Shift From Reactive to Proactive

Reacting is easy. But you are built that way for a reason. If your conscious mind processed everything for the first time each time you would be constantly exhausted. However, sometimes unless you think slowly and consciously choose your response instead of reacting you may be stuck in a loop of unhappiness doing the same thing over and over without getting the result you want to improve your situation for the future.

But, what exactly does reacting mean? 

Reacting means feeling an impulse from internal or external stimulus (image, sound, or feeling) and immediately acting on it without pausing to evaluate. 

When you are reacting you may notice some of the following things:


Racing thoughts

Negative thoughts

Tense muscles

Tight feeling in chest

Physical pain in my body

Stomach pain

So to determine when you are ready to solve your problem these symptoms should not be present. Understand though that sometimes you’ll have to work through an issue while you have one of the above present this should be the exception not the norm as your body is telling you something is wrong. 

That said, as mentioned reacting does have benefits (I mean its how we were built right?!). An ability to react on an impulse could mean life or death. For example, imagine you are walking across the street and are about to be hit by a car. If you don’t have an impulse to move out of the way, then you will die. But, how often are you really in a life or death situation like that ? . . . hopefully not often.  

For most of us most of the time the situations we categorize as acting on impulse usually have negative long term consequences – such as eating too much good tasting but unhealthy food much makes you fat, drinking too much at a party makes you hung over (or worse) the next day, or getting irrationally angry in a discussion damages a relationship. 

If you’re impulses are consistently getting in your way from what you want (and you want to stop that from happening . . . ) slow down your experience as an impulse occurs, calm down, and then brainstorm action plan options when rational again. 

If you’re in a state of anxiety, anger, or sadness the first thing to do is document the problem that is triggering your impulse at a high level. Then, go through an iterative process to calm down and wait until you’re not in an impulsive emotional state to create an action plan to solve that problem.

As your negative internal stimulus sends you data record it, slow it down, reframe and redirect it, store it, solve it, and proactively prevent it. 

Once you are able to follow this process consistently help other to follow this process so that they too can become incrementally more proactive. 

  1. Record it: Write down or speak into a recording device what is happening in your impulse experience. When in a panicked anxious state, a person cannot think clearly and sometimes even realize what he or she is anxious about because there is a chain reaction of thoughts that are triggered. So, instead of trying to solve multiple separate problems that are triggered just document each. Take one step at a time with one thing at a time. When recording remember you don’t have to solve them now. At this stage just observing without acting can help you calm down. Eventually, your emotion passes and you can think clearly. The goal here is to just not act on impulses that make your initial problem worse. In some cases by acting on impulses you create more problems for yourself then you started with! As mentioned generally you are not in a life or death situation and usually a decision doesn’t have to be made at that moment. So, just wait until you calm down. 
  2. Slow it Down: Get out of your flight or fight response triggered by an impulse by speaking slowly either out loud in your head to a metronome set at 50 to 80 bpm. Use this step while Reframing and Redirecting your negative stimulus and incrementally check your heart rate to ensure that it is going down. Generally speaking when your heart rate increases to an elevated state you’re more likely to have negative impulses and when your heart rate slows down this generally stops.   
  3. Reframe and Redirect it:
    1. Review your impulse experience, negotiate with yourself and reframe the incoming inner dialog or memories that are triggered by your initial impulse. Also, ask yourself (nicely by saying please) to redirect to something more positive or happy memory about something specific. Think of your internal stimulus as contributing to a wheel that either spins in a positive or a negative emotional direction. When it starts spinning in a negative direction (and again you want that to stop happening . . . ) consciously redirect or negotiate to a more positive inner stimulus to counterbalance. 
    2. Tell yourself that you will be rewarded (with something specific if it helps) if you make it through this difficult time. 
    3. Use transcendental meditation techniques (repeating something over and over again) slowly to a metronome to get yourself out of the flight or fight response that an impulse may trigger. After about 30 minutes to 1 hour usually your heart rate reduces and your negative stimulus stops.
    4. Listen to and repeat positive affirmations on YouTube out loud or in your head. Sometimes it can help if you lie down and close your eyes. Eventually, you will find yourself subconsciously using these statements as a defense mechanism when bad things happen; a consequence that is a positive habit and make reacting work to your advantage!
    5. Remind yourself that this is a temporary state and it will pass eventually. This is just a current state and current situation at the moment which will get better. Ask yourself ‘How can I incrementally improve today to get out of my current state and move towards my desired state starting right now?’. Usually, your mind will have a good answer if you focus it with specific questions. 
    6. If none of that works then sleep. 
  4. Store it: Don’t get rid of your notes and recordings as analyzing them later can be informative for how to manage or solve impulses. Sometimes your subconscious is trying to tell you something that you are not aware of. Keep your notes in cloud or physical storage, then consolidate and categorize for analysis later. This can also help in the solutioning process. 
  5. Solve it: Once calm then outline the problem in specific detail. Usually the solution is self evident when the problem statement is clear enough. If the problem is overwhelming break each point incrementally into smaller digestible points to analyze to find the root cause.  
  6. Proactively Prevent it:

In the getting hit by a car crossing the street scenario being proactive would mean looking both ways before crossing the street and cross at a designated crosswalk. Being proactive doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t run into an unforeseen problem, but being proactive and planning ahead definitely reduces the likelihood that your problem will occur in the first place or ever again. If your problem recurs frequently schedule a preventive routine that prevents the problem’s occurrence once you figure it out the first time.

Sometimes planning ahead and thinking introspectively by taking a personal inventory habitually can prevent a lot of blindsiding problems. Even if it isn’t necessarily a problem continuing to do the same thing for a long period of time without contemplating if there is a better way is a missed opportunity. Spend at least 15 minutes per day analyzing something that you’ve been doing the same way for a long time and see how much it improves your life.

A tool that can help sort and organize your routine is a RAID (Risks, Actions, Issues, Decisions) log. I keep this in a spreadsheet in cloud storage where I update and refine the details.

7. Influence Others to Proactively Prevent it:

How can you influence others to be proactive? 

Well . . . the first step is to become proactive yourself. If you can’t influence yourself to become proactive then you will never be able to do it for someone else.

Brainstorm on some things that you would like others to be proactive in.  List out as many as you can think of. 

How can you support that person to become proactive in that area? 

What would prevent someone from choosing to be proactive? 

  • Cognitively lazy. It is easier to fall into old habits than create new ones. 
  • Lacking self confidence. They may think they can’t change. 
  • Negative self talk. They block themselves from changing. 
  • Waiting for someone to tell them what to do. They don’t want to figure it out for themselves. 
  • Feel it is a waste of time. They feel like they will fall back into old habits anyway. 
  • Not feeling in control. They feel externality is more powerful than their control over it. 

Think incrementally about each and determine how to reposition another’s mindset to become more proactive. 

Although proactive planning and anticipating the future is important don’t ignore an immediate crisis (e.g. don’t follow this contemplative approach if you’re in the middle of the street about to be hit by a car). Ideally, as a business owner hire someone to handle the crisis situations for you so you can focus on proactive planning and expanding your business. However, if you do have to be involved and a crisis occurs then you want to understand what happened and then put a plan or process to prevent it from happening again. If you take this iterative approach then it will lead you to the best results if executed correctly over a long period of time to get you more of what you want and less of what you don’t.  

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