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How to Be Proactive Rather Than Reactive

Topics: Career Advice

Difficult situations don’t always bring out the best in us. In fact, trying times at work or at home can sometimes reduce us to the lowest versions of ourselves, eliciting unpleasant emotions like fear, anger, and anxiety. One potential key to turning this whole thing around is the simple idea that it is better to be proactive than reactive. Harness the power of this approach, and you might just be able to own those difficult situations, rather than letting problems steer you.

Here are some tips for being proactive rather than reactive. Try them out the next time a situation at work is starting to get the better of you.


(Photo Credit: andersekstrom/Flickr)

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  1. Understand the difference.

The difference between being proactive and being reactive is night and day. If you already know about the importance of developing an internal locus of control rather than an external one, then you’re well primed for this idea.

Being proactive is about owning your own decisions, actions, and life, despite what other people do. This means that you’re committed to moving forward in a direction you determine, rather than just responding to the ideas and actions of someone else. When you’re reactive, someone else is calling the shots. When you’re proactive, you feel in control of your own life despite the fact that, of course, not everything is up to you.

Proactive people commit to controlling their own feelings and behaviors as much as they possibly can. Folks who are reactive metaphorically throw their hands in the air and simply respond to the moods and actions of others. Which sounds like a more pleasant way to live?

  1. Don’t respond right away.

It’s not always easy to be proactive rather than reactive, especially when someone comes to you with a problem that gets you fired up in one way or another. Even if they’re just looking for your reaction, and you’re aware of that fact, it’s still hard not to play into the situation.

For example, let’s say you’re dealing with a negative co-worker who constantly complains. How can you be proactive with this individual rather than reactive? Well, the first step is to take a beat before responding. The next time this person starts to enumerate all of their gripes, try to refrain from reacting right away. It’s called a knee-jerk reaction for a reason. Instead, take a deep breath and allow yourself to take a minute before responding.

  1. Let go of your personal attachment to the issue at hand.

Next, make a point to let go of the issue a little bit, or at least your personal attachment to it. The ego is there to protect us, but sometimes it can actually do just the opposite. If you get your back up about the problem (or person) that you’re dealing with, that won’t help you at all.

Instead, make an effort to transcend all that. Ask yourself, will this matter to me five years from now? Or, am I taking this more personally than I should? By stepping away from the issue, you might just gain some much-needed distance, and that will help you see the situation more clearly.

  1. Focus on staying calm.

Realize that you can’t control others, and that you can only control (and are really only truly responsible for) your own actions. You will be much more capable of being proactive once you’ve calmed down. Try having a glass of cold water, or a nice cup of green tea, which research has shown can reduce stress, or get a little exercise if you can. The trick here is to come back to your center, to feel like your best self again before you respond.

  1. Find a way to empower and encourage.

Once you’re feeling good, or at least level, you are ready to reengage. Think about how you could contribute to this situation in a positive way and in a way that moves things forward.

It might be a good idea to concentrate on encouraging rather than reprimanding. So, instead of telling the negative co-worker that you don’t appreciate their attitude, tell them that you know they won’t be feeling this way for much longer. Be positive. Be open. Offer an easy smile.

Just remember that you’re not solving the problem for the other person; that would be reactive. You’re not taking on the problem as your own, either, or investing too much of your energy here. You’re simply finding a way to contribute something empowering and encouraging before removing yourself again.

  1. Learn a lesson.

Finding a way to learn from the difficulties we wade through is a powerful step toward living in a proactive way. By thinking about what you’ve learned from this, you shift the focus away from the problem and instead place it on your own personal growth and development. This will help you feel more in control of your actions and your emotions.

Walking around the world simply reacting to what happens to you is no way to live. Instead, grab the reins and direct your own course as much as you can. Learn from your mistakes and from the difficulties you encounter. Pretty soon you’ll feel more empowered and more positive. Being proactive will become a more natural, and pleasant, response to the difficulties life throws your way.

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Rose Lewis

Very informative. I will definitely implement this technique to my daily living.


Very well said …

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