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How To Be Less Reactive and More Proactive

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Do you find yourself running from one crisis to another? Do you find you spend your days reacting to your inbox or the latest and loudest task? That, sadly, is what most people do all day, responding to events instead of being mindful about what they do each day. 

What is going on here? 

There are two states people fall into when it comes to their work. The reactive—where most people find themselves and the proactive–where you want to be. 

The reactive state is when you are reacting to events. These events are delivered to you from your family and friends, boss, customers/clients, and colleagues. They are telling you what to do and when, and it leaves you feeling out of control and overwhelmed. There is too much for us to do each day, so inevitably we will feel stressed. 

Modern life is complicated; it’s a long way from our ancestors’ lives, where the goal was to find food and avoid predators looking for their lunch. But if you analyze our ancestors’ lives, each day they had a clear objective (find food and survive), which is how our brains developed. Unfortunately, our brains have not evolved to manage 100+ emails a day, demanding bosses and friends and family wanting us to do this and that. 

The only way for us to manage all the demands we face each day is to enlist the help of the technology now available. If you try to remember everything you feel you have to do each day solely in your head, you will feel very stressed. That’s not what our brains evolved to do. Our brains evolved to keep us safe by using our primary natural senses—sight, smell, and sound—and it does that very well. 

The brain’s secondary function is to solve problems. It does this by accessing your stored experiences, which are contained inside your subconscious brain. It searches for patterns and uses your experiences to develop solutions to problems you face. For example, our ancestors would see or hear a predator approaching and instantly use the knowledge of learned experiences to act such as climbing a tree, hiding in a cave, or finding a weapon to fight off the predator if no such protection was available. 

Today, we are no longer threatened by predators, yet our survival, the problem-solving brain is still there. Now it sees an overloaded email inbox or an angry boss or customer in the same way it saw a hungry predator—it becomes stressed. 

So, how do we reduce this stress and become more relaxed about our environment?

The first step to becoming more relaxed about life is to know what you want. Most people are living their lives by the demands of others. You are waiting to be told what to do. Either you need your boss to tell you what to do or your friends and family. You are relying on others to dictate how you spend your day. That’s a very stressful way to live life. You will feel directionless and helpless with no purpose. 

To discover your long-term goals, ask yourself: what do you want? A stable family life? A nice home? To start your own business? Outstanding levels of health and fitness? There’s a lot to choose from. Pick something. Something that will inspire you and give you a direction each day. 

The next step is to know what is important to you. There are eight areas of life that we all share that are important. They are:

  • Family and relationships
  • Health and fitness
  • Financial well-being
  • Career/business
  • Self-development
  • Spirituality
  • Lifestyle and life experiences
  • Life’s purpose

In each of these areas, there will be something important to you. Keeping these in balance does not take a lot of effort once you know what each means to you. For instance, being healthy requires you to be mindful about what you eat and regularly moving (a thirty-minute walk each day is all that is needed). Your financial well-being can be taken care of by sending money to a savings account each month, and your self-development can be accomplished by reading a book or taking a course. 

Then there is our core work, the work we are employed to do, not the work we volunteer to do or additional work to help out a colleague. Our core work needs to be prioritized above everything. That’s not easy, but if you take a little time and establish what you are employed to do, you will soon find the work that will give you the highest value.

If you are struggling here, look at your job title. For example, if you are employed as a salesperson, your core work is selling, not doing admin. If you are a teacher, your core work is to teach, not writing out attendance sheets and other non-educational paperwork. 

That’s it. The three areas that are your priorities. First is your long-term goals: what you want. Next are your areas of focus, the things in your life that are important to you, and finally, the work you are employed to do. 

It is not easy to make this change, but if you want to stop reacting to life and instead live life in a proactive state, you need to take the time necessary to establish what these areas mean to you.

Anything else, moreover, is called “everything else” and is rarely a priority. Everything else is just noise and needs to be eliminated as much as possible. To accomplish that, learning to say “no” politely is a key skill. I know it is hard to say “no” to a boss, a colleague, or even a family member, but if what you are being asked to do takes you away from your goals, areas of focus, and core work, then you must say “no.” 

Living life in a proactive state begins with knowing what you want and what is important to you. Then, it’s about taking control of your life and having the courage to say no, when you need to say no. 

It will not be easy to move away from a reactive life, but the time and effort will be worth it when you find yourself living life with purpose, knowing what you want, creating work of value, and living a balanced life. 

Be happy and become a better-organized person. Learn to be more productive so you can do more of the important things in life. 

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Carl Pulleinhttps://www.carlpullein.com
Carl is a renowned productivity and time management coach who has helped thousands of people worldwide get better at managing their time and become more productive using technology they carry around with them every day. Carl has written three books on productivity and time management and coaches companies and individuals around the world through his one-to-one coaching programmes and Time and Life Masteryand Your Digital Life courses.

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