Reactive vs Proactive
Are you a puppet or puppeteer?
Look around. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Everything in creation is created twice. First, in the mind and then in reality. Not just the physical but the mental as well. Whether we like it or not, this is the process of creating reality. Each one of us plays a part. As we interact with reality some are influenced like puppets on a string while the rest function as puppeteers. Some people are reactive, and some are proactive. How do you know the difference? Which are you?
Do you find yourself using language like, “If only…”, “I can’t...”, and “I must do this or that”? This is reactive language. Are things influencing you that are out of your control? You, my friend, may be a puppet. When reality tugs at your strings, you react. If you are feeling insulted at this point, you should read on for a deeper explanation. Allow me to cut those strings so you can take control.
When I was in middle school, sitting in science class listening to whatever my teacher happened to be babbling about, I was suddenly called upon to answer a question. She could tell I was not paying full attention, so she decided to put me on the spot. Naturally, I gave an answer that had nothing to do with the topic since she was correct in her assumption. The class laughed at my expense, but one kid sitting directly in front me, we’ll call him Kyle, remarked “Stupid n!gger.” under his breath just loud enough for me and few others to hear. Our teacher missed that remark, but I heard him. Before I knew it, Kyle was crying with a knot on the back of his head and my fist was throbbing. In a rage, I stood up asking, “Who are you calling a stupid n!gger?” The teacher, in shock, told me to go to the vice principal’s office. Fortunately, another classmate confirmed my claim and Kyle was told to join me in the office. In the office, with tears in his eyes, Kyle admitted to saying what he said. Are parents were called in the next day. Feeling justified, I thought my parents would give me a pat on the back for standing up for myself despite being suspended from school for a week. On the contrary, I got the further reprimanded for striking someone over something they said. In hindsight, it could have been worse. His parents could have pressed charges against me. That was the first time I learned the difference between being reactive and proactive. Kyle should have been the only one in trouble that day, had I only thought before I acted. He tugged the wrong string, and we both paid for it.
The primary difference between reactive and proactive people is responsibility. Reactive people give responsibility for the outcomes in life to things outside of themselves. In contrast, proactive people take responsibility for the outcomes in life. Naturally, as we move through life, things happen that are out of our control, but how you choose to respond to those things makes the difference. Either decide what you want or have that decision made for you.
Begin by recognizing that you are in control of your reality. Recall the Serenity Prayer:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Proactive people, work within their sphere of influence. They use language such as, “I will…”, “I choose…”, and “I prefer…” working within the parameters of things they can affect. Once you realize you can choose your own fate, you begin the process of creating your reality. Victor Frankl, a writer, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor, recognized that between stimuli and reaction is always a choice. Life is nothing more than a series of choices. If you do not choose for yourself, circumstances, events, and other people will choose for you dictating your fate.
Circumstances and the actions of other people do not control your emotions. Your opinion of those circumstances and actions controls your emotions. Sometimes, out of habitual reactions, we believe we do not have a choice. But we always have a choice. We always can change our habits. It begins with our thoughts. It begins with imagination and believing that we can.
Having this realization can be a bitter pill to swallow. You can no longer use what has happened in the past or what people have done or said about you as an excuse for how your life turns out. From now on, that is up to you. Those things may have brought you to where you are in life today, but your future is unwritten. In the book of your life, you are the author. How will the next chapter unfold and how will your story end?