Proactive vs Reactive

When was the last time you found yourself in a reactive state? It could have been a trigger from a conversation with a loved one about something that rubbed you up the wrong way, derailed your mood, and by extension, the rest of your day (as well as their mood and their day). Or it could have been when they reacted in some way, but instead of empathizing and influencing them with our positive state, we reacted right back at them. Inevitably, we’d feel remorseful from our words and/or actions, irrespective of what they said or did.

Getting into a reactive state isn’t limited to having conversations with others. It could simply be that we are thinking about situations from our past and having an internal dialogue with ourselves involving others; as in, what they should have said or done and/or what we would do differently in that situation. We may even find ourselves blaming others in our minds with respect to those situations.

But, I’ve come to learn from experience that we can only ever truly be upset from the choices we make. As much as we would like to believe it’s the people or situations responsible for our reaction, the truth of the matter is we are the ones that are responsible for our own words and actions regardless of others’ words or actions towards us. Besides, just because others get reactive doesn’t give us the liberty to do the same. We ought to know to respond better. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and must expect better from ourselves.

I’ve found that being in the proactive state is far better than being in the reactive state. In the former state, we are calmer and intentional, while in the latter, we may be disturbed and impulsive. We feel lighter in the proactive state, while a reactive state feels heavier from the self-imposed mental burden we place on ourselves. In the proactive state, we are focused on our actions, while in the reactive state, we are focused on others’ actions. Emotions reign supreme in the reactive state, while logic, rationale, and objectivity take precedence in the proactive state. We drive ourselves and our actions when in a proactive state, whereas in a reactive state others are the driving force behind our actions and decisions.

It’s a night-and-day difference between the two states. In a proactive state, we focus on the solution, not the problem. We focus on our actions, as in, what we can do. We take responsibility/ownership of our actions and therefore for our consequences as well. In the reactive state, we absolve ourselves of any responsibility by pointing fingers at others and playing the blame game. When we’re proactive we can see the good in others, while we can only see what’s wrong with others in a reactive state.

We need to remind ourselves that life is full of setbacks of varying degrees, but we can always do our best to deal with them. If it’s our response to situations that hurt us more than the situation itself, it stands to reason we can only ever be upset by the choices we make. This goes back to being proactive. We are spirits after all, so it behooves us to remain unaffected by negative human emotions.

We are naturally mindful and have a greater self-awareness when we are proactive. With a reactive state, we will be mindless. An example that comes to mind is when I’ve spent most of my day with intention, there will be times when I open YouTube and find myself mindlessly watching videos late into the night. While I might enjoy watching them in that moment, it almost always results in some regret — partially because it cuts into my sleeping time — and by extension, it affects me the following day. Here’s the thing — while we can strive to live our ideal days as much as possible, in my experience, we will end up doing something or other that we might end up regretting, which is okay I suppose. We are humans after all, not automatons.

At any given point, it’s easy for us to tell whether we are in the proactive or reactive state. We don’t have to look for answers. We don’t even have to ask ourselves. We already know.

Have you ever noticed no matter how mad we might be in a situation, we inevitably come back to a calmer, more serene state without fail sooner rather than later? This is not a coincidence. A proactive state is our natural (default and happy) state. It’s only when we allow ourselves to be disturbed by external situations or circumstances that we tend to get reactive. That’s when we allow our emotions to get the better of us.

Here’s what I wrote earlier:

We are, by nature, peaceful souls. By design, we are peaceful. That’s our normal state. For instance, when we get angry, we enter into a state that is alien to us. This is why when we are done getting mad, we come back to a state of peace. That’s our default state. The way to never lose control of your emotions is to remember you are a peaceful soul.

It’s surprising too how one reactive conversation with a loved one can act as a cue/trigger that can totally derail both of our moods and our days. The good news is when we find ourselves on the reactive side, it’s just as easy to jump to the proactive side by switching to any of its attributes. For instance, when we find ourselves focused on the problem in a given situation, shifting our attention to what we can do in that situation will help us return to the proactive state. Once there, we will automatically follow the rest of the attributes of the proactive state without worrying about being reactive.

Here’s the thing. There will inevitably be moments in our relationships time and again that will challenge us. It’s not a question of if, but when. While, we can continue to deposit in our relationships, we must learn to recognize those difficult moments with our awareness and be ready for it.

The only way to live with (external) change is when we remain unchanged inside. We can’t allow ourselves to be beholden to that which is outside of our control. We ought to develop a changeless core inside of us. We need to remind ourselves to stay centered. This could be part of our daily gratitude exercise, where we can practice gratitude for who and what we have in our lives, rather than complain about who or what we don’t have. We can reach out to others as a way to practice gratitude in action.

We can learn to manage our emotions better. For instance, in the heat of the moment, we have maybe 5 seconds before we let our emotions get the better of us. We can improve our self-awareness to get a grip on ourselves. One way to do that is to learn to slow down. Doing so will help us think things through, and help us make better decisions. Spending some time in solitude will help. It will give us the space we need to simply be.

By practicing the above methods, we find it easier to subconsciously choose a better path to doing the right thing. If we keep doing the right things, over time, we will get in touch with our inner divinity and we won’t have to worry about being in a reactive state. Because at that point, we would have mastered our self.

We can always choose to see the good in people. One way we do that is by focusing on their strengths rather than getting caught up in their weaknesses. Let’s make their weaknesses irrelevant with our strengths. This is easier said than done, of course. We need to be able to forgive others (in our minds), so we can move on and keep ourselves light within every moment.

Let’s remind ourselves to be driven by love (not fear). This is fundamental to who we are and how we show up every day to be (and to do) our best. I previously said:

Let love be the driver of your decision-making rather than fear. When we operate out of love, we are happier, joyous, generous, kind, happy, and peaceful.

We need to practice listening, so we can build our empathic muscle, and treat others with compassion. It’s the one skill that we can always improve upon.

We can keep our favorite quotes and poems at home as a way to remind us to be in the proactive state. For instance, I’m often reminded of Leo Roskin’s quote, which I paraphrase — gentleness can only be expected from those who are strong; only the weak can be cruel. Another quote on a sticky note reminds me to always be strict with ourselves, but be tolerant with others. We usually do the reverse.

The words we choose in our everyday language has great power in shaping our lives. We can learn to use it effectively in our everyday lives. Here’s what I wrote:

We should be careful about the language we use since the words we use with ourselves (and with others) affect our emotional state a great deal. The words we attach to our experience eventually becomes our experience. In other words, we need to change our words to change our lives.

We should be mindful of spending time with those who elevate us and keep us real, but not those who bring us down with their negative energy and reactive nature.

We cannot help others at the cost of our own well-being. We need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. For instance, it’s easy to get reactive when we are short on fuel. I shared earlier:

One of the least obvious reasons for our anger is that we haven’t taken the time to eat, move, or sleep well. We are subconsciously choosing to use our anger as a response to our situation by not doing one or more of those things well.

In my experience, how we spend our mornings usually informs how the rest of our days will go. If we can start our day with intention, it’s more likely we will remain that way for the rest of the day. One way I do that is to read some classic non-fiction in the morningit helps me stay centered. We can check in with ourselves once every hour to be mindful of our thoughts.

At the end of the day, we need to practice being proactive when others are reacting to us. That will be the true litmus test of how we fare. Do we react in return or do we empathize with them in the situation while remaining detached to their emotions? Fortunately or unfortunately, life will keep throwing us the same challenges until we learn to overcome them.

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