Take Control of Your Life: Be Proactive
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The easiest thing for you to to do is to blame your circumstances on something or someone other than yourself.
Someone makes you mad. The professor made the test difficult, so you failed. Your boss is inconsiderate, and that’s why you didn’t get a raise. Your girlfriend/boyfriend didn’t understand you, and this made you break up with him/her.
You’re in Control
It sure sounds familiar to me. Up until a few weeks ago, I would’ve considered myself a reactive person. Something in my environment was always pushing me around. My parents didn’t understand me. My friends said ridiculous things that made me upset. School was making me miserable. My environment was affecting my performance.
I felt like I had no choice.
My emotions and results in life were highly dependent on external circumstances. This reactive cycle may have continued for the rest of my life if I hadn’t picked up The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People from the bookstore.
One of the chapters in the book is titled “Be Proactive.” This is Covey’s first principle of effectiveness. All highly effective, independent people are proactive. These people don’t dwell on the aspects of their environment they have no control over. Instead, they live within their “Circle of Influence”, where they have the power to take action.
For example, a reactive person would say “My boss didn’t give me a raise, what an inconsiderate fool!” While a proactive person would ask himself, “How can I take on more work and capitalize on the available opportunities so that my boss will have no choice but to give me a raise?” See the difference? The proactive person works within his “Circle of Influence,” while the reactive person hands off his responsibility to his external environment.
Are you reactive or proactive?
We all have the ability to consider the infinite number of choices we face when a new situation comes our way. Instead of being reactive, and acting out the first thing that comes to mind, let’s focus on being proactive and responding to the situation in the best possible manner.
You may be asking, “What’s the difference?”
There’s a huge difference!
If you are reactive, you won’t think about your response to a situation. If someone says something “offensive” to you, you may yell back at them without considering your options. If you fail a test, you may immediately get upset and blame the teacher for not teaching you properly.
If you are proactive, however, you will understand there are many choices available in each situation. Knowing this, you will take the time to pause when a situation arises, and calculate the appropriate response. For example, if someone says something “offensive” to you, you’ll understand you have a choice whether you will find it “offensive” or not. If you fail a test, you stop and think about what you did wrong, and how you can do better on the next test. Essentially, you are being responsible for your results in life.
Think of being responsible as being “response-able.” It means you are able to stop, think, and respond to situations in the best possible manner. You are able to put a wall between external circumstance, and internal state of mind. Think of it as a holding chamber where all external stimuli are held until you decide how to respond to them.
All of us have the ability to respond. In order to exercise this ability more often, we simply need to raise our awareness to how we are dealing with circumstances that come our way. The next time you feel that impulse to react, choose to stop and think. Consider all of your options, and then choose the best option available.
Making the Transition
Shifting from a reactive mindset to a proactive mindset won’t happen over night. It will take conscious effort on your part to make the transition; however, the results are definitely worth the effort.
Instead of letting life push you around, you will give life a taste of its own medicine and gain more control over your results. The quality of your life (physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, relationally) will improve because you will realize many of those “problems” that were previously out of your control are actually well within your “Circle of Influence.”
To help with the transition, here are some of the questions you should start asking yourself right now (in parenthesis are examples of ways to be proactive in each area):
- In what areas of my life am I currently handing off my response-ability to my external environment?
- Physically how can I be more proactive in my life (start hitting the gym, change my diet)?
- Mentally how can I be more proactive in my life (pick up a new activity which is intellectually challenging, find friends to have intriguing discussion with, build character)?
- Spiritually how can I be more proactive in my life (learn meditation, study religions, read a book on spirituality)?
- Emotionally how can I be more proactive in my life (consciously get rid of emotionally draining circumstances and people)?
- Relationally how can I be more proactive in my life (spend more time with loved ones, make more time to go out and meet people)?
In addition to asking yourself these questions, start paying attention to how you handle every situation that comes your way. Are you choosing to react impulsively, or are you choosing to stop, think, and respond to each situation that arises?
Raising your awareness to your own actions will speed up the transition from a reactive mindset to a proactive mindset tremendously. It won’t be long before you are exerting more influence on your life, and reaping the benefits of a life that is a result of your own calculated action.
Cheers to that!
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