Proactive behavior refers to actions taken that are forward thinking, that anticipate future problems, and are aimed at avoiding those problems. They are focused on changing the environment for the better.
Proactivity contrasts with reactivity as an approach to challenges. Reactive behavior is about dealing with the crisis that is present right now. Reactivity also often is associated with a wish to avoid a challenge, to duck, as it were, rather than to try to change the situation.
In my experience, shifting from a proactive relationship with life challenges to a reactive one is both an indicator of depression, and also a predictor of future worsened mood. In other words, going from being proactive to being reactive is both a cause of mood changes and an effect of those changes. As a result, reactivity can be part of a spiral that makes depression worse and worse.
I have been thinking a lot on how it is that one can shift one’s thinking about challenges ahead.
Let me give an example from my own personal life. I take several vitamins and other supplements. I have a weekly pill box, which I usually fill with my pills for the week.
In the long run, filling in the pill box saves time since I only have to get down the bottles of vitamins and supplements once. It also allows me to keep track of whether or not I’ve taken my pills (occasionally, I may forget if the morning is particularly busy).
In other words, there’s really no good reason for not filling the pill box every week. But I notice that, at times when I am feeling particularly stressed, I’m much more likely to not fill the medication set for several days at a time.
I pay attention to this simple behavior as a marker for whether I’m feeling more reactive (trying to avoid challenges more than trying to solve them) or proactive (looking at what’s best in the long run).
When I notice that I am putting off filling the pill box it raises warning flags and I start to pay attention to how I am approaching other challenges. Usually I discover that there are other areas where I am making that change (not putting things away, waiting longer to do the laundry) and I then make a modest effort to shift the balance back to being proactive.
I notice that doing this has a modest positive effect on my mood. I feel a bit more on top of things. Challenges seems just a bit less overwhelming.
There are probably many examples that you could come up with of these two types of behavior.
Are you planning a food shopping expedition every week, or just running to the grocery store when you need something for dinner.
Are you putting a little effort into establishing friendships, or strengthening old ones, or are you avoiding returning phone calls.
Being more proactive results in an easier time of it. An easier life in the long run, and also gives one a sense of control over one’s life, whereas being reactive, encourages the feeling that there’s not much to be done, other than hide when a challenge comes along.
By paying attention to this dimension, and by looking for examples that are relevant in your own life, you can monitor where you are on your own proactivity scale, and also, in at least small ways, encourage yourself to be more proactive. Yes, maybe you are in a hurry, but you probably could put out the pills now, rather than put it off until tomorrow.