With February came a new resolve. To be more proactive.
It sounds like it’s all about taking action, doesn’t it? And to some extent it is but it in some respects it is about not taking action.
I’ve been moping around a lot recently, perhaps not so much physically but definitely in my head.
Some of you may agree, that at the moment, it just feels like life is happening to us and that there is little opportunity to have any influence over anything.
But is that really true?
Why I’m Choosing to Be Proactive
I’ve taken my lead from Stephen Covey who, in his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, outlines a pathway of self-awareness that leads to being an effective person. Note this isn’t a ‘successful’ person, although effective people may also be very successful in several ways, in both their personal lives and career.
The first habit – be proactive – is to become more aware of ourselves and how we spend our time and energy, specifically in respect of the things we are concerned about and the influence we have over them.
Being proactive means that you take responsibility for how you respond to a situation and that how you feel and behave is a function of your decisions, not your conditions. On the flip side, reactive people are lead by emotions and are highly influenced by the physical and social environments in which they find themselves.
Using a retelling of Viktor Frankl’s experiences and realisations of freedom despite being in a concentration camp and subject to daily torture, Covey sums it up neatly: that between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.
Whilst my current reality isn’t the extreme example that Frankl had, I think that, recently, I’ve been a bit more reactive than is my usual behaviour and I want to change that.
How to Be Proactive
How, then, do we become proactive?
It’s been really miserable weather out. Grey, cold, wet, snow-that-turns-to-slush type weather. It’s been hard to get out for a walk at lunchtime because that last thing I want to do is sit with damp clothes and hair all afternoon. I’m feeling frustrated that I can’t get out and it has been having an effect on my mood.
The first step to being proactive is to take responsibility for how I’m feeling. Is it really such an awful day, or am I letting the weather affect me?
One of the aims of taking responsibility is to move away from having emotionally based responses to having responses based on values. Do I like being a moaner? Does being angry help me in any way?
Relationships can also benefit from taking responsibility – who knew hey? If your relationship is fraught with arguments, or you feel like you are “nagged”, try to think about what you are doing. Are you the cause of the argument if not in your action but your inaction? What is your partner really bothered about? Is it really that you have left the toilet seat up or is it really that you don’t pay them enough attention and this is how they get it?
I can’t tell you how freeing it was when I realised that it wasn’t my boss that was the problem, it was my response to his actions that was winding me up. Once I got over the fact that we just had a different approach I felt so much calmer at work. I wasn’t constantly getting annoyed at having to do things that I didn’t agree with – if he wanted me to waste my time so be it, hey?
Take the Initiative
Don’t expect the solution to your problems to come to you, you have to go out and find it.
We all know that if we want to change something, we have to take action but often we just let the status quo continue.
If you’re fed up with your job then you have to look for one. It isn’t enough to say you don’t know where to look, either. The age of the internet means that there is a wealth of information available to us out there. How about looking at organisations you’d like to work for and contacting them to see if there is anything available. Again, the internet means that all the information is at our fingertips.
When I first started work in an office-based job, I had a lot of instances where I had been given a task and I was able to complete it pretty quickly. Rather than sit with nothing to do, I explored the subject I had been working on and tried to anticipate what might be next. I also looked to provide additional information and in doing so, I managed to improve some of my computer skills. It didn’t go unnoticed and enabled me to progress my career quicker than some previous employees had.
I’ve had other instances where taking the initiative has helped. You can often answer your own questions with a simple Google search and this is often how I react to a question posed to me when I don’t know the answer. In most instances, the questioner could have done that themselves but they have refused to take the initiative, instead insisting that the problem must be someone else’s to solve.
Focus Your Efforts on Your “Circle of Influence”
Think of all the things that are bothering you right now. How many of them do you have any control over? The weather, climate change, national debt, the spread of COVID-19, these are all things that you really can’t do anything about yet they may be consuming your time and energy and possibly leaving you mentally exhausted. Instead, look to the things that you can influence, such as keeping a safe distance from others, wearing appropriate clothing for your daily walk, reducing your non-recyclable purchases.
Most of us will, at some time, complain about things that we have no control over. However, reactive people will spend more of their efforts complaining about these things and not doing anything about the things that they can change. They may also determine that much of what is wrong in their life is the result of what other people have done to them without ever considering that the present and the future does not have to be wholly controlled by the events of the past.
Change Your Language
Reactive people often talk about problems in terms of other people and conditions being the problem. I recognise some of these things myself:
- “I don’t have time to find another job” – time is restricting me and it is outside of my influence
- “I’m no good at making conversation” – there is nothing I can do to change it
- “It’s just who I am” – I am not in control
- “I couldn’t be on time because the traffic was bad” – some condition was preventing me from being on time.
All of these things are actually within our circle of influence. We can choose to make time for something important. We can choose to find out about courses that will improve our conversational techniques, or perhaps for you it’s maths or presentation skills. We can decide that our fiery temper, tardiness, indecisiveness are within our circle of influence and are not determining how we live our life. We have freedom to choose.
Acknowledge Your Mistakes – and Move On
Finally, proactive people learn from their mistakes. However, to learn from something, you have to admit that you made the mistake in the first place. It wasn’t he, she or them that caused you to make the mistake. Don’t defer that on to someone else. Dig deep – it’s hard to admit you were wrong even if it’s only to yourself but it’s a hell of a good place to start.
I think proactivity is a good prescription for improved mental health. The focus on taking positive action and having a positive outlook on the conditions in which we function support this theory.
It isn’t about thinking everything smells of roses. It’s about assessing the situation and acting in a way that supports your values and gets you the outcome you desire, not that is forced upon you.
If you are feeling that things aren’t going your way, then perhaps you should ask yourself this one question:
“Am I proactive or reactive?”
What steps might you be able to take to be more proactive? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Until next time, remember, if the excess baggage is weighing you down, you can always leave it in lost luggage.