Are You Proactive or Reactive? And Why It Matters

I once had a truly miserable job. No really, it was the job from hell.

My manager went out of her way to criticize my work, my coworkers bullied me, and it felt like everyone in the department took delight in making my life unbearable.

It was so bad that I became physically sick every morning. Also during this time, I was having several panic attacks per week that would cause me to weep uncontrollably and beg the universe to make it stop.

Not exactly the picture of an unflappable life coach, am I right?

Well, I wasn’t a life coach then, but I learned a valuable lesson during this time that changed everything about how I view my life. And I certainly wouldn’t be as effective as a coach without having gone through this important transition.

I have the choice to live a life that is proactive or reactive. And I choose proactive.

Three months later, I was assigned a new friendly manager, the bullies had stopped tormenting me, and I was scored a new client that all my coworkers had been competing for.

That was also the week I accepted a position at a rival company with a $10,000 pay increase. So long, suckers!

Proactivity is essential for getting what you want in life, and it’s completely possible to turn around your situation no matter how bad it seems.

Here’s how to tell if you’re being proactive or reactive.

The Difference Between Proactive and Reactive

Simply put, proactivity is when you take control or your own life, and reactivity is when you act like a victim of your life’s circumstances.

If your behavior is proactive, you take measures to prevent bad things from happening ahead of time. You anticipate problems and plan ahead to avoid them. Hence the “pro” part. And when you’re confronted with an obstacle, you keep moving forward to get where you want to be.

Obstacles are just a bump in the road, but they don’t slow down your trip.

If your behavior is reactive, you blame others for the results you get. You don’t take responsibility for your past actions that led you to where you are right now.

On the road of life, obstacles make you veer into oncoming traffic and flip upside down into a ditch.

Your Response Affects Your Results

Obviously, proactive and reactive responses produce very different outcomes. At my terrible job, I was in a reactive mode and thought everyone else was to blame.

It was my manager’s fault that I messed up because she didn’t explain what she wanted. The bullies were jealous of me so that’s why they undermined me. I never accepted the role I played in the situation.

Because I blamed other people, I didn’t think I had the power to change things. I felt hopeless, and I was waiting for someone to save me and make it all better.

But when I shifted to a proactive mindset, I realized that I DID have power to improve my work situation. Little by little, I made changes that pulled me out of my reactive spiral.

A Simple Proactive Exercise

Life’s not perfect, and you’re going to run into problems that don’t fit into your perfect little schedule. When that happens, try this quick exercise to reclaim your power.

Get out a sheet of paper or your journal. At the top of a blank page, write the specific problem you are dealing with. For example, “I hate my job,” “My jeans don’t fit,” “My kids don’t listen me.”

Next, write down 10 proactive things you can do to improve the situation. Use “I” in your action steps such as “I can update my resume today” rather than statements that involve other people such as “My friend needs to take pity on me and give me a job at her company.”

Once you have 10 proactive items on your list, choose one that you can do today that can improve your situation no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. Then do it!

Being proactive means being laser-focused about making progress on your goals, whether that’s bringing something new into your life or getting out of a mess.

Baby steps count! In fact, nearly all of my achievements have come from the tiny actions I make every day.

My proactive choices included applying to other jobs, listening to positive music during my work day, writing in my aspiration journal, making a vision board, and believing that I already had the best job in the world.

I wasn’t helpless after all!

What’s something you’ve been struggling with lately?

This post focuses on Step 1 of the Life Editing Process, Create a Foundation. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.

3 Simple Steps to Become a Productivity Superstar

Dump your excuses, transform your habits, and become the most productive person you know.


  1. Lenusik on May 24, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    You write so interesting and always touch on such topics. You know last year I got a job in logistics and I caught udasny chief, he does not respect me, shouted and humiliated me. Everyone knew he was a fool, but this was not easy. I decided to leave and find a new job. I am currently working and getting a little boltshe than before and I have a good

  2. Sarah @ Long Island Nerd on May 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Another amazing post Sage 🙂 I think a lot of us have had this job and for the longest time I was in the reactive group… I realized after a long time that I would never help myself if I continued to respond that way and have made strides to be more proactive. It’s a struggle sometimes but your story is so inspiring and makes me hopeful 🙂

    • Sage Grayson on May 21, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks, Sarah! Yep, we all fall into the reactive pattern at some point. Keep at it–being proactive gets easier with time, especially after you start seeing results.

  3. Shybiker on May 21, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Such wise words. (As always.) I had that same job! And I learned, through pain, the same lessons. Where were you thirty years ago, Sage?! I needed you then.

    • Sage Grayson on May 21, 2014 at 7:27 am

      Thirty years ago I was probably watching Star Wars and listening to Michale Jackson’s Thriller over and over. Wait–I still do that! 🙂

      But seriously, all of us go through tough times in our lives but we’re better people once we’ve made it to the other side. Thanks for commenting, Ally!