“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
– Stephen Covey
You may be familiar with the essential life skill of being proactive from the work of Stephen Covey, famous for his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. There is a good reason this life skill is still touted as necessary, because being proactive is a fundamental step in creating the life you really want.
When you learn to take control of your own life, to become proactive versus reactive, you are in control of your destiny. Being proactive means you approach life with an “I can” attitude, and learning how to reframe your thinking in this way can have substantial benefits to you in all areas of your life.
When your focus is on reaction, it can often feel like life is just something that happens to you rather than anything over which you have control. Learning how to act instead of blaming external circumstances gives you back the power you need over your life.
Life will be full of lots of unexpected events. Some will be little, like unexpected household maintenance, and others will be more significant, like the loss of a loved one or the end of an important job. When it comes to who you are, how you handle these says a lot about whether you are a proactive or reactive person.
Traits Of Proactive People
- They don’t have a victim mindset
- They believe they can be the creators of their lives
- They act
- They determine their own fates
- They consider themselves products of their decisions and not the products of their life circumstances
- They own their decisions and they take responsibility for the consequences of them
The Benefits Of Learning To Be Proactive
When you take control of your life by learning to be proactive, you will see many benefits for yourself personally and professionally. Being proactive extends to all aspects of your life, and when you cultivate this mindset, you can start working toward achieving any dream to which you set your mind.
Here are just a few of the many benefits you can expect when you are dedicated to having a proactive stance in life.
You Can Make Better Decisions
When you face problems in a reactionary stance, you are usually left with minimal options or resources and are forced to decide quickly. Without the proper information, consideration, and resources, you are not making the best possible choice.
When decisions are made without all the possible information, the potential for problems grows. Being proactive means saying goodbye to being frantic, unorganized, or unprepared. It means knowing what you are capable of and what you are prepared to handle, which will help you make the best choices for yourself, both now and in the future.
You Get To Choose
By being proactive, you give yourself choices for dealing with life’s circumstances and obstacle. When you have options, you can select the best one that helps you the most. Taking steps toward changing your life is not easy, but being proactive means you see every moment, every experience as a choice toward getting you where you want to go.
Stop believing that external circumstances are controlling your life and start choosing to control your fate. When you are proactive, every situation is a chance to choose your actions, your emotions, and your next steps.
You Stop Fearing Change
Change is scary when your world is full of reactions. Failure can paralyze you from making choices when you live a reactionary life. When you learn to think proactively, you make decisions in all situations, good and bad, that allow you to cope with change and setbacks.
You have a plan for how to handle unexpected events, and you focus your valuable energy where it makes a difference in helping you attain your goals. When changes happen, you understand what you can and cannot change, and you still move forward.
You Can Be Prepared For Anything
When you think proactively, you develop backups that can help you through unforeseen circumstances. Developing a rainy-day fund, creating a robust social network on which you can rely in a pinch, and learning to adapt to new situations are all backup plans that can help in specific scenarios.
You will not have all these strategies in the beginning, but each unique situation in life enables you to develop an ever-expanding toolbox to use in case of just about anything. But it is only when you approach each of life’s stumbles as an opportunity to learn how to be more proactive that you will be able to do this.
When you are proactive, problems become easier to navigate because you have choices. When something is significant to you, such as a long-term goal, you can think through possible issues and make a plan for these contingencies, so your life and dreams do not become derailed. Being proactive teaches you to be flexible in your thinking as you consider all the things that could happen and how you will be prepared to deal with each.
Because you have taken the time to review all these possibilities ahead of time, you can be more relaxed and confident in working toward your goals, because you know you have a plan if things go wrong.
You Can Create Change For Others
When you become proactive, you see how external circumstances can play a role in your life but that you still have the power to create change for yourself. When you identify this within yourself, you also see how this skill can help others.
When you learn to think proactively, you develop a keen awareness of how important strategic action is in creating change, and you can use this power to not only help yourself but help others, as well.
Additional Benefits Of Being Proactive
Being proactive comes with a lot of additional benefits that can help you in your life. Here are just a few of the ways learning to think proactively can help you achieve your goals.
- You can save money. When unexpected problems arise, you are prepared and know how to handle it, finding the best solution possible, not just the one to which you reacted.
- You work smarter. Being reactive means you spend a lot of time dealing with problems unexpectedly, but when you are proactive, you have a plan in place, you implement that plan when things go wrong, and you move on. You don’t spend your time putting out fires or responding to problems.
- You stop small problems from becoming big problems. Being proactive means you deal with things when they start to be an issue. Waiting until a problem is full-blown is a recipe for disaster. Being proactive also means you know your own limitations and choose not to expose yourself to certain situations or risks, which prevents possible problems, as well.
- You develop better solutions. Thinking proactively over time allows you to consider multiple outcomes and possible solutions. You are rewiring your brain to think differently and being proactive means you learn to be creative in how you approach situations to consider all possible outcomes.
