Proactive people are action-oriented and start tasks before they are motivated to do so. The motivation comes after they have already started. They let their behavior drive their motivation to finish the task. In this case, it is action before feelings. Reactive people, on the other hand, need to feel like doing something before they act. Consequently, they are much more likely to procrastinate than proactive people.
While proactive people are future-oriented, always taking the initiative, reactive people are not usually goal-oriented, and instead, take the path of least resistance. They need external motivation to act, such as urgency, crises, threats, promised rewards, and direction.
Proactive people make good leaders because they plan and visualize the future and are self-motivated. Reactive people are usually followers, not visionaries. They seek direction. And by procrastinating, they push future accomplishments even farther into the future.
To be fair, we are all proactive to a degree, thanks to the frontal lobes of our brains. Although scientists still do not fully understand the workings of our brains, it seems they have established that human cognition is forward looking, proactive, rather than reactive. As Elkhonen Goldberg writes in his book, The New Executive Brain, “the prefrontal cortex plays a central role in forming goals and objectives and then in devising plans of action required to attain those goals.”
The bad news is that it takes 20 or more years for these executive skills to fully develop, and they develop to different degrees. But the good news is that the brain is malleable, and we can all become more proactive once we set our minds to it. I discuss how to do this in my e-book, How to Become a Proactive Person, published by Bookboon. I have also completed a second e-book, The Proactive Manager, yet to be published, which discusses our proactive brain in greater detail.
In this latter book, I mention the ability of the brain to use experiences from our past to predict future outcomes even though we cannot consciously recall them. This is based on the belief that everything within our range of sight, hearing, smell, and other senses is recorded by the brain. But to assist the brain in recalling any relevant information we must at least be mindful (in the “now”) when the experience occurs.
One way to be mindful with experiences such as reading, attending lectures, taking training courses, watching educational videos and so on is to apply Mark Fritz’s suggestion in his book, The Truth About Getting Things Done. He suggests that once the experience is over, ask yourself, “How can I apply this to my life?” The thinking is that information is useless if not used, and spending a few minutes thinking about possible applications, causes of the brain to associate what you have learned with ways to apply it rather than just information at hand. The brain is then more likely to use it in its proactive mode when a relevant situation arises requiring such information.
Other ways of helping your brain become more proactive that I discuss in my book, The Proactive Manager, include physical exercise, memory training exercises, seeking variety in your life, reading as much as possible, engaging in lifelong learning, building and maintaining relationships, reducing stress, adopting a positive attitude, getting plenty of sleep, and spending time in nature.
All these activities contribute to cognitive reserve and strengthen your brain-based “executive function,” which are responsible for your proactive nature. And of course, practising proactive strategies such as planning, preparation, visualization, making up checklists, getting ahead of your work, organizing, and so on also prime the proactive pump, so to speak. These our discussed in the books as well.
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