Examples of proactivity and tips for being more proactive.
Proactivity is defined as the act of intentionally looking for ways to change one’s environment, rather than waiting to be forced to act (Bateman & Crant, 1993). Being proactive means seeing one’s environment as something that can change, and seeing oneself as a person who can change that environment. And importantly, proactivity is something that comes from within us, from an internal source of motivation or inspiration.
The clearest benefit of being proactive is that proactive people experience more success in their professional and personal lives (Fuller & Marler, 2009). This may be because proactivity leads to getting one’s needs met. The satisfaction that comes with this not only makes us feel better about ourselves, but also increases our interest in continuing to be proactive. In other words, over time a person can become more automatically proactive through building a positive feedback loop between proactive behaviors and positive emotions and thoughts about oneself (Strauss & Parker, 2014).
Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that people who are proactive show higher levels of healthy independence, feel more vital and confident, and see themselves as competent and able to determine their own fates (Cangiano & Parker, 2015). It is likely that these personality traits and proactivity positively reinforce each other, too.
What Leads to Proactivity?
As we saw above, proactive behaviors lead to more proactivity because they generally get positive, desired results. But certain personality traits seem to be associated with being more proactive, too. For example, people who are more proactive are generally more extroverted, more open to experience, more conscientious, and less neurotic (Fuller & Marler, 2009; Wanberg & Kammeyer-Mueller, 2000). People who take an active interest in learning and see themselves as capable in their career also tend to be more proactive (Fuller & Marler, 2009).
It also appears that people who actively seek feedback about their own behavior, and who seek to build connections with others, are more proactive (Wanberg & Kammeyer-Mueller, 2000). Seeing as these tend to be proactive behaviors in and of themselves, this makes a lot of sense.
Tips on Proactivity
By now, you might be saying, “okay, I get it, proactivity is good. But how do I become more proactive?”
One way is to find and use tools of planning ahead (Presbitero, 2015). This is particularly effective for career success, as people who plan for their careers are more likely to take proactive steps toward their career goals (Presbitero, 2015). Some examples of planning ahead in a career context can include researching career trajectories online, seeking out informational interviews with people in your field, and using goal-setting apps or planners to build a vision for yourself.
Change your Mindset
More generally, you might be able to increase your proactivity by changing your mindset about the different environments you inhabit. For example, we can make a deliberate effort to see ourselves as leaders in our homes, schools, and workplaces (do Nascimento et al., 2018). We can ask ourselves, “How would somebody who is responsible for everything here look at this room? This project proposal? What would they say?” It can be helpful in this context to articulate what your own values are, too, because these can also be a lens for seeing the world that motivates proactive behaviors (do Nascimento et al., 2018).
Develop a Critical Eye
Finally, you can walk through the world with a loving and critical eye. What do I mean by this? Look around the room you’re sitting in. If you were somebody who wanted the very best for this room, what would you change? Would you clean the windowsills or buy new screens? Redo the paint in the corner? Add a piece of artwork to an empty stretch of wall?
If this sounds like a lot of effort, we get it – it is more effort. But it will sustain itself and you: people who are proactive are more connected to their reasons for working and caring, and that motivates them to keep helping others (Lebel & Patil, 2018).
If you are reading this article, you probably aspire to be more proactive. We encourage you to start in a place where you are already passionate. Whether you want more intimacy in your romantic relationship, more cohesion in your team at work, or more time to spend on a beloved hobby, you can ask yourself: what things are in my power to change? What might be in my power to change that I’ve been ignoring or denying? Where do I stand to make the most change? You and the people around you will all be grateful for the effort you proactively put in to improve the world.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.