- You can see the future more clearly. When you are proactive, your stance is forward-thinking. You dwell in the present and prepare for the future, never looking back. This can help you be clear about the long-term goals you wish to accomplish and how to more successfully reach them.
- You see when change is needed. Planning for the future means you can recognize when circumstances now are not optimal for where you want to be. Being proactive means recognizing when change now can lead to where you want to be later, and you are prepared to make those changes.
- You have a clear path ahead. When you are reactive and always responding to life, you often wander and may not end up where you intended. Being proactive means you know where you want to be, and your current path is firmly headed in that direction. You have a plan, and you are working toward achieving your goals.
- Your comfort zone expands. A proactive stance means you are prepared for whatever is ahead, even when what’s ahead is outside of your comfort zone. If your goal is important, you are willing to step outside your zone to reach it because you understand the importance it has in your life. And you know you are prepared to deal with whatever is new and different, because you have developed your tools for dealing with unexpected circumstances.
- You improve your own habits. When contemplating the possibilities for the future, you may realize your own personal habits are not optimal for handling setbacks or helping you reach your goals. Being proactive helps you see how your own health and well-being are a part of your toolset for adaptation and forward growth, and you can work toward developing those, as well.
- You become more flexible. When you have a stance of being proactive, you become able to adapt to many new situations because you are always prepared. Your proactive strategies allow you to be prepared to move when the opportunity is best, and you can make decisions based on all the possible information, allowing you to strike when the situation is optimal.
- You have more peace of mind. When you feel prepared and capable of handling life’s setbacks and outcomes, you worry less. You know where you want to go and how you plan to get there, and you have the confidence that you will be able to deal with whatever happens along your journey.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone would choose, then, to live a
reactive life over one that is proactive. The question then becomes, how do I
develop this essential life skill? You can retrain your brain to think
proactively using a number of strategies. These help you develop the knowledge,
skills, and mindset you need to live a proactive life.
Learning To Be Proactive
Learning to be proactive is indeed a skill you can learn. Shifting your mindset, practicing new skills, and making different choices will give you the confidence and skills you need to be more proactive in your life. While you may still occasionally revert to a reactive mindset, you can learn how to notice this pattern of thinking as well as what to do to change your perspective to one that is more proactive.
The following are suggested strategies to use when learning to be proactive. They are in no particular order and should be used as they work best in your situation and circumstances. There are many to choose from, so try several.
Focus On The Solution
If your mind is focused on the negative feelings you have about a potential outcome instead of solutions, you can never think proactively. You need to shift your focus from how you feel about the situation to possible solutions. Release the feelings of blame, hurt, or mistrust you have. These emotions are not allowing you to think clearly, nor are they solving the problem. In fact, they are probably making it worse.
Focus on what you can control and what you can learn. We all face obstacles in life, and this is not personal. Focus on what you need to do and the ways in which you can accomplish your goals and let go of the negative energy and emotions associated with the event. Move forward with clarity.
When you develop behaviors and words that are consistent with your beliefs and values, and you practice those regularly, you can start to rely on yourself. Others will depend on you more, as well. When you are consistent, you are more productive, which saves you time and money.
You will develop trust in yourself when your actions consistently deliver positive results, giving you the confidence to push forward and take more significant risks. Being consistent means you can set realistic deadlines and can commit to things that you feel confident you will be able to achieve.
Being consistent also means you are making forward progress regularly. You are taking actions every day or week to move you toward your goal. When something gets in your way, you develop an action plan to remove or circumvent the obstacle, and you continue forward.
Realizing your dreams isn’t about just waking up one day to a new life. It’s about the small, minute steps you take each day that bring you closer to the result you want.
When you are proactive, you understand that you may not be able to always rely on someone else to help you solve your problem. While your loved ones will always support you in achieving your dreams, they can’t make those dreams happen for you.
Only you can achieve your goals. When you shift your mindset to one of self-reliance, you take life into your own hands and become responsible for your success.
The best way to achieve something is to set to work on it yourself. While you still may need help and support along the way, it is your hard work and planning that is guiding your forward momentum. Luck and good fortune are not going to save you. Only your strength and determination matter. Wanting something is not the same as working to achieve it, and only you have the power to make your dreams a reality. You must work hard to achieve what you want in life.
You must not only take ownership of your goals and actions, but also your problems. No one else can solve these for you, and while family and friends can be a support system for you while you work hard to move forward, they cannot solve anything for you. It is up to you.
Hold Yourself Accountable
When you are proactive, you hold yourself accountable for doing what needs to be done. When you set a goal, know how you will measure if you have attained it. What is the consequence for not doing what you said you were going to do? Make sure you are true to yourself, or you can be sure your dreams will be much harder to attain.
Think Through The Plan In Advance
Before acting, always consider the consequences your actions might bring. Actions that are well-planned are less likely to have negative consequences than spontaneous decisions. Work on developing your analytical skills and consider how each possible decision could unfold for you and others in the future. Speed is not always the best option in making quality decisions, especially when there is a lot at stake. Take your time, slow down, and consider all the outcomes.
