“I’m a kind person. Why do I have to go through all this shit?” This was a thought I had many years ago, and that’s when I started thinking the world wasn’t fair. It resulted in me resenting my work situation, I started getting a bit shy of people and social situations. At one point I even started disliking men in suits (and I did understand how ridiculous it was). Everything that happened was being done to me and I had no power to change it. I couldn’t control how people acted and the situation I was in, and I became more and more depressed. I hated my life, and I didn’t know how to get out of it. I felt helpless and powerless in my own life and I blamed God for not fixing it. I had no understanding of how to get out of the situation I was in, and my reaction was instinctive – blame God.
Shift to today: I’m happier than I have ever been. I love my life and I feel in full control of my life and situation. I know that I can deal with the hardships that will come my way and still be happy, peaceful and content.
How did I get there? I tried changing my external environment (work, home, romance), but it didn’t help much. Things did get a little better each time, but I was still very unhappy. Then I changed my inner environment. I stopped looking at other people/situation/past as source of unhappiness, and started looking at what I could do with myself. The thing is: We always have a choice. It’s an old adage, but it has survived for so long, because there’s truth in that statement.
Our choice isn’t related to what “should” have been, how people “should” have acted or what “shouldn’t” have happened. The situation is there and we have no control of how people think or act. Our choice is in how we respond to the situation. We can act instinctively, blaming everyone and everything around us – or blame ourselves (thereby feeling shame etc.) Or we can get proactive – make up a strategy to deal with a situation.
I remember a discussion on one of the social norwegian networks I’m registered on. The discussion was about NAV and the help NAV offers (or didn’t offer). There was a couple that received social benefits and they were so angry with NAV because they didn’t receive much money and NAV didn’t offer them much help to get a job/education etc. They were very resentful, stating that NAV was incompetent and run by idiots. Now, there may be some truth to their claim, but that is not the purpose of me bringing the issue forth. The interesting part was that their reaction was reactive. They had an external factor (NAV) that they expected to help or improve their life. It was clear from their statements they felt helpless and powerless dealing with this public office and grew more and more resentful as things didn’t improve. All their focus was on all the wrong things NAV had done (which is an instinctive reaction).
This is the reactive way, where one have an expectation of things outside oneself to improve one’s life and only focusing on faults made by external people and situations.
It was suggested to them that they had to make their claims to NAV, get to know the laws that governs it and actually be active to improve their situation. This is the proactive choice. Then one takes responsibility for the situation one is in, and make the steps to improve it. Things may not be better in the short term, but it will be in the long term.
There’s a saying that comes to mind here: God helps those that helps themselves.
Another example is a fight I recently had with a friend. In the beginning both were reactive (blaming each other) in response to each other. At some point I managed to cool down and take a look at what my values are. My friends are very important to me, and I saw that my actions was not in sync with my values. That was when I started getting proactive, and decided that what we were fighting about wasn’t important for me. I could have continued to be mad at my friend and keep driving my points in (reactive and instinctively). Instead I told her how I could have acted better, my areas of improvements and told her some of her good qualities.
Being proactive can be used on all areas of life. It’s about spending a little bit of time, search for resources that can help, make a strategy on how to deal with it and follow it.
A difficult boss – read up on how to deal with difficult bosses. One step can be to document everything that happens (date, time, people, situation, discussion).
Communication breaking down – read about the different communication styles and how to respond to them.
Unhappy at work – read up on career coaching like Marcus Buckingham gives.
The reactive and proactive response is just step 1 in “7 habits of highly effective people“. The next step is even more interesting and I touched upon it – what are the principles and values that we want to govern our actions.