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Being Proactive: Why You Remain Passive When You Know You Must Act

Coach Ignas Genys by Ignas Genys
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You might be familiar with the feeling you get when there is a situation where you must act and you're aware of it.... and you just don't.

Yesterday after dinner as I was walking in the old-town with my mother, something unexpected happened. Which got me reconsider the whole mindset I'm carrying, and questions on pro-activity kept coming to mind the whole evening.

It was a bright evening. Me and my mother came out of a restaurant chatting as we noticed some slight turmoil in the background. I looked round and saw a young stylish-looking man speaking loud to a couple. His black Porsche was standing a few steps ahead, he seemed angry and slightly aggressive. The location couldn't get more central - we were in front of the city hall so safety wasn't something I would’ve considered at that time.

We were paying little attention to the scene, when suddenly we saw that young man rush toward the couple and push the man aggressively whilst sharing his knowledge of the most popular Hollywood f-words. He then jumped into his shiny Porsche and rushed off down the street in fury.

Then it dawned on me... That couple must have been foreign tourists and the young man had shouted at them for crossing the road at a wrong spot!

We carried on as I saw this couple walk away slowly.. And after a few more steps I started realizing what had just happened and how those people must have felt - being attacked in the middle of the day by a local in a foreign country... But then it was kind of too late to act. The aggressor had disappeared, the couple was probably gone too and we seemed too far to come back.

I was left stuck with a feeling of powerlessness. And I carried that feeling for a good few hours that evening, to the extent I couldn't hear what I was being told, and I kept thinking about what I should've and would've done...

So what is it that keeps us inactive? The answer must be quite simple. It is our mindset. And the problem is that the mindset itself isn't simple. It is a complex of thoughts, habits, and attitudes that shape our world as we see it.

And there seems to be 3 underlying reasons for being inactive:

We may be brought up in a way that encourages inactivity. If our parents were aggressive and growing up we spent time feeling fearful and inferior, we may feel insecure today. There wasn't space for our pro-activity to develop as we had to leave all of that space for our aggressor parent. It's become natural for us, even as grown ups, to then wait for an incredibly convenient time... And then we act. Safely.

We also may have developed a character that's defined as quiet and peaceful yet mostly passive, and we keep acting in that way. It becomes a strong habit. Our whole character is actually but a mental habit pattern that's a product of 1) our upbringing, 2) our values, and 3) our volition. While our upbringing can not be changed, our values and our volition can. Gestalt therapists describe character as what we cling to unconsciously. They say character is something that has had a function at some point in the past and that insensibly got stuck with us.

Finally, our indifference can make us inactive. At times we feel aloof to others and the whole world outside. There can be tons of reasons for that - from feeling tired, sad or depressed, to carrying a sense of helplessness for no reason. Developing emotional intelligence can help in case of a prevailing emotion. Yet if we feel helpless for no reason it's another story. It comes back to our character that's been formed at some point in the past. It is a good idea at this point to ask ourselves: What is it really all about? What am I avoiding or running from? What actually disables me from being pro-active?

Have you ever though what it feels to be pro-active?

I have. That evening as I came back home after the incident in town, I couldn't stop thinking. I kept asking myself what's been happening. I wondered what forces my actions (and non-actions) were controlled by.

In the end, It all came down to the feeling of being a child. I realized that at times being with others would trigger in me this feeling of being a child. My mother is, obviously, at the top of the list here. And what happens when I am a child? I don't need to do much. It'll all be taken care of. I feel safe and looked after.

Then I asked myself: What mental patterns do I posses when I'm ready to act in life?

And I realized, when I'm pro-active I feel powerful and confident about myself. Then I feel I'm not controlled by anyone else and I don't allow other people's opinion affect my confidence. What's most important, I felt my mental position as a feeling, which I remember deep inside. This is where I said I will be coming to as often as I can in life - to develop the muscle of pro-activity.

What about you? What do you feel when you are pro-active?

A 5-minute exercise to help develop your pro-activity:

Remember a situation or a day when you were undoubtedly pro-active.
Imagine vividly the situation as if you were there now… Take your time.
Pay attention to the feeling you start having as you imagine it.
Notice your mental attitude and your thought patterns.
Stay there for a few minutes.
Now create a small daily habit - one that would help you maintain the feeling you just felt and the mental position you just experienced in your daily life.

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