I found myself a little out of my comfort zone this week. I was working on a little app for the App Store, and I am new to developing. I had done my due diligence, reading, and going through the tutorials. And yet, things were just not working out how they were supposed to. I got a little down about it. I got a little mad about it. Tech support sent me a lame email back not really addressing the questions I had clearly asked. I put the project aside for a couple days. I thought, maybe this is just not my thing. Then Monday morning rolled around, and thought, I am going to wend my way through the phone networks of Apple Computer and find someone who can help me. Three layers deep, I did. The person I reached was amazing. She agreed that I had done all that I should have; She took on my cause and bumped it up the chain of command. Ultimately the advice she gave me worked. I looked back on the incident and realized how silly I was to have gotten discouraged. Only when I got proactive and reached out, did things get better.
Proactive is the opposite of reactive. To be proactive is to be psychologically healthy. It means being the one who takes the steps to make your life what it is. It means to be responsible for one’s self, one’s thoughts, actions and circumstances. It means to be self-determined.
To be reactive, on the other hand, is to be a victim of life. You life is determined by other people and other factors. What you do is a reaction to other factors which have happened “to” you. You may feel out of control or like a victim.
Wouldn’t anyone want to be proactive ? You may want to become a proactive person. And yet, until you adopt the mindset and behaviors of being proactive, it would be very difficult.
How do you become a proactive person ?
The first step is to realize that you are responsible your own well being and success. Life hands people circumstances which range from good, to bad to ugly, and yet, mindset is the main determinant of how people feel and how they do in life. Remind yourself you are empowered in your life. Pin a pin, put up a poster, or do what you need to do to train yourself to remember this.
Also central to the process of being proactive is to understand your starting point. This requires honesty with one’s self about one’s present state. It is like talking a good hard look at the balance sheet of your life. What are the assets, and what are the liabilities ? Only then can you realistically plan for going forward. Train yourself to honesty.
To be responsible is to be accountable for yourself. In literal terms, you are the accountant of your life. You have the ability to set a budget, or a goal, and work backward to meet it. You are more than dreams and talk. You have real steps to realize your plans. You may even use the so-called SMART goals. (Click HERE to learn more.)You are reliable to others and to yourself. Train yourself to take regular inventory or your life. Train yourself to use SMART goals.
When you use SMART goals, you will get used to the idea that big goals are achieved with small steps. Furthermore, you will get used to taking small steps. Many people who haven’t realized their goals are simply not used to taking steps outside their normal routine. Being proactive means training yourself to get used to taking new and different steps as part of a larger, realistic plan. It also means training yourself to get used to the fact that meeting goals proactively takes time.
When you become proactive in your life and start to take steps toward realizing your life goals, you usually encounter obstacles. These may derail or discourage you temporarily. This is natural. However, the proactive person must have resilience. This is the trait which embodies the best response to adversity. With resilience, the problem is acknowledged, analyzed and the steps of the plan are reworked. They are iterated, and reiterated. With resilience, one has to train oneself to keep a flexible positive attitude, along with the idea that continual reiteration is part of the process.
In everyday life, being proactive is easier said than done. Everyone feels pressured, angry or frustrated at times. These are small everyday examples of being reactive. Sometimes even bigger situations like peoples' jobs or relationships are the result of being reactive rather than proactive. Learning the emotional and communication skills associated with being proactive is no easy task.
During challenging encounters, the natural reaction is fight or flight. Proactive communication requires acknowledgement of these reactive feelings, but not acting on them. Simply pausing, and breathing is an essential first start. In that moment, the feelings of anger, frustration or sadness are acknowledged and set on the back burner. Then a constructive response can be proactively made in accordance with the speakers highest and best ideas.
A proactive person also knows she has the right to defer. She can take time to think about things, calm down, or gather more information. She knows how to say these things the right way. She uses responsible closed loop communication. Responsible communication uses "I statements”, i.e.“ I think”, ,”I feel”, or “I need” or “ I want”. In this way, you speak for yourself. You may not be listened to, but at least you have spoken up for your self, and your statement has the weight of authenticity which may well continue to sink in after the conversation.
Closed loop communication has to do with listening well. When you speak, you are obliged to listen. Listen with full attention until the speaker is finished. Then use another “ I statement” , which is “ I heard….” then repeat back a nutshell version of what you thought you heard the speaker say. This is especially useful for challenging or complex conversations. It honors both the speaker and the listener and greatly reduces the chances of misunderstanding.
Train yourself to breathe, pause, use "I statements", and closed loop communication.
So you see that being proactive is a training process. Nobody has a charmed life. But everyone can use the methods of responsibility, honesty, accountability, action, resilience and communication to be more proactive and move toward the life they want.