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Proactive versus Reactive

Monday, March 04, 2013

I've mentioned this book before -- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was originally exposed to the book and the concepts at a seminar 20-some years ago, and am very glad I was even if I still have yet to fully implement some of the concepts. One of the concepts I remember being directly discussed at the seminar is this idea of being a Proactive individual rather than a Reactive individual. Interestingly enough, I picked up a 2013 calendar that is based on The 7 Habits, and the concept chosen for March is also about being proactive.


(Quoting from the calendar, but credit goes to Stephen R. Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)

The word ~proactive~ means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human being, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.

Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn't, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shines makes no difference to them. They are value drive, and if their value is to produce good quality work, it isn't a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not."


Now this became even more interesting this morning when I got a text from someone today.

"I'm in a sour mood this morning"
"I think it might be because I was woken up in the middle of a REM cycle"

This person isn't choosing their mood. They aren't responsible for it. It's the "fault" of whomever woke them up. It's the fault of the sleep cycle. It's the fault of sleeping better so that was the sleep cycle they were in.

When I responded that I just tend to decide not to let that dictate my mood once I realize it, the response I got was:

"same, it's just hard because I end up cranky if I don't wake up right"
"like I can get myself into a better mood, but then a homeless man slams his crutch on a trash repeatedly ..."

They halfway accept the idea they might be able to choose their mood, but can't let go of giving everything around them the ability to change it.

THAT is Reactive.

Believe me. Today is definitely a Monday.

I forgot my pineapple juice, so I don't have that for breakfast at work today.

I forgot my watch, even though I'd put my HR monitor on, so I ended up taking the latter off as it serves no purpose today.

I caught the less-desirable bus this morning, only to have the more-desirable one pass us four stops later while an individual in a wheelchair was being loaded. (Less-desirable because one results in a longer walk to catch the transfer, including a light to cross a main street that can take "forever".)

At the stop with the wheelchair, one of our citiy's crazy homeless people got on, started in on a long rant that began with "all you girls have boyfriends" and ended with a string of profanity as he got off before the bus got moving again. This was after the other buses had passed us, so he wasn't getting off to swap to one of them.

After the next transfer, I had to either jog to catch a bus while in heeled boots and carrying my duffel bag of groceries or be prepared for the usual brisk 13 minute walk to work with the same.

I get to work and one of the door shelves I always use and cleaned on Friday has been taken over by a co-worker, so I get to try to squeeze and cram all my food into less space.

I get to my office, set my backpack in place, put the running shoes on top since they won't fit inside and it all falls over.

Guess what?

It has no real bearing on my mood. I grouse a moment as each happens, but it's really not a bad day because of them. In fact, I love the phrase "It's a Monday" because it is so easy to say, laugh, and let each of these petty annoyances slide off like the silliness they are.

It has no real bearing on my productivity for the day. I got to work, I've read my emails and planned the order to work on them. I may not have juice, but that just means drinking more water as I eat my yogurt and string cheese. I could have some hot chocolate - since I have the milk and the packets here - so long as I track it and make it fit. I don't need my HR monitor to walk or to go to the gym. Those will still be happening. I did remember my workout clothes, running shoes, and hand towel.

I ~CHOOSE~ to swim upstream against the current that says I should be feeling grumpy and put upon by all the negatives that can happen on a Monday.


This is not to say it is EASY. Choosing to be proactive is a very real challenge. It means catching and rejecting all the "it's because ...." statements that imply we aren't responsible for our own state.

It is NOT because of how I was raised.
It is NOT because the sun is not shining.
It is NOT because the day of the week is named Monday.
It is NOT because of a crazy person.
It is NOT because of delays.

It is very very easy to let any or all of those be the reasons why.

It is very very very hard to say "I did this. I chose this. I hold 100% responsibility."


I'm certainly not innocent of this, but here's an interesting thing to watch for. As you read blogs today, whatever day you happen to have seen this, listen for the reasons why and the "because" and the fault-identifying. Was it the hubby's fault that he can eat anything and brought the forbidden fruit into the home? Was it the children's fault for being cranky and exhausting? Was it the boss or coworker's fault for magnifying the stress-level at work or bringing the box of doughnuts? Was it lack of sleep the night before? Was it a bad number on the scale this morning?

