Proactive vs Reactive? 6 Ways High Performers Live Proactively AND Reactively Responsively for an Elite Mindset
I know you’ll be tempted to skip to the bottom of this article and fast-track your way to the top 6 ways high performers and elite athletes live proactively and responsively.
As a mental training coach and mental training consultant, let’s go on a walk and dig deeper into this idea of being a highly proactive person, athlete, coach, athletic director, or high performer in your field. Sports Psychology has a lot to teach us about how to live both proactive and responsive. If you want an elite mindset, you’ll have to work hard at disciplining yourself to live intermittently between proactive and not reactive, but responsive.
Why Striking a Balance Matters
When high performers and those with an elite mindset figure out when and how to move between proactive and responsive mental skills sets, they will:
A Time for Each
Mike Tyson was one of the most vicious boxers of all time. He was quick, powerful, smart, confident, and vicious. In short, Mike Tyson was a beast mentally and physically. There was nobody better in the world when he was at his peak.
Boxing is a perfect example of having to know when and how to perform proactively and responsively. In a boxer’s training and preparation, they’ll primarily be proactive.
In the heat of competition, they’ll need to switch between both proactive and responsive in a split second:
Boxers are a perfect combination of knowing when and how to be proactive and responsive. There is an important balance to find here.
Best-selling author Steven Covey wrote a famous chapter in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” exploring what proactive thinking is. This very first habit of the 7 habits is to think proactively. Here is my version of thinking proactively:
Reactive thinking gets a bad rap. It might be because being reactive seems like we're living out of control. But we at Elite Mindset believe and teach there are precise times to be responsive to your opponent or circumstance. Here’s my version of responsive thinking:
While “reacting” to adversity may not be helpful, responding plays an important role in performance. No circumstance is perfect. There are always less-than-ideal factors that add up to make things more difficult for us—like a coronavirus pandemic! But, we can both be proactive and responsive during challenging situations. We can choose to control what we can control, and, we can adapt our response to them.
It’s About Control
Ultimately it’s about control. Misplaced and excessive response reinforces a negative mindset that we don't have control. We may be reacting to the people and world around us too often. If we feel out of control too much, then we start feeling like a victim. And if we feel like a victim long enough, then we’ll feel helpless. If we feel helpless long enough, the end result is that we’ll feel depressed--powerless over our lives to do anything about our situation.
Nick Saban, a leader of leaders and head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide said recently in an interview, “There is nothing more toxic than players who constantly see themselves as victims. They have an excuse for everything. We’re looking for players with a different mindset.”
While you can’t control everything, what can you control? What do you have full control over? What do you have partial control over? What do you have no control over? These are very important distinctions. Try making 4 columns on a piece of paper with the 4 headings below. Then, make a list of what seems right, what seems wrong, what seems missing, and what seems confusing in your life. Finally, place a checkmark into one of these 3 columns on the right. Note what you learn.
6 Ways to Perform Responsively and Proactively for an Elite Mindset
1. Limit social media. Most elite performers I know control their media consumption, especially in the morning. Think about it. If the first thing we do is open social media apps, read the news, or wonder how many people liked our last post, we are conditioning ourselves to reactive (and hundreds of times a day)! I have trained myself to rarely open social media, read the news, check the scores, etc. first thing in the morning. The real question is, “What do you want? Who do you want to become? What do you have to say?” Pay more attention to what you want, and less to what others want.
2. Decide what you really want. Know the difference between what you want and what you really want. You may want to stay in bed and catch up on social media to see what your friends are doing. But that’s what they’re doing. What about you? What are you achieving? What experiences are you giving yourself? Where are you showing progress? What do you really want? To be better? To achieve something? To make a difference? It always starts with your own self-leadership. Always.
3. Learn the skill of “scheduling your feelings”. One way to be more in control of your feelings is to schedule them. Often we let our feelings control us in the most inopportune ways at the worst times. If we perform poorly, we too often self-evaluate at our most vulnerable times when we have cortisol running through our body. Cortisol narrows our thinking. Evaluating ourselves at the right time can make a world of difference. We’re not burying our feelings. We’re not ignoring them. We are simply telling them when we’ll address them.
4. Be driven by your convictions and principles, not your feelings. Feelings are like sheep—they need to be herded. They need fences. Some need to be lassoed! They can’t always be trusted to work for us. Feelings are indicators of something going on deeper in us. So to act on our feelings but not address the underlying issue may be to solve the wrong problem. Even when it’s hard, be driven by your convictions and principles so you can live aligned.
5. Commit yourself to goals, habits, and/or routines that help you. We are in control of most of our actions. They are our response-ability. Making and writing down goals and commitments make us far more likely to achieve our goals. Even though goal researcher and author RL Adams debunks the scientific research of a specific Harvard MBA research paper about the efficacy of writing down our goals, he nonetheless suggests:
6. Create new neuropathways through healthy self-talk. Trevor Moawad, mental trainer for Seattle Seahawk’s quarterback Russel Wilson, suggests that the thought we verbalize out loud multiplies the power of that thought by 10. If we act on our words, that thought that was verbalized is multiplied by 10 once again. Even though most of our thoughts are unconscious, we can control most of our conscious thoughts. And, we can control our language. And we can control our actions. Think about what you think about. Are your thoughts helping you or hurting you? What thoughts are no longer helpful for performance?
Gary Chupik is a professional mental training coach and mental training consultant. Gary works with professional, college, and student-athletes. He also works with athletic directors to install a system of mental training for his clients.
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 The Slight Edge is a great book by Jeff Olsen about investing the majority of our time on what’s really important.