Proactive Doesn’t Mean Positive

I use the word “proactive” a lot, but what does it mean? Put simply, it’s about taking control. It means carrying out an action or many actions which will change your situation. Sometimes these actions will be big, like applying for a job or taking a course, but you can be proactive by carrying out small actions too. When I’m having a bad day, for example, my version of proactivity might be having a shower and making a semi-healthy breakfast. Being proactive means accepting that you can change your life in some way.

A lot of people confuse a proactive approach with a relentlessly positive approach, but the two are not the same. I do try to adopt a positive attitude, but I’m also realistic. You can be proactive without being positive — the only positivity required is that you accept there is a small chance of your actions improving your life. You can convince yourself you’re destined to fail, but as long as you are taking action you are being proactive.

The trouble is, it’s difficult to keep taking action if you believe it will have no effect. If your frame of mind is negative, focusing on the actions themselves is the only way you can maintain a proactive approach. You perform each task without getting caught up in the what-ifs. You follow your plans even if you doubt there will be good consequences. However, being proactive always has one good consequence: you have taken action. You have grabbed an iota of control.

You can also be positive without being proactive — it’s called wishful thinking. This can be more harmful than being negative, because you relinquish control of your life and if anything good does happen, it doesn’t have the same effect as it would if you had worked towards the good thing. Your self-esteem and confidence will not be boosted, because you didn’t do anything to bring about the positive consequence. Being proactive, on the other hand, boosts self-esteem and confidence even when the consequences aren’t good, because you are taking  responsibility for your life. You are effecting change, even when it doesn’t always work out as you had hoped.

And let’s face it, nobody is going to wave a magic wand and solve all of your problems. Everyone has strokes of luck in their lives and some people have massive windfalls, but unless you are proactive you will not be able to take full advantage of luck. If you don’t become proactive when you get a lucky break, you will squander the opportunity. Your windfall will not make you happy.

Perhaps you refuse to be proactive because whatever will be, will be? Something is bound to happen sooner or later, right? External events will change your life, regardless of whether you do anything about it. If you think this way, grow up. You have some control over your life, so use it. None of us have 100% control over our lives, but as long as you are capable of consciousness (and if you are reading this, you are) you have some degree of control. Even people in the most desperate situations can use the small amount of control available to them: Victor Frankl, who wrote the amazing book Man’s Search for Meaning, used his time in a concentration camp to learn about humanity and refused to let the Nazis steal his only remaining possession, his mind.

Being proactive takes some effort, but it is not difficult — as long as you tailor your actions to your current situation and frame of mind. Small tasks add up and improve your life, no matter how gradually. Every time you take action, celebrate. You don’t have to break out the champagne; simply acknowledge that you are taking control and your life will improve as a result. You don’t need to convince yourself that the result of your actions will be brilliant — you just have to carry out the action and see what happens.