Be proactive, not reactive

First of all I would like to explain the difference between proactive and reactive approach.  A proactive approach focuses on eliminating problems before they have a chance to appear and a reactive approach is based on responding to events after they have happened.

Photo by me- Nea Peramos Greece

According to a Harvard Business Review post, from a psychological perspective we react out of fear and to avoid punishment. It’s has to do with how our brain works. As direct result of the stimulation in our amygdala, a sub-cortical brain structure that is linked to both fear responses and pleasure regarding experiences when we’re caught off-guard. The first thing that comes to my mind are the kids caught in the act, that they were not suppose to do it. Usually they deny the act, because they are afraid of punishment and judgement. Take as example this cute little boy claiming that he did not eat any cupcake, even when is obvious he did.

Little Jack is afraid of punishment so he decided to deny the fact of eating the cupcake. Have you ever been in similar situation yourself? It’s unrealistic to assume that you’ll never be faced with a quick decision in front of your boss, your mom, your colleagues, your partner, etc. Proactive individuals aim to control situations by causing things to happen, rather than waiting to respond after things happen.  Well, aside from taking steps to plan ahead and anticipate “what-ifs,” we should just stop for few seconds before responding to something. On that way, you’re allowing yourself a moment to process the situation you’ve been faced with, which can help you strategically and intentionally to choose the words that you’re going to say  instead of instinctively saying something that you don’t mean.

Photo by me- Nea Peramos Greece

Reactivity is defined as acting in a responsive and passive manner. In contrast to pro-activity, reactive approaches involve responding to a need. Also, reactive approaches are for short-term benefits, rather than long-term. For example, a lot of parents use to yell and scream on kids and make threats even though they don’t mean it. According to Dr. Ronald Crouch child and family psychologist and therapist, this is a punishment illusion. He believes that positive reinforcement has the much effective results than punishment.

Photo by me- Nea Peramos Greece

He said: ”This is intuitive if you think about it. All around you, every day, the world is filled with small reinforcements that nudge us into particular behaviors. Everything from getting a smile from a stranger to reward points for shopping at certain stores to getting a bonus at work for doing a good job. The script of our behavior is constantly under revision by the promise of rewards. This is why schools now use sticker charts instead of paddles and why many countries are outlawing the harshest forms of punishments for kids. The science is clear. If you want lasting positive behavior change, you need to focus more on reinforcing positive behavior instead of punishing negative behavior. If you know a child that is acting sneaky, lying, or misbehaving take a page from the behaviorists and reduce the amount of harsh punishment. Instead, focus your energy on catching good behaviors and reinforcing them. You may be surprised to see that less punishment and more reinforcement can result in better behavior. With some planning and understanding of how behavior changes, parents can not only avoid using harsh punishment, but make sure that how they react to misbehavior does not accidentally erode the qualities of character parents want to see in their children.”

What do you think about the Johns’ approach is it proactive or reactive? By the end of this video you can notice how he is slowly stepping back from his mom. He is reacting emotionally, driven by the fear of punishment. Proactive approach comes from the space of gratitude, and reactive approach comes from the place of fear. Very often we deal with emotional reactivity. That kind of reactivity takes you out of your comfort zone and you might even feel victimized by your intense feelings. In real life it is not simple to have  a choice between pro-active and reactive  approach, in all situations. Even though we are aware that the proactive approach is more effective, it depends on the situation, time available to take action etc.

photo by me Kavala Greece

For example, answering an e-mails, can be considered as reactive approach, because you are just reacting to a task and you do not have to use your brain so much. In the situations where  you reply to an e-mail with simple ”Thank you. Best regards.” due to lack of time. It is quite  different than when you chat with individuals on social media, where you need to use more of your brain power to communicate. There are also times where pro-active approach may not work at all, such as a sudden accident, where we have no other choice but to react on the spot. In these situations, like disasters, man-made or natural, a combination of proactive and reactive approaches can be more effective.

Photo by me Kavala Greece

Anyhow, my mom always say that is better to prevent than cure. If you choose to be proactive then you should work on few skills such as: self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will. Proactive people never blame others for their mistakes, they know what they want and they do their best to achieve it. Kids very often have tendency to blame others for their mistakes.

This little girl is so adorable anyways, even though she is obviously lying to her dad. She is just a kid afraid that she may be punished for her action. But it really annoys me when I see that kind of behavior by adults. All of us have been temporally overwhelmed by a negative emotions such as fear, anger, pressure, nervousness, despair, etc. We all come in touch with difficult people from time to time. The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. We just have to avoid jumping to a negative conclusion right away. Instead, we should come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting in the wrong way.

Photo by me- Nea Peramos Greece

One quite creative approach to accomplish this is the method of Edvard de Bono, a psychologist and author of many books in the field of applied psychology. This is the method of 6 thinking hats. It is very effective especially when it comes to team work, where each member of the group things on his own personal way, but in some point of conversation, they end up thinking the same way. I will analyse this method in one of my next articles. It is also suitable when we are making important decisions individually. It teach us how to see the things from different perspectives in order to make the best decision. This method also helps us to become more proactive as a teams and as individuals.

The reason I decided to write this article is because I am a curious person by the nature, and because I am striving to become better every day. By looking back into my past career and my relationships I realized that I had some serious issues with jumping to conclusions very fast. This weakness had led me in a bunch of difficult situations from time to time. Therefore I decided to work on this issue a lot.

Photo by me- Nea Peramos Greece

I started to study about proactive and reactive behaviors. The knowledge I gained helped me substantially regarding my relationships with other people in general. Believe me, if you want to start with your personal development and to become more efficient in everything you do, first off all you have to start with the self-acknowledge and self-awareness. Being denial is not going to help you to get through the difficult situations and to have control of your self and your actions.

I hope through this blog post I helped you a bit to realize the difference between proactive and reactive approaches and behaviors. It is up to you to decide what do you want from your life.  You can act like child and be reactive and denial, or you can take your life in your hands and become proactive. Eleanor Roosevelt said: ”Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.”

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