“Going from 0 – 1 is the hardest part”, says Richard. H. Thaler, the American, Nobel Prize Winning Economist. I wholeheartedly agree with him, as I’m sure many of you will too. All the rest, the bits in-between 1 and 10 are easy! Easier at least. It’s finding that momentum to type the first word, open the book, take the first step outside for the run… or whatever it is you happen to be doing. Ideas and good intentions are great, but being proactive in making them happen is a different matter. We’re probably all familiar with the notion that cleaning the house or replying to all your WhatApp messages is much more important (or appealing!) than knuckling down to the one, probably more challenging task you actually need to do.
The new year is often a time for reflecting on what has happened the previous year, and making resolutions and plans, or forming dreams for the year ahead. This year I have decided to (try) and work on being more patient and calm in the face of conflict, and to do some serious triathlons. But how will this work in the moment when emotions are heightened, or when plunging into icy water for a training swim seems like the least appealing prospect in the world?
Steven Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People;
“Look at the word, responsibility – “response-ability” – the ability to choose your response. Highly Proactive people recognise that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling…
Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them”.
We have the freedom to choose how we respond, and the brain power to be self-aware enough to reflect on how we have responded. This is a gift which brings with it a huge challenge. I think it would be naive to think that circumstances, conditions and conditioning don’t inform how we react in certain situations, (my mood is definitely affected by the weather!) but I definitely think we have the power to reflect and the power to change things that have become habitual. It takes 21 days to break a habit – only 3 weeks – but it requires work and dedication. This is what I tell clients who habitually shuffle when they speak – they can absolutely learn to stand still, but it will take work.
Similarly, if we have learnt to react negatively in certