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Emma Sue Prince



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Being proactive during uncertainty


Most people, if you were to ask them, would consider themselves to be pretty proactive. We have so much choice, information and freedom now coupled with a strong sense of individuality and we operate within that cozy bubble the majority of the time. So we focus on results, making decisions, dealing with change and managing our complex lives. This sounds proactive but is likely to be far more reactive. Why? The fast pace of our lifestyles, the sheer overload of information and the increasing use of technology in every sphere means that we are living in more of a reactive way, perhaps even unintentionally. Living reactively, we feel we are getting more done as we multi-task our way through multiple demands on our time and focus.

The reality is that we are less effective, there is little time to reflect and we often don’t realise that we are impeding our innate ability to be responsive. Which is what being proactive means – responding rather than reacting to all of this stimulus. Whether we are responding or reacting, we can still come across to others as being energetic, highly motivated and active, which is why it’s easy to think we are being proactive when we are not. Many coaches must come across this with their clients.

Stephen Covey famously says in “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that there is this small space between stimulus and response where we can choose and where our power is. Surely, now though, isn’t that small space rapidly shrinking? Which means that even if we are being proactive in some areas of our life, this may not be consistent or enough for it to make a real difference.

Reactions are triggered by circumstance. Responses are tailored to it. It is, by far, easier to be reactive and our lives now positively encourage it because we are constantly rushing from one thing to another. So – how can we get back in touch with being truly proactive in our lives and tailoring our responses?

First of all, being proactive is a skill and a mindset that we are all capable of. Anyone who consistently creates something of value is being proactive. In fact, often, our productivity in life is directly proportional to our level of proactivity.  People who are proactive aren’t just a little more productive than reactive people. Covey states that they typically achieve, on average, 5000% or more quantifiable results in their lifetime. It’s an enormous difference.

When you’re proactive, you are creating situations based on a strategy you have created for yourself. It’s about taking purposeful action against a clear, specific goal. It’s also about  being more aware in the present.

So there are two aspects to being proactive:

Long-term and strategic - this means being open for new opportunities, anticipating and preventing problems, persevering despite obstacles, achieving positive results, and taking control of your own life. It also means being more self-aware and building in more of a work-life balance. You are using your own principles and values to make decisions.

Short-term - this means small things you can do in the moment, in that space between stimulus and response. Whether that is reflecting before you respond to that email, focusing and listening attentively, making time for yourself or taking a deep breath before you respond to an aggressive colleague or boss.

It boils down to these 4 things:

1. Self-awareness: Self-awareness is the key to being proactive because if you’re not aware of your negative reactions, it’s impossible to take the initiative to change them into positive actions.

2. Willpower: Being self-aware does not, by itself, lead to proactive behaviour. In their new book “Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength”, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney say that together with intelligence, self-control turns out to be the best predictor of a successful life. “Willpower” is filled with advice about what to do with your willpower. Build up its strength, the authors suggest, with small but regular exercises, like tidiness and good posture.

3. Responsibility: Being proactive means having a sense of responsibility for your own life. That is “response-ability” as in the ability to respond. Proactive people’s behaviour s a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.

4.  Self-mastery: Being proactive means having complete mastery over your thoughts, emotions and beliefs. It also means having control over your actions and never blaming someone else for your mistakes or negative circumstances. Being proactive starts with self-awareness and grows with will power and taking responsibility for your actions. It is the key to creating personal happiness and the kind of life you desire. 

Interested to hear from coaches and how they encourage their clients to be more proactive....

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Emma Sue Prince


Read more from Emma Sue Prince

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