What does it mean to be Proactive?

When I first started working in Silicon Valley, I thought that I’m expected to react to everything immediately: Incoming emails, requests from colleagues, chat requests, and especially incoming customer calls! But I quickly learned that (work-) life can look completely different – much less reactive and with that, much more focused, intentional and productive. I learned what proactivity means and how to become intentionally proactive!

But what exactly does it mean to be proactive, and what’s the difference between being pro- or re-active? For me personally, it’s a big game changer in how I do anything in life. I first learned about classifying things as pro- or re-active when I worked in sales and quickly realized that it’s helpful for all areas in life!

So today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned in the last years of focusing on proactive work and I hope it’s an eye-opener for some out there, just as it has been for me! At the end of the article I will also show you not only areas of life, where you specifically can be more proactive, but I’ll also show you some strategies on how you can implement this approach into your life. Also check out the video that I made on this topic:

What does it mean to be proactive?

There’s one specific quote that comes to my mind when I try to explain proactivity. It’s the following one:

“Either you run the day, or the day runs you!”

Are you tending to initiate change and take action on things that you want to tackle, or do you often feel like you’re dragged left and right by tasks and people that want something from you. That’s really in a nutshell what it means to differentiate between proactivity and reactivity. To go out there and make things happen!

In other words, are you on the offense or on the defense? Do you know what you want or are you just reacting to inquiries of others. Proactive people know what they want and take charge of their life! 

Where does the term “Proactivity” come from?

Proactivity was first coined by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist and concentration camp survivor. While being tortured under extreme conditions, he discovered that he could still choose how we was going to react to the things that happened to him. And he chose a proactive approach instead of just reacting.

Victor Frankl was one of the first to coin the term proactivity.

The interesting thing about us humans is that, unlike animals, we are aware of ourselves and have the ability to act on that awareness. 

In other words, we have responseability – the ability to chose our response! Yes, read that again: “Response-Ability”. 

The term Proactivty was further established by Stephen Covey in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. He describes proactivity as the most basic habit to being productive, effective and with that successful. This means, that if you’re purely reactive and don’t strive to go after the things that you want to get done, there is no way of living the life you truly want to life. 

Examples of areas where you can be proactive

  • Work
    • Reactive Work: waiting for your boss to tell you what to do, answering requests from your colleagues immediately, doing “busy” work
    • Proactive Work: working on ideas and pitching your boss on things you want to work on, working on projects that really move the needle, creating things aside from “daily tasks”, aiming to really making a difference
  • Sales
    • Reactive Sales: constantly refreshing your email inbox, waiting for the phone to ring, only talking to prospects that approach you by themselves
    • Proactive Sales: reaching out to people that have never heard of you, cold-calling, building a lead list that you want to contact, walking up to strangers on a trade fair, working on a sales system that will help you increase sales in the long run 
  • Social Media
    • Reactive Social Media: answering comments, answering DMs, scrolling around looking at pictures other’s post, browsing YouTube and jumping from video to video by clicking the suggested videos
    • Proactive Social Media: creating a content plan of things that you want to create and share, writing a blogpost to publish on your blog, going out to shoot videos/pictures that you want to share with the world, messaging creators you want to connect with, posting videos/stories/pictures to spread your message 
  • Relationships
    • Reactive Relationship: Waiting for things to happen/improve, hoping that things will “work out”, talking about difficult topics only when you’re already in disagreement, hoping that you’ll have a nice day out this month with your partner
    • Proactive Relationship: openly communicating your feelings/desires/wants, talking about difficult topics before problems arise, consciously planning out a special day with your partner each month 
  • Learning
    • Reactive Learning: learning for an upcoming test, only learning for school/university
    • Proactive Learning: learning for yourself, seeking learning opportunities, reading books outside of your school reading list, asking lots of questions 
  • Health
    • Reactive Health: doing stretches and exercises after an injury happened
    • Proactive Health: doing stretches and exercises to prevent injuries

How to be proactive

Now that we know what proactivity is and what areas of life it can be implemented in, we can start to take action and implement proactivity into our daily lives. 

It’s crucial to understand, that being proactive is not one single skill, but instead a combination of 1) a way of doing things and 2) a mindset. 

You won’t suddenly do one thing and then say “I’m now a proactive person”. At first it will take time to automatically differentiate between proactive and reactive tasks and even more time to naturally prioritize proactive actions. 

That being said, it’s easy to get started and I have some easy tips that you can implement immediately to help you be more proactive:

Organize your To-Do List

If you write a daily to-do list, simply look at your list and put a little star next to the tasks that are proactive. Do those tasks first and don’t end the day if you have open starred tasks! This will help you consciously recognizing proactive things you want to get done and also helps focus on them!

Batch reactive tasks

Being proactive does not mean that you’ll never be reactive anymore! Image you never reply to any emails anymore.. you’re likely going to get fired after some time, so please – don’t do that. 

Instead, I suggest to block away time in your calendar where you’re consciously setting aside time to do reactive work. I for example only check and reply to my emails once a day (and no one has died yet because of me not replying instantly). 

This will help you to keep a flow when doing proactive work and at the same time not letting you fall behind on things you need to reply/react to!

Block time in your calendar to do reactive work.

Watch you language!

How we talk (especially to ourselves) has a big impact on how we act and who we are. Consciously try observing your language and if you catch yourself saying or thinking the following phrases, try a different approach:

“There’s nothing I can do” VS. “I can choose a different approach!”

“It is what it is.” VS “I control how I react to this!”

Make it a habit!

Try to implement the above tips regularly into your life and give it time. Change always only comes with consistency and it’s also the key to becoming a more proactive person. At some point you will realize that you don’t have to be reactive all the time and that proactiviity gives you the opportunity to really move the needle and create things that you really want in your life!

Closing thoughts

This topic is really close to my heart because I think it’s a big part of living a fulfilled life. In the end, you don’t want to look back on your life and think “wow, I replied to so many emails and I always did so promptly!”, but much more have set time aside to work on things that truly mean something to you. Let’s all aim to be more proactive and not just reactive!

If you have any questions about this, feel free to leave a comment down below, shoot me an email or hit me up on Social Media! Thanks for reading!

Hi, I’m Alberto Nodale.

I’m a Sales Coach, Startup Founder, Mister World Europe and Speaker – random right? But all the success I’ve had so far has one common denominator – mindset & personal growth! And I’ll show you, how you can work on your personal growth to reach your goals!