Do you ever find yourself looking outside, seeing it’s dark and dreary and ultimately deciding it will be a depressing day? Or on the flip side, feel on cloud nine after being complimented for hours on end?
We all experience situations in life when we might be transiently overpowered by certain feelings, whether it be positive or negative, which can then translate to automatic reactions. It could be as small as receiving criticism from someone at work and allowing it to negatively affect your productivity for the rest of the day.
It’s safe to say we are all guilty of this from time to time: letting external stimuli that we don’t have any control over, impact how we act and feel. While these things might be entirely outside our sphere of influence, they sometimes dominate our lives. This is known as reactive behaviour — and would you believe more than 95% of our actions daily are reactive?
Understanding the Reactive Behaviour Habit
Let’s start by defining what reactive behaviour looks like and why we are liable of behaving this way. Being ‘reactive’ simply implies that you’re performing a specific behaviour (something you do or say) without consciously thinking about it. Reactive behaviours involve one’s emotions being dictated by outside factors, such as someone or something else, and can push us to act a certain way just to stay afloat in a given situation. The reality of this is that all behaviour is in fact reactive.
Staying Afloat and Being Proactive
The concept of proactive and reactive behaviour was presented by Stephen Covey in his world-renowned book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he writes that the manner in which we see the world is founded on our own observations, and to improve a given circumstance we must correct ourselves and alter our perceptions on the matter. The first habit Covey addresses is to ‘be proactive’ — but what exactly does it mean to ‘be proactive’?
You may think that proactive behaviour is directly opposite to reactive but in actual fact, proactive behaviour IS reactive behaviour. So what’s the difference? To be proactive is to respond ahead of time. You are essentially asking yourself “what is likely to occur?” and acting accordingly to achieve the best possible outcome. The reality of this situation is that our subconscious drives over 95% of our behaviours; we are wired to be reactive which is why being proactive involves adapting from a fixed to a growth mindset and working against what you are currently thinking.
Being proactive doesn’t stop at taking the initiative but encompasses being responsible for everything we undertake in our lives, in particular our responses to events. In his book, Covey uses the term ‘response-ability’, referring to our ability to choose our response in any given circumstance. He notes that the habit of personal responsibility is a trait of proactive people as they don’t make excuses or assign blame to external factors in their environment. Instead, they choose to react by looking inwards and accepting complete ownership of their choices and decisions.
Do you find yourself behaving this way in stressful situations or do you take control and make conscious, value-based choices? If you recall yourself saying either “I can’t…”, “I have to…” or “If only…” chances are you are behaving with a reactive mindset and taking a passive stance. A good indicator of a proactive mindset is turning those phrases around into “I can…”, “I will…” or “I prefer…’’.
In situations of anxiety and stress we often find ourselves resisting change as it involves shifting our responsibilities and taking conscious control of our actions. As humans, it’s easy for us to shift the blame to external influences and only focus our efforts on areas where we have little to no control over. To avoid this mindset, it’s important for us as individuals to challenge ourselves and persist in improving the environment around us.
How to Captain Your Own Boat to Become Proactive
So how can we apply proactive thinking to our everyday lives? Making the shift from reactive to proactive behaviour is achievable and below are a few tips to becoming a proactive person. They are all based on our ability to stop doing and start thinking. That is, to take the time to think about what is occurring, asking how you feel about it and then deciding what it is you need to do.
‘The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct and learn from it’Dr Stephen R. Covey
Tip 1: Take note of your reactive behaviour
Ask yourself: ‘Why am I reacting the way I am?’ Often our behaviour has to do with a value or belief we have that is being violated and in response, causes us to judge. Take note of the way you respond to external stimuli and consider how you should act on criticism received.
Tip 2: Try altering your language
As discussed in this article, common signs of reactive behaviour is “I can’t…” or “If only…” language that result in shifting the blame to external factors. By consciously adjusting your language to more empowering phrases such as “I can…” or “I will…” can make a big difference in the way you take further action in difficult situations.
Tip 3: Setting yourself goals
By making a list of commitments to work towards, this empowers you and reinforces the control you have over your life. Achieving your goals enables you to realise the power you have regardless of any external force and proves that you have control over any circumstance.
In the video below, our Managing Director Phil Allison explains the defining line between proactive and reactive behaviour as well as the opportunities that can come by adopting proactive behaviour.
For more articles on behaviour and how it can be influenced, check out our recent blog on:
What Drives Our Behaviour? by Culture and Leadership Partner, Jodi Bush