Taking The Initiative

There may be areas of your life that might benefit from you giving more of yourself: relationships with kids, your wife or girlfriend, your work, your personal life. They all have one thing in common: they all take constant work, energy, and resources to maintain and thrive. Sometimes, it just takes getting going, but what if the starting part is hard? What if you don’t know how to begin?

If you’re not giving what you need to in those key areas of your life, there may be a problem initiating. Initiation is, quite simply, “the action of beginning something.” It’s that initial spark that jumpstarts you into action, and make the changes you want as a result. It’s what evolves your relationship to those things and people that you hold dear in your life, and it’s what prevents regret later in the future that you didn’t do those things earlier.

Assess your life “domains,” such as work, relationships, health, marriage, finances, etc. and see what areas require more initiative from you. It may be that you need to start exercising regularly, or lose weight, or find a financial planner to help you plan for retirement or to save more in your emergency funds. It may also mean that you start to change around some behaviors that are not working, like not communicating with those close to you, or not being proactive with projects at work. It may be as simple as getting the to-do list done for chores around the house. Whether big or small, initiation may be an issue for you, so try to consider the following ideas.

Identifying and Removing Obstacles

One of the greatest things you can do to help yourself take more initiative is to identify and deal with the road blocks that are in your way.

Some of those obstacles might include:

  • Fear of success
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of being criticized or rejected
  • Not believing in yourself
  • Irrational beliefs about how you think it will be in advance
  • No prior experience doing what you’re about to do
  • Not having the skills or resources that you need to succeed
  • Not getting the help that you need to take the initiative
  • Not asking yourself why you’re not motivated or taking the initiative

If you carefully look behind the lack of initiation, you’ll find one more more of these types of obstacles behind the scenes. They may be working consciously (or unconsciously) in holding you back. If you’re conscious of them, they still may be holding you back, and if you’re unconscious of them, therapy or counseling may benefit you to help make them conscious so they’re available to you to start to work on.

Emotions vs. Behaviors

Changing behaviors works well, but if you can understand the emotions driving the behaviors, you’re dealing with the problem from more of the root rather than the surface, and creating more sustainable change in your life. Emotions drive everything we do, and inform the decisions we make in our lives. If we can learn not just to intellectually identify the emotions underlying our actions and behaviors, but to actually feel and deal with them, we can make more lasting change in our behavior, which includes taking more initiative in the long term.

For example, if you’re eating junk food regularly, and want to lose weight, you can just discontinue eating candy, pizza, or chips, and be done with it. Right? But say if you use food to cope with stress or other negative emotions, what happens the next time you encounter stressful situations? What will you turn to then? Your brain is going to want to soothe itself with more junk food, so you may go back to what you know.

In this case, you might be feeling bored, lonely, anxious, afraid or not feeling good enough. In those cases, it’s really important to deal with the underlying emotions by observing, feeling and dealing with them, rather than pushing them away and indulging in the negative behavior through avoidance. In this way, you’re going to the heart of the issue emotionally, which breaks up the need to do the behavior you don’t want. Over time, the behaviors dissipate and you rely less on them to cope or avoid. It sounds easy, but this process can be quite difficult.

Ask Yourself: Why Do You Want It?

It’s essential to ask yourself: why do I want this in the first place? What good will come to be if I take the initiative to put myself into this change? Am I doing this for myself, or for someone or something else?

You’ve got to find the motivation inside of yourself to do something, or else it won’t work. It’s “intrinsic” (inside you) motivation, rather than “extrinsic” (outside you) motivation. You have to make sure that your values match the reason you’re doing it. Do you value more time with your children? Do you value being productive at work? Is a strong marriage important to you? Are you willing to make behavioral changes aligned with what you value or believe in?

Without the intrinsic motivation – and attachment to the reasons you want it – the initiative doesn’t make sense. Then you’re just doing it for other reasons, which aren’t sustainable, and don’t organically come from within you. They’re just not sustainable and valuable to you.

If you’re making change or taking the initiative because others want you to do it, that won’t last, either. It then becomes obligation, which creates resentment, guilt, conflict and eventual burnout. You’re going to do it once, or twice, but it’ll peter out in the long run.


Taking initiative for changing behaviors in your life is not as easy as just getting something done, and being over with it. If you want long-term change, it’ll important to consider all of the factors that go into it, including the barriers to getting you there, the emotions underlying why you do what you do, and knowing how to summon the intrinsic motivation to make the long-lasting changes in your life that you desire.

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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