How to Develop Proactive Thinking
In the previous post, we explained what proactive and reactive thinking is, the state of proactivity depends on, and how constant reactivity can harm.
In this article, together with Inna Nurdavlyatova, a leading specialist in training and development at EPAM, we understand how to develop proactive thinking.
Proactivity is not something that is given initially. This skill can be developed in anyone. It is a long and sometimes challenging path, but it is possible. Where to start?
Step number zero: Forgive yourself in advance
Accept that some of the decisions – and perhaps most of them will be made in a state of reactive thinking. We are improving, and this is already good. You don’t have to blame yourself for every mistake.
Step number 1: Indicate intent
“I will strive to develop proactive thinking.”
Step number 2: Learn to observe the signs of reactive thinking in your mind
The most common ones are:
A feeling of emotional depression, helplessness. The feeling that I can’t do anything, that there are no levers of influence. This can be a signal that we are reacting when something has already happened.
The feeling of anger, injustice, the search for the guilty. This “beacon” itself does not mean that you need to run and fight, convince others that they are wrong. This is a signal to see what contribution I make to this situation. Here they are all wrong, and what is my contribution? What am I doing now to make a difference? And what can I do to get out of this situation and to regain control?
The third “beacon” is our speech: we scroll through the same thoughts and hear how we pronounce the exact words. For example, “it can’t be done.” When our words are used to blame someone and we have no leverage, when people say “they” instead of “I,” it means that people are in a state of reactive thinking.
The fourth “beacon,” and maybe even a big beacon-when people directly tell us about it. Our colleagues, friends, and relatives may not use the best language, but they can draw our attention to the fact that we talk about something many times, but do nothing, that they have been hearing such conversations from us for a long time, that we go around in circles.
This is also a sign that we are hostages of reactive thinking, and we need to think carefully about the situation. Understand what to do so that the next time it develops differently.
Feedback can be painful, but it’s worth listening to
It is in our power and in our responsibility to notice the signs of reactive thinking.
Step number 3: Understand your Values
This can be not easy because here, you need to take a break and think.
Suppose we often notice that we are more likely to react to what is happening rather than choose how events will develop in situations. In that case, it is crucial to take a break and rely on our values – which is essential to me, what is necessary to me globally in life, and just important every day.
Maybe I need to have a good respectful relationship with everyone-colleagues, relatives, friends, and distant ones.
Or, for example, professional development is important to me. Or I care about openness, honesty. Family well-being, economic stability.
It could be anything. Values are not something that someone describes. They are such simple words about what you understand and matter, what you care about.
It is important to feel connected to values to make the right decisions in difficult situations. Not momentary, not spontaneous, but based on a compelling thing – our values. These decisions will be significant for us and will help us move in the right direction.
Even if we ask the question “What is important to me?” – this is already great progress. There will be a sense of meaning, a sense of greater confidence, independence. This is a very valuable internal reversal.
To show what other practices there are for developing proactive thinking, I will analyze two examples.
Example 1, when we understand proactive thinking as a conscious choice of our reaction.
Imagine that an unpleasant situation is happening to us, and we are already ready to rush into battle – to get angry, cry, and somehow respond.
Here it is worth making a slight pause before answering. Banal advice – count to ten, take a deep breath, and exhale. This pause is necessary to change our state a little. During this time, we may see other behaviors. As soon as we feel that something is coming at us and don’t choose it, there is a minimal pause.
If you can, get out of the situation for a while. Get up, move around, get some fresh air, stretch.
And in this pause, ask yourself a few questions: “What do I really want in this situation?” ” What will be the best result for me?»
When we begin to answer these questions, a critical process is triggered – our spontaneous reaction recedes, and our analytical abilities are activated.
The longer the pause, the more detailed you can think about everything. We can consult with a friend. In the mean time, you don’t have to do what others say – you can only start from their thoughts, and you will have your idea of how best to do it.
If the pause is long, it’s a good idea to do some writing practice. Sit down and write down the answer to the question, “What do I really want in this situation?» Write or type whatever you feel, whatever you want. Describe the ideal result, how everything should be resolved. The next step is in response to the question, “What can I really do to make things happen?»
Why is writing important? Because when we think, we can fixate on the same thing, and the reflection will not reach the end. When we write, it helps us to get to a certain point B, where we have a plan of action.
Example 2, when we understand proactive thinking not just as a choice of reaction but as strategic planning
For example, we get into a situation over and over again, we don’t like it, and we want it to be different the next time. Or we are just getting started and want to think about how to achieve our goals in advance.
1st, it is important to think about the final, the best result. You can refer to the principle of “Start by presenting the end goal,” described in detail in the book by Stephen Covey, “Seven Skills of highly effective people.”
On the other hand, it is really important to absorb to look at circumstance from the outside. There are many ways to do this
Expand the time scale, ask question from yourself: “And if 5 years pass, what approach should I adopt forthis situation? What’s important then?»
Increase the number of options you can choose from. There is a tool called “Mentor Table.” We act fo the people who come to mind by Elon Musk, Sergey Shnurov, anyone. We mentally ask them the question: “Elon Musk, if you were in my situation, what would you do now?»
We have a portrait of Elon Musk-an an enterprising, slightly crazy visionary. And we come up with his answer. This method helps to move from the state of a hostage situation to a state of joy, play, and freedom. The key is to expand the number of options we choose from. This is proactivity.
It happens that some task is imposed on us, we do not choose it. The answers to this questions will assist you gain a sense of proactivity
What should we do if we work with a colleague who does not show proactive thinking, and this prevents us from implementing the project?
For example, a person constantly says: “It can’t be done,” “Nothing depended on me.”
The main thing that you should concern about here is not to start with relentless censure, and then your colleague will close and not share their feelings. In this situation, a person will never admit that he makes decisions reactively and not proactively.
If there is no trusting relationship, it is important to start with yourself and say that a situation is important for you in this situation (for example, the goal was achieved and that the colleague was interested in working). An honest conversation that starts with “What’s important to me” can encourage the other person to open up.
The topic of trust is large, complex, and there is no 100% recipe for building a conversation. It all depends on the context, but there is always a solution.
If the relationship is trusting, you can share your vision of the situation: here is such a project, such a task. “I have feelings which are not closed to this task, do not like it. It seems that the result will not be very good, and in the end it will have a bad impact on our joint work. I see that you are not working on the rise, but in a state of irritation.”
Maybe, the person will share how he look into the circumstance in response. And either he has a reactive approach, or the reason for this behavior is something else.
If this is reactive thinking, it is important to say how this situation is related to the interests and goals. “Perhaps there is something that you can use impact to make the task interesting and enjoyable for you? If you do it, what good changes will it bring?»
Perhaps a colleague will answer: “I can write in my resume that I did such a project.” Or “I really want to do one project. If I do this task, I can be taken there.”
Or he can say, ” Actually, there’s no use in this task.”
Then it is vital to help realize what is still in the zone of control. Now the task needs to be done, but next time, at the start, it is important to discuss in what form to perform it, what risks need to be taken into account. Openly express your concerns and arguments.
To summarize: in such a situation, we need to help a colleague see their zone of influence and understand their interests related to this situation and how it can help. Share your observations that it seems that now a person is not in a proactive position but a reactive one. If there is trust, it can be a significantly promoting conversation.