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Emma Sue Prince



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How to become more proactive and less reactive


Being a proactive person isn't just about getting things done, at its heart it should mean taking affirmative action within strategic parameters. 

Most people, if you were to ask them, think of themselves as being pretty proactive. We have so much choice, information and freedom now, coupled with a strong sense of individuality. We operate within that cozy bubble the majority of the time.

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. 

It’s about taking purposeful action against a clear, specific goal.

When you’re proactive, you are creating situations based on a strategy you have actively created for yourself. It’s about taking purposeful action against a clear, specific goal. It’s also about being more aware in the presentand actively creating that small space so that you are responding to what is coming in around you rather than reacting to it.

Proactive behaviour can be about changing yourself (personal development) or changing your environment through making suggestions to others, taking forward new initiatives and looking for opportunities to contribute in some way.

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 balancefor yourself. You are using your own principles and values to make decisions, set goals and work towards your objectives.


This means small things you can do in the moment, how you use that space between stimulus and response and (more importantly) making sure that space gets bigger.

Whether that’s 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.

Why it’s a must-have skill

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 often get in the way of our innate ability to be responsive.

Being responsive means not immediately using our default reaction to every single comment and situation that comes our way.

In a world that can seem out of control, proactivity is essential.

When we face uncertainty we can feel less in control over our lives. As a result many people struggle with anxiety, lack of sleep, worry and even depression connected withcircumstances such as job loss/insecurity, financial problems, fear of the futureand FOMO (fear of missing out activated through our social media use).

In a world that can seem out of control, proactivity is essential. Proactive people don’t allow the environment or their circumstances to dictate how they think and behave. They recognise and accept situations over which they have no control and do not waste energy worrying about them. It’s a choice, but it’s a hard one for some people to accept

Barrier 1: multi tasking

This creates a reactionary response. Our fast-moving lifestyles also mean that, in the short term, the space between stimulus and response is very small. We are busy and focused and flit quickly from one deadline and task to another with energy and flair.

We consider ourselves to be proactive when actually it’s just more of the reactive. Our very perception of what being proactive means can be, in itself, a barrier.

The solution: slow down

If you’re constantly rushing from task to task, deadline to deadline and day to day, it’s easy to feel out of control rather than in control. Take time to reflect. Take time to plan your week, take time to plan your day. And that doesn’t mean a checklist of things you have to get done. It means conscientiously thinking about how you want to approach different situations and events and what goals you want to pursue.

Barrier 2: procrastination

Linked to our inability to handle distractions. We are probably all familiar with logging on to our computer to do something specific, whether that is paying a bill or working on a project, and then getting side-tracked by an email or look something up on a search engine. Suddenly a significant amount of time has passed.

Procrastination can also manifest itself in other ways like staying up too late and binge-watching box sets or avoiding a potentially challenging or confrontational discussion.

According to Dr Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, 95% of us are procrastinators so we all have that tendency! 

The solution

If you find yourself procrastinating, putting something off or just not giving something your full focus and attention, break things down into manageable steps and celebrate incremental progress.

What’s important is to take that first step. Writing a report? Can you get the headings and the structure done? Set some manageable goals for yourself, achieve them and track your progress.Plan your time, prioritise self-awareness and productivity.

What the biggest barrier to being proactive?

This is usually fear of the outcome, i.e. rejection, failure or just something changing. That is why doing things in small steps that help remove that fear is important.

Find ways to remove that fear and you will take more risks, be more innovative, feel more confident and be more proactive.

That is a virtuous cycle, as the more proactive you are, the more risks you are likely to take because you feel more confident and in control. Also talk about circle of control.

Author Profile Picture
Emma Sue Prince


Read more from Emma Sue Prince

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