Somewhere along the lines, I’ve learned that a “good offense is the best defense.” Maybe it’s because I love sports; or maybe it’s because my husband’s a high school football coach. But I know it’s better to be moving forward than trying to fight your way back. It’s better to be responsive than reactive.

As Shakespeare’s so famous for saying, “therein lies the rub.” After all, it’s so much easier to say to someone, “well, try being more responsive,” but just what does that mean?

Being reactive means you’ve not taken the initiative. No matter what it is you’re talking about, if you find yourself reacting, it means you let someone else– it could be life, events, people, or even the dog– set the agenda. This sort of pattern can leave you feeling at the mercy of life. Based on some of the conversations I’ve had, a lot of us feel tossed around this way.

The good news is that you can start to become more proactive and assume control of the rhythm of your life at any time. Being proactive is essentially identical to being reactive, with one big difference: you’re reacting ahead of time. You’re anticipating something and then reacting to your expectations. You can do this with almost anything in life.

I always suggest three steps:

Step 1. Play it out in your head.

Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? When you ask yourself this question, it allows you to play out scenarios in your head. This will help you clear out the “what if’s” and allow you to focus on the present.

Step 2. Do what’s necessary.

Even if you’re exhausted by the prospect, do what you must.

Of course, you may decide to simply react at such a moment. For example, you may be in the thick of things and a big picture perspective may not be possible.

You have one of two options at this point: you can decide if you can take the steps needed, or you can take a break (react).

Step 3. Refocus.

If you were unable to muster the energy to take the steps needed and react, now’s the time to reassess and refocus.

Is there a way to be more proactive at this point? The break you give yourself when you react and refocus lets you realign your behavior with your desire to be proactive.

From my high school swimming days, I love this swimmer’s illustration: Two swimmers are in choppy waters. One moves along with the pattern of the waves, even though it’s very challenging. The other flounders about and struggles and has to react to each new wave crashing into them. Rather than being proactive about the pattern of the waves, they choose to climb on a nearby raft and take a break. This gives them perspective, allows them to see the pattern of the waves, and lets them begin to use the same proactive approach.

Do you need a moment to refocus? If so, give yourself that moment. Take a breath and center yourself. If you see the pattern and can create a proactive response, dive right in and feel the difference for yourself!

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