It seems we are always rushing. Rushing from one task to the next. Rushing to respond to whatever is going on or coming up. Putting out fires, be that at work or at home. However, living life in this reactive mode depletes our energy, leaving us fatigued and hindering our ability to bring our whole selves to the task at hand.
When we make conscious choices, we are fueled by the motivation of having a sense of control over our lives and outcomes. This is the foundation of living a proactive life. A life where you make conscious choices in how you spend your time and energy. Living life proactively, rather than reacting daily to a series of events, opens up capacity, ultimately leading to greater wellbeing, performance, and impact. Here are a few of the ways you can convert reactive patterns into more proactive ones.
Automatically Saying Yes
Saying yes is great. It opens you up to new experiences and opportunities for growth. However, this is true when it is something that aligns to your desired outcomes, or something that energizes you. This is to say, don’t let fears of discomfort stand in your way of saying yes. It is not to say, say yes to everything. Saying yes to everything, or saying yes because you feel you should, or you are people pleasing, can drain your energy.
When things come up, stepping back and making a conscious choice helps you proactively manage your energy. What would you be giving up to do this? What’s the impact? What else do you already have on your plate? Asking yourself, do you actually have the capacity to do it? And, if you want to do it, what shifts do you need to make? These types of questions only take a moment and allow you to proactively respond with a conscious choice, instead of reacting with an immediate, “oh my goodness how will I fit this in!”
Someone says something that triggers you. You feel your blood boil, your mouth opens, and out pops some choice words that you later regret. Or, someone emails you at work in a certain way, it makes you feel annoyed, you respond with a passive aggressive email, which you later worry made you look bad.
In the moment, these responses are driven by initial emotions that have been triggered by an event. They are a reaction. Emotions are definitely not bad. As humans, we are made to feel. It is not the emotion that needs fixing, it is the trigger and the way you respond. It could be as simple as taking a pause before responding, it could be writing a draft that you later revise or delete. Whatever it is, taking a pause to look at the situation with greater clarity, once the emotion has subsided, allows you to make a conscious, purposeful choice.
To proactively handle these moments, because they will happen, when you feel a trigger moment or heightened emotion, pause, take a step back, and wait for the emotional response to subside. Think about what made you feel that way and where the other person may be coming from. What is actually reality, versus the situation decorated by emotion? Don’t try to ignore your emotion or justify your reactive response. Rather, proactively address your emotion, identify it and discover its source. Then you can decide, consciously choose, your best option for next steps.
The Unexpected Occurs
The age old words of Heraclitus, “the only constant in life is change”, is a truth we cannot escape. We can plan all we want, but things will always come up. You have your day planned, you are plodding along getting it all done, and your boss lands something on your plate that needs to be done now. You feel the panic, the race to get everything done and the fluster levels rise. How will you fit it in? You have so much to do? You have to see to the kids! You will have to do it tonight! Oh my goodness you are just so tired!!!!
Reacting to the unexpected causes heightened levels of stress, and often not the good kind. Again, a more proactive decision-making approach can help limit stress and increase productivity in these moments. When something comes in, take a pause. Look at what you know. What is the goal? What are your options? What are your priorities? When we are in a fluster, our minds narrow, limiting the options we see. When we pause and look at the situation, the emotional panic subsides and our minds expand as it comes out of “threat mode”, allowing us to see more options and have more accurate perspective.
“Oh, I keep meaning to reach out”. “Oh I should make more effort to stay in contact”. Sound familiar? Life gets busy, and before we know it we are not connecting with those that matter to us in meaningful ways. After a day of virtual calls, the last thing we want to do is pick up the phone and talk to someone.
Nurturing the relationships that are important to you is critical. Not just “fitting it in”, but making a conscious decision to have a quality connection. It can be anything. Maybe it’s a text check in so someone knows you are thinking of them, sending a funny video to make them smile, or a call to catch up. The key is making it meaningful and having these times of interactions with a frequency that makes you feel good (which can be different for everyone). Proactively deciding to spend time nurturing relationships, creates space for it, so that you are not at the mercy of “fitting it in”.
So remember, the more you can move into a proactive mode and make conscious choices, rather than reactive choices in an emotional or stressful state, the better choices you will make, the less stress you will experience, and the more content you will feel. The next time you find yourself in reactive mode, or in a fluster, pause. Then, when the emotion subsides look at your options with a clearer view of the picture and choices. This will help you make better decisions that positively serve your energy, so that you can create space to take care of yourself, have more to give to others, and can bring more of your potential to life.