new concept.
Stoic philosophy emphasised the notion of concerning yourself only with those things that you could influence – your actions and your thoughts. Everything else was indifferent; not worth worry about.
In Buddhism, there is also the belief that nothing is inherently good or bad. Instead, it is our judgment of an event that makes it good or bad and we are free to choose.
HOW TO BE PROACTIVE IN A REACTIVE WORLD
So how do we apply this proactive thinking to our everyday lives? How do we make the shift from being reactive to being proactive and taking control of our lives?
Well you can start by being proactive about your personal development by clicking here to start learning how to grow your influence on the world.
Here are a few more ways that you can get started.
- Pay Attention to Reactive Behavior. Begin with the little things in life. Not your reaction to the death of a loved one of the sufferings of innocent people in the news, just pay attention to the everyday situations.Maybe at work, or in your relationships.Notice your reactive behavior, when it occurs, in that moment. Maybe you got frustrated at the rude service staff, or you swore at the person who cut in front of you in traffic.
Likewise, note how many others behave the same way & notice how easy it is to be reactive. Don’t judge, just watch. It’s a huge starting step.
- Watch Your Language. The language you use can tell a lot about our level of proactivity or reactivity.Reactive people have a tendency to use words like “I have to”, “I can’t”, “If only”. These types of phrases just shift the blame to outside circumstances, taking the responsibility away from them.Proactive people, consciously change the language they use to more empowering, positive phrases. “I want to”, “I can”, “I will”. A minor change in the language you can have a massive impact on your behavior.
- Analyze your past mistakes. Whilst you can control your actions, you can’t always control the consequences.You’ll have made mistakes in your past. Heck, I’ve made more mistakes than I can count.But if you can’t change the past, then dwelling on those mistakes is a form of reactive behaviour. We all make mistakes in life and you are going to make hundreds more, just accept it.
Ask yourself:- Can I change it?
– Could I fix it?
– Can I improve it?
If the answer is a resounding “No” and you have no control over it, then it’s time to let it go. Accept that you made those mistakes, take what you can learn, let it go and move on.
Every moment you spend on a past mistake is stolen from the future you want to create.
- Commitments. Making goals and working towards them can help you feel empowered and reinforce the fact that you are in control.If you start the achieve the things you set out to do, you realise that you can be responsible for your circumstances, regardless of external forces.
TIME TO BE MORE PROACTIVE – IT’S UP TO YOU
Becoming more proactive is essentially a form of awareness. It involves you becoming aware of everything that could be happening in the moment. As you practice being proactive, you’ll notice just how easy it is to fall back into a reactive state of mind. You’ll also notice just how many others simply react to life on autopilot.
But remember, with anything else worth achieving, it isn’t going to happen overnight. We’ve been raised in a world that is inherently reactive and have developed strong habits from a lifetime of reactivity.
That doesn’t mean we can’t change and become more proactive. It just means that you should take it one day at a time, gradually gaining a balance between reactive and proactive behaviour and cherish that feeling of taking charge of your life.