Learning to predict possible outcomes is not always easy and getting input from others can be helpful if your analytical skills are not strong. Instead of thinking too far ahead, consider how smaller action steps could be more manageable for you. Minor shifts are easier to recover from than major changes, and you can always go back and try again if you have not committed to anything too substantial.
Even with the best analysis, plans can go wrong, so consider how you will deal with a full failure, as well. While none of us wants that to be the result of anything we want in life, having a plan for failure means you will know how to move forward if it occurs.
When you are proactive, you still dream about the future, but when you set goals, you make sure they are realistic and attainable. Without the ability to act, dreams can become unrealized. Instead of focusing on the large end goal, determine smaller steps that will get you closer to achieving that dream. Select realistic goals that are contributing to your overall dream but are manageable in the present.
When you set goals you cannot realize, it becomes psychologically damaging and can thwart your forward progress in all areas of your life. When you set goals you can achieve, you gain confidence in your abilities and continue to develop proactive tools and strategies that will benefit you in the long run. Achieving small, realistic goals is the key to realizing larger dreams in life.
Be An Active Participant
Instead of waiting for others to solve your problems or for life to work out as you want, you need to become an active participant in what is happening in your life. When others are offering suggestions or solutions, be sure to include your own.
Being proactive means you are never indifferent to the consequences of your choices or assume that things will work out. Being an active participant at work can help you achieve your professional goals and being an active participant at home shows others you are invested in their happiness as well as your own.
Work On SMART Goals
Another way to consider goals is to craft aims that are SMART. This acronym helps you create better goals that are sure to move you forward in your journey.
SMART stands for
- Specific – Broad categories are too nebulous. Make sure your goals are particular.
- Measurable – How will you know you’ve achieved it? What’s the metric for success?
- Attainable – Setting goals too far out of your current reach is just setting yourself up for failure.
- Realistic – Make sure it’s something that is achievable at this point in your life.
- Timely – How long will it take for you to reach this goal? What’s your timeframe?
Don’t Wait for Luck to Happen
Anyone who sits around and waits for good fortune to come their way is not being proactive in their life. Just wishing for success is not enough. You have to work at making things happen, putting yourself in the right circumstances, placing yourself in the path of good fortune.
By setting goals, making a plan, and tracking your progress, you don’t need luck because you are already creating your success story. Making your own breaks will get you much further in life than waiting for good luck to smile upon you.
Connect with the Right People
When you surround yourself with proactive people who are driven and effective at what they do, you are more likely to succeed yourself. When you surround yourselves with negativity, this too can rub off on you. If you want to achieve your daily goals, surround yourself with people who are also focused on theirs. You can learn new things from their mentorship and friendship, and being around successful people is motivating.
To be proactive, you must have a clear picture of what is happening. That includes all the positive and negative aspects of yourself. Be honest about your strengths and where you need to improve. Otherwise, you’re just creating more problems for yourself.
If you are continually working but never progressing forward,
maybe it’s time for an honest look at your skills or knowledge. You are doing a
disservice to yourself if you continue to spin your wheels.
Enjoy The Rewards Of Being Proactive
Being proactive means being aggressive about getting what you want. It means being assertive about your needs and how they are essential. It means taking the initiative to enact the change you need in your life to achieve your goals. While being proactive is a skill you can learn, it is also a mindset that you must embody if you truly want to reap the rewards of a proactive lifestyle.
Some situations in life are tough, and you may find yourself slipping back into reactive habits from time to time. That’s to be expected, and you shouldn’t give up on becoming more proactive just because you have a bad day or rush into a bad decision.
Here are a few tips you can use to help you remember to stay proactive instead of reverting to reactive responses. When you are upset, take a deep breath and count to ten. This reduces the likelihood of making the situation worse and gives you time to consider your options.
- Presume positive intentions. When someone does or says something with which you disagree, don’t automatically assume the worst about them. Presume they are looking for solutions, too, and go from there.
- If you are feeling pressured to decide something, just say, “I’ll think about it.” This is often enough to remove the pressure and give you the time you need to consider your choices.
- Working on lowering stress and managing your response to stress in various situations can be helpful to turning off your reactionary responses. Take up yoga, learn to meditate, or go for a walk outside.
- Avoid getting stuck in a negative self-talk spiral by switching to more constructive activities.
- When you are in doubt about your best options, ask for feedback from someone you trust or talk with loved ones who have a vested interest. You aren’t alone in your decision making.
- When a setback or failure really gets you down, ask yourself what you learned from the situation. Think about what is important now that it is over and consider how you will use this knowledge in the future.
Becoming proactive is an important step toward taking control of your life and achieving your dreams. It gives you the confidence and skills you need to tackle any obstacle and helps ensure you are on the path to success in all areas of your life.