How many times do we (a very general global we, not an accusatory one) ditch our responsibility for our decisions? We decide that we lack will-power. We decide we have no self-control. We decide it's too hard. We let the external decide for us rather than using our internal power to step back and decide for ourselves.


I'll end with a side note. I almost got sales-pitched into something. A seriously hard sell, where by the end of the call I'd pretty much agreed to buy something by a certain date.

Thankfully I have a very firm policy of not buying anything until I've reviewed my budget. That policy gave me the time to realize it was not MY decision to want that item. I was charmed and coaxed and wheedled. AND I chose to allow myself to be for some reason. I could be really upset with that sales person for what he did. But the truth of the matter is I let him do that KNOWING that was his goal.

If I'm going to be upset with anyone, it should be me. I allowed it to play out that way. I was not proactive during that call. I allowed myself to become reactive, responding to questions and leads, letting the direction be decided entirely by the salesman. Knowing that, I won't be buying, but I also won't be letting the next call run like that.

An analogy in this case might be a wide river. Life is the journey across the river. This river is filled with many different currents, different directions, different strengths. Some are just a natural part of the river, others are created by the others in the river with us - both accidentally and intentionally). Every moment of our crossing, we choose whether to let a current carry us or to reach out and stroke in our own direction. To get to the point on the opposite shore that we want to reach, we cannot simply let every which current carry us where it will. We have to pick a destination and start swimming toward it. Those currents will still be there and some we'll have to fight against, but they will no longer decide for us which way we go.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    You are the very first person to have build an argument for the 7 habits book for me. I've had others recommend it, but I've always written it off as self-help self-interested stuff that I wouldn't be interested in...

    Thank you for laying out so clearly the reactive, proactive element to that book-- it sounds like a chapter I could learn a ton from. What an empowered way to live, and I'm impressed that you didn't lose your noodles with all of the crappy little things that happened throughout your day-- but making that choice to not react to every little thing, to allow every little thing to define the course of your day.... it's something that I definitely need to implement more.

    Thanks for sharing this, and thanks for the great book recommendation....
    1876 days ago
    1876 days ago

    for the reminder -
    It is SO HARD to change
    From Reactive
    To ProActive


    e makes perfect !
    (or nearly)

    Have a Wonderful Wednesday !

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    1876 days ago
    Thanks! :)
    1877 days ago
    Wow, just what I needed!! Thank You!!

    Blessings Abound in Your Life,

    Lori emoticon
    1877 days ago
    I love this blog it has so many good points.
    1877 days ago
    1877 days ago
  • JO88BAKO
    Blue- good blog. You are an inspiration to our team! Have a great LCW!!
    1877 days ago
    Thanks for sharing emoticon
    1878 days ago
    Some great wisdom here. Thanks for sharing!
    1878 days ago
    Awesome blog!
    Well said!
    1878 days ago
    Thanks for sharing this wisdom. I'm trying to integrate even a little part of it today. emoticon
    1878 days ago
  • CIPHER1971
    Great Blog - I am very proactive in some ways (I choose to be happy and positive mood wise) and very reactive in others (normally involving hubby and kids).

    I look forwards to watching you swim strongly towards your goals.

    Have a great day
    1878 days ago
  • KARL1266
    Absolutely spot on. While I understand the differences between being Proactive and reactive, I have always held the belief that there are times when being reactive is beneficial.

    Let's face it, there are times when Life hands you a bowl of lemons. Most of the time it is good to try and make lemonade from it. But every so often I just like to be able to take the sour and run with it. It feeds some of my inner demons to behave like that. Thus allowing me to be MORE proactive when similar situations arise in the future.

    I truly believe that being Proactive makes for a better outlook on life in general, but for this guy...there are just times when reacting is better for me.

    I truly enjoyed the blog and will try to look for ways to minimize the reactive side as it really does make more sense to do so.
    1878 days ago
    Nice blog, as always. Thanks for sharing!
    1878 days ago
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