Monday, May 7, 2012

Take Control

Any parent who has ever nagged a child about chores and homework has preached about the power of proactivity. Why can’t kids just do what they are supposed to do without being told! If you ask any manager, they’ll often have the same lament when it comes to their employees. Spouses complain about it too. It seems like a lot of us could learn a lesson in proactivity.

Being proactive means you are positive about taking action. Being proactive is about taking the initiative. In the real world, it involves not just knowing what needs to be done but doing it (without a lot of nagging). It involves looking clearly at your circumstances and deciding to take actions that will benefit you in the long run and thinking of the consequences of your actions or inaction before you act.

Procrastination is the enemy of proactivity. When we know what we need to do, yet put off doing it, we are not performing proactively. Often the difference between a person who attains their goals and one who doesn’t is the ability to push through the procrastination and do the things they don’t want to do but need to do. A dieter proactively passes on the burgers and fries and opts for a healthier choice. A writer pushes through the frustration of writer’s block and starts writing again. Proactivity is about seizing the power of now and doing what needs to be done, despite how they might feel about it.

The procrastinator looks for immediate comfort without much concern for long-term gain. Without considering the consequences, they focus on what feels good now. If now isn’t a good time, they think, then certainly later would be better. Sadly later rarely arrives.

Reactivity is the opposite of proactivity. We wait for something to happen and then we act. In many cases, we wait for something negative to happen and then we act. It takes a poor performance write-up to get the employee to take her work more seriously or the failing grade to propel the student to doing their homework. 

The problem with this approach is that although the work eventually gets done, the worker is starting at a deficit. They’ve handicapped themselves. It will be difficult to get a promotion with that bad write-up in your file. Likewise, an A-average will be dragged down by the poor grades in the past.

The other problem with a reactive response is that it is usually emotion-based. The reactive person is energized by those strong feelings, not realizing that they can cause more harm than good. I once knew a woman who reacted angrily to a work incident. She stewed in her righteous indignation all night and when she came back to work the next day, she let her boss have it! Of course, she’s no longer working there. In the heat of her emotions, she was unable to think clearly about the consequences of her actions. Had she thought about the real possibility of losing her job, she probably would have reacted differently.

Positive change begins with positive action. If you want something different or better for yourself, think about what you can do to proactively change your situation. Once you start to take control, you will be surprised at the results.

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