There you are, minding your own business, doing what it is you do — and something happens.
Now you find yourself reacting to that something that happened — and your entire day has gone straight to hell.
Sound familiar? This is, more often than not, the world most of us live in.
You and I have been conditioned to accept that being reactionary to things is the way. Shit happens, you react to it. That’s how the world works.
How many times have you encountered this? Then, by the same token, how often would a little planning have avoided it?
It really can — and will — drive you mad.
Look at how many workplaces are constantly in reactive mode. Fix this problem. Put out that fire. Appease this client. Mollify that vendor. React, reaction, reactionary. It all blends after a while.
Constantly being behind the eight-ball and reacting to this, that, or the other thing is infuriating. It gets even more so when you see that, had someone used ever-so-much foresight, it was avoidable.
That, then, is even more maddening.
Why are we all so indoctrinated into this reactive pattern?
Please note, these are reasons — not places to put blame. Blame is a reactionary action, which I’ll cover later in this writing.
The instant gratification society
Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to attain information? Grab your smartphone, open Google, and search. SECONDS have passed, and you have answers (of variable degrees of fact).
Want to make a call to the other side of the globe? You will be connected in under 15 seconds if the recipient is at their phone.
Instant gratification can be amazing. It takes seconds to get what you want. Information is at your fingertips. You can microwave a complete meal in minutes. Things that took hours less than half-a-century ago now take minutes. This can be incredible.
However, it has a major downside. When you set things up to be instantly gratifying, anything that takes more than an instant is suspect. It isn’t fast enough.
As a huge part of our culture, we have come to expect everything NOW NOW NOW! No delays, no waiting.
When you don’t get that, for whatever reason? Something is broken. The thing isn’t working as it should. Now, you have to question it.
Less-than-instantaneous gratification starts fires. And then, someone must react to put out that fire.
I can’t tell you how often my wife has to react for her job. The client is on fire because the installer they expected on-site at 7 am isn’t there — at 7:05 am. Parts that were ordered a month ago — with a delivery time of six weeks — are not there, so the client is pissed off. Sales promised something immediate — but utterly undeliverable — and now she must clean up the mess.
It is utterly maddening because even the slightest bit of forethought and better planning would make all of that avoidable.
But this is the downside of the instant gratification culture we live in.
Living in a fear-based society
Ah, fear. It is pervasive and virtually everywhere.
Too many of our so-called leaders weaponize fear. Ever see a preacher, real or fictional, go full fire-and-brimstone on a congregation. BE GOOD OR BURN. They want you so afraid of “the devil,” or whatever other evil they are preaching against, that you will react.
Politicians do this all the time. Trump’s entire existence is based on playing on and exploiting his follower’s fears.
Fear is used in business to make you reactive.
How many people out there do the job they do out of fear?
What does that mean? If you don’t hold that job, can you afford your home? Your car? Health insurance? Probably not.
So, you work from and in a place dominated by fear. The main fear is that you will go without if you don’t toe the line.
That makes you reactive.
When the boss says jump, you jump — lest you incur their ire. Screw up, lose your job. Fear both subtle and blatant is employed.
On a more personal level, I know that I am afraid of alienating people by success or failure. I get it utterly wrong or totally right, I have a fear that I will be abandoned.
Hence, this is why you instantly react if you offend someone. If you act on emotion without pausing to consider, now you are reacting to negate hurt.
People react to fear. This, however, will eat away at your psyche over time. If all you are doing is reacting, you’re distracted from being empowered and taking any sort of proactive stance.
Frequently, the fear we react to is so ingrained in our culture — and so subtle — that it feels normal. But the truth is that it’s not.
Playing the blame game is reactive
Our culture loves to blame.
Do you have crippling emotional problems? Blame your parents and how they raised you. Has your relationship failed? Blame your former partner. Were you caught with your hand in the cookie jar? Blame the cookie jar for being tempting.
Everywhere you turn, people blame. This deflecting is an excellent way to not be accountable for jack shit. Why be accountable? If you place the blame in enough other places, you come out clean. How many crooked businesspeople and politicians use this ALL THE TIME to get away with things?
Blame is reactionary. Why? In part because it takes time and effort to make the deflection. In part, because the party blamed — tangible or intangible — is something to react to.
An important note here. Blame is different from demanding accountability on the part of another. Wanting police forces to stop racially targeting black people isn’t a matter of blame — it is a demand for accountability. Demanding accountability is the reaction to deflected blame.
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s didn’t fully achieve its goals. Neither did the suffragist movement of the early 1900s. That’s why, today, we are still reacting to and fighting systemic racism and sexism.
All of this reacting is thoroughly exhausting, right? But more than that, it’s utterly maddening. Why? Because it’s unnecessary.
A little proactivity goes a long way
It takes very little proactivity to shift away from having to be reactive all the time.
The late, great, Benjamin Franklin famously said,
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Let’s look at this utterly literally, shall we? There are 16 ounces in a single pound. So, one ounce is one-sixteenth of a pound. You don’t need to be any good at math to know that’s a tiny amount in comparison.
If you spend one dollar of forethought you avoid spending sixteen dollars reacting. But that impacts the bottom line, doesn’t it?
If you are receiving only a dollar to think ahead — but sixteen dollars to put out the fire? Look at that, you’ve made sixteen times what you would have by being reactive rather than proactive. Is it any wonder being reactive is such a dominant business model?
Sucks to be the person spending sixteen dollars when a dollar would have done just as well.
Also, sucks to be the guy in the middle. Let’s add time to these amounts. You are earning seventy-five cents an hour while spending all your time between the person who could have done this for the persons spending and earning sixteen dollars.
Is it any wonder being reactive is so maddening?
But that is why a little proactivity goes a long way. More often than not, this is best worked as an individual practice.
The world is set-up to react. But you have the power to be proactive.
How to be proactive on a daily basis
It begins with simple mindfulness. Be conscious and aware, right now. Specifically, be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and the intentions of your actions.
If you work from the subconscious — doing your daily routine by rote, for example — you’re pretty much always reacting. The subconscious mind tends to be unaware — so it reacts to stimuli.
The conscious mind, however, is aware. But that means you can position it to be more proactive. You can plan.
Keep in mind, however, that almost all plans will fail at contact with the enemy. That’s because you have ZERO control over the outside world.
Why bother planning? Because you give yourself tools to be less reactionary. Instead of scrambling to put out the fire — an extinguisher is right inside your reach.
While you cannot plan for all eventualities, when you know what your day will hold, you can prepare. Open that spreadsheet you’re likely to need. Have the report on-hand showing the timeline the company sold the client. Prepare the coffee maker before you go to bed.
These tiny acts of proactivity make you less reactive. Sure, you’re still reacting to the outside stimuli. But that ounce of preparedness lessens the madness.
Even when your day is unplanned, you can be proactive. Do whatever you can the night before to prepare. Think about what you may want or need, ahead, so that you will react less to whatever comes.
You can’t control the outside world. Shit happens unexpectedly. But when you practice even a tiny amount of proactivity, you lessen the madness of reacting to that shit.
That lessens anxiety, stress, and depression. Being proactive costs far less (say a sixteenth less, even) than being reactive.
This will only work for you
Finally, please take note. Being proactive is an individual practice.
Why? Because only you can think, feel, and act for you. Nobody can make you do anything. And you can’t make anyone do anything, either.
The most subtle and maddening aspect of reactivity is how often it’s about others. Appeasing, accommodating, calming, fixing for another. This is not the healthy help you offer friends and loved ones (or even coworkers for that matter). No, this is the reaction to appease the angry client, so that they don’t take their business elsewhere.
The irony is that you are trying to control them by reacting to them. Although, it’s rather easy to argue, they are trying to control you. Are you empowered when you are reacting? In this situation, no.
When you’re reacting by standing-up for yourself and saying NO, then yes. But that’s not reacting in the vein of reactive versus proactive as this writing covers.
It all comes down to you. Nobody but you is inside your head. Thus, nobody thinks, feels, or acts for you. You’re on your own.
That’s why the proactive things you do lessen the madness of being reactionary. Even the smallest amount goes a long way towards maintaining your calm, peace, and sanity.
The world is set-up to be reactive. But you have the power to be proactive. Every little bit of proactivity you can employ is that much less madness you contend with.
What can you do to be proactive today?