Proactive vs. Reactive Living

It’s 7:35 AM, and you’re slamming down a couple cups of coffee and a bagel. You’ll be late for work again, and your wife is back at it, nagging and harassing you. The trash is overflowing from last several nights of dinner, and the dishes are still sitting idle in the sink. She wants them done. You’re exasperated that these things keep causing fight after fight, and end up in defensive mode time and time again. Does it get any better than this?

A lot of people find themselves reacting in response to the problems in their lives, whether it’s in their relationships, work, friendships, personal or self-care. Problems do arise, granted. All of these things — when properly balanced — provide happiness and success, but all too often people slide into “reactive living.”

What happens is that choices beget other choices, and we both lose sight of that snowball effect, and sometimes shun responsibility for doing anything about it to change some of the original choices. We get lazy, or rely on others to lean on or take care of our messes.

When we live reactively, we live in response to our environment and the people within it. We allow other people and situations to dictate our lives, as opposed to assuming responsibility for ourselves. Life becomes a series of ” call and responses.” Something happens in our environment, or with someone we love, and we react sometimes mindlessly to troubleshoot the problem or situation.

We are constantly putting out fires, where we could be using that psychic energy to build well controlled fires that create life, energy and renewed power. We create a lot of unneeded stress, tension, depression, and interpersonal conflict with those closest to us.

Stepping back from our lives and differentiating between reactive living and proactive living is very important in a variety of different ways. When we can admit that there are some parts of our lives, we wise up to the fact that we have lost control and responsibility in some facets of our lives.

There are many examples of this: from becoming a better husband or boyfriend, to paying our bills on time, to proactively taking in our car in for maintenance so it doesn’t fail us, or to going out of our way to develop relationships that had been unattended to for a while. It could even mean coming up with a better organization system, either in our homes or offices, or in our minds.

Learning where the cracks are in the various facets of one’s life is important. Then, understanding how to fix things so you can play a more participatory part in your own life, instead of reacting to problems and situations that are thrown at you, is critical to turning the ship around.


About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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