Reactive vs Proactive? Which one are you?

“Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits. “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny”, the maximum goes.” said Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 habits of highly effective people”.

Habit number 1 – Be Proactive- is the one I want to focus on today, because more and more I hear nowadays, from clients, but also in everyday life, things like “There’s nothing I can do”, “He/She makes me feel so angry”, “I can’t”, “If only, my boss wasn’t such a dictator”, etc. And I always challenge that, because quite simply, what those kind of statements are really saying, is that we’ve given our power away, life happens to us, instead of acting we’re being acted upon. And in making such choice, we become reactive. Reactive people are affected by their environment, when someone treats them well, they feel well; when not treated well, they become defensive and protective. Reactive people build their emotional lives around the behaviour of other people, they are driven by feelings, circumstances and conditions. They blame other people and external forces for their own situation and instead of focusing on their circle of influence and the things they can do something about, they choose to focus on things over which they have no control.

Proactive people on the other hand are very different. Let’s look at what being “proactive” means, first of all, because it is far from just taking initiative. When a situation occurs and we are faced with a problem or a challenge, being “proactive” means that we are taking responsibility for ourselves and our behaviours. Proactive people recognise that they have a choice how to respond to the external stimulus, over which they have no control. Their behaviour is not a product of their condition, but instead their decision. Not to say that they are not influenced by external stimuli, but their response is value-based, not feelings driven. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a Jew, who was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany where he suffered torture and countless indignities, began to become aware of what he later called “the last of human freedoms” the Nazi captors could not take away from him. They could control his entire environment, but only he could decide how this was going to affect him. Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

Proactive people work on themselves and take “response-ability”, instead of worrying about conditions. Their circle of influence is filled with be’s, they work inside-out. By being different, being more resourceful, by being more diligent, etc. they positively change what’s out there. For example, if as a business owner I didn’t treat my staff well, how could I possibly expect loyalty and good service from them? But if I were to work inside-out, work on myself to be a better leader, to build trust and treat my staff the way I want them to treat my clients, will they be more loyal to me, it’s likely they will.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

We don’t have to go through the experience of Frankl to develop the habit of being proactive, it is in our daily doings, that we could start developing proactivity. It’s how we make and keep commitments to ourselves and others, how we handle the difficult conversations, how we choose to respond to situations. Instead of blaming and accusing, to work on the things we have control over, work on us. To Be a role model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not the problem. And this is where coaching fits perfectly, helping us do just that!

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