Proactive or Reactive: Which Mode Are You In?
Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: Yawns, stretches; shuts off alarm; checks texts; checks emails; checks social -- heads to bathroom; eats breakfast while reading articles on phone or watching TV; drives to work and listens to radio or podcast.
I just described the average person’s morning routine. And if this anywhere resembles your first waking hour, you’re locked in reactive-mode. Which is a big problem.
How reacting makes you less successful.
Success is a personal thing. No one can outline it for you; no one can order you to be successful. You have to guide yourself. But if you’re constantly reacting to external stimuli -- whether those be messages, social media, or news -- you don’t have the opportunity to direct yourself in the way you see fit. That’s when you wind up unhappy and dissatisfied with your life. (Like everyone else!)
The more time you spend reacting, the less time you have to be proactive in reaching your goals.
The other harmful effect of habitual reactivity is that it trains you to seek external gratification when you really need to be directing your own accomplishments. Take this common work scenario, for instance: You just found out that your meeting was cancelled and you have fifteen free minutes before your next task. What do you do?
If you’re like most people, you’re going to automatically reach for your phone and scroll through your latest messages and social notifications. It’s the average response. But when you could be reflecting on your day, meditating, or knocking out a quick goal -- building your confidence! -- reacting just doesn’t make sense. It gives you the illusion of momentum with none of the tangible gains.
Why I trained myself to be exclusively proactive.
I used to be totally average, but then out of nowhere I was twenty-four with nothing to my name. It wasn’t my mom and dad’s fault; it was my decision to be constantly distracted. The morning routine described in the first paragraph? That was my routine. Except I was so completely distracted that I didn’t even work. I just spent all day flitting from one reaction to the next like a demented and drunken bee.
In the years of increasing social media and text messaging, I had unconsciously trained myself to be perpetually distracted. And it started first thing in the morning.
When I decided to make a change in my life, I had to get serious about that first waking hour. I couldn’t reach for oblivion anymore, because no one else was going to save me from my bad decisions. So I started sticking with a proactive morning routine. Here’s how it went:
1. Gratitude, first thing.
As soon as I woke, I spent ten minutes reflecting on what I was grateful for. It was tough to resist the temptation of checking my phone. (Pro tip: leave your phone outside of your bedroom.) But the gratitude made me feel centered. It made me feel as though there were real opportunities for me to succeed each day. Reflection inspired me to act, where reacting to messages left me feeling scatterbrained and anxious.
2. Visualize the day.
Once I positively primed my mind with gratitude, I spent between five and 10 minutes envisioning a couple things:
- How I’d feel after giving my best effort for the day: the accomplishment, the pride, the confidence.
- The people I’d make a difference to through my work.
- Achieving my big-picture dreams, professionally and personally: the independence, the wealth, the purpose.
3. Plan it.
During my reflection and visualization, I often came up with insights on what I needed to do in order to live out my dreams. So I started planning for ten minutes or so to come up with my top five goals, and also to plot out my success routines -- exercise, meditation, etc. Having my planner handy all throughout the day helped me to fall back on proactivity instead of technology, when I found myself with free time.
4. Exercise for 30.
There is nothing that can shift your mood and boost your confidence so fast as a workout. After I had my day planned out and ready for me to attack, I launched into a half hour of nourishing movement: walking, sprinting, burpees, biking, kettlebells -- whatever I felt like I needed most that morning. This energized me and left me feeling focused, primed and ready to sink my teeth into some juicy-ass goals.
After I ate a healthy breakfast, I bolted for my desk. I didn’t allow myself any time for distraction, because I knew if I fell into checking emails, texts, and social, I’d be 100 percent less likely to adhere to my plan for success. So my first goal always was (and will be) to write an article before any other task. This filled me with purpose, confidence and focus. When I was done I channeled all that good juju into the other tasks I had lined up to be my best self that day.
Enjoining the benefits.
When I stuck with my proactive morning routine, I always lived out that amazing feeling I had visualized: the energy, the excitement, the accomplishment. I felt so good in doing things which made me happy and successful that I never, ever missed my old distracted ways. Because in all of the time spent reacting to external stimuli, I never gained an ounce of confidence or accomplishment. And those are the things I really needed to be happy.
Once I started my mornings proactively (and committed myself to actual accomplishments as soon as the routine was over), I became immune to reactivity. Instead, I craved more accomplishments. I scheduled infrequent (and limited) times for checking my messages. But even when I checked them, I wasn’t reacting -- because checking my messages only twice was a self-directed goal.
Fast forward four years after I began my proactive morning routine. I’m twenty-eight, and I make a living teaching others how to live purposefully through goal-setting and cutting out their distractions. It works. And I guarantee it will help you live the life you want.
How to: Start your own morning routine.
Whatever it is you do, include gratitude, planning and exercise. Make it about an hour long. I also like to pump myself up in the mirror with affirmations for a couple minutes, but do what works for you.
Make sure to restrict your reactive habits in this hour. No email, no texts, no social, no TV -- no incoming information that would provoke you to react. You want to train yourself to act intentionally and to reflect. If you need to set stronger boundaries for your work and tell bosses and coworkers that you won’t be available for communication in the morning, and that you’ll only be open for limited communication throughout the day, do so. In fact, plan for it!
Plan out your technology use for the day.
In your daily planner, plan out your communications. Three times per day works in many professions; five works in more demanding jobs. I have one sales client who plans for checks at 9:00, 11:00, 1:00, 3:00, 5:00 and 9:00 because his job demands that communication. But however you do it, make sure that your responses are on your time. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck in the habit of constantly reacting to other people’s designs for you -- which leaves you feeling frantic and prevents you from working proactively on your goals.
Scheduling time specifically for communication helps you focus exclusively on one task at a time, which makes you a more productive worker and a more effective communicator.
Accomplish at least one big task before you respond to messages.
The idea is to get a boost from your own self-directed accomplishments -- not the temporary high of a distraction. It’s best to have your first goal be an extension of your proactive morning routine, something you automatically go into -- like writing is for me, or working on a design project, or any other creative task. It doesn’t even have to be work related.
If your work is reactive by nature, I suggest waking up an hour earlier than usual and budgeting time for a creative project that you enjoy, that boosts your confidence and that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Committing to one task like this trains your brain to seek reward from intentionally action, which pays, instead of reaction, which doesn’t.
Go on a social media and TV fast.
There’s no better way to switch to a proactive lifestyle than to eliminate your reactive habits -- at least for a spell. The little distractions of Facebook and constant messaging feel good, but they don’t actually contribute to your success or happiness. And when you cut them out, you’re forced to lean into proactive, reflective and creative activities that build your confidence, boost your self esteem, and further your success as a professional and as a person.
Get an accountability buddy.
As with any major life change, you’ll be needing someone to keep you accountable to your proactive lifestyle. Pick out a reliable friend or a good mentor -- someone who will invest themselves in your success. You can also be paired with another member of the MillennialSuccess community for mutual accountability. (No cost.) Simply send a bief bio of your interests, struggles, strengths and age to firstname.lastname@example.org to be paired with another achiever with whom you can connect for weekly accountability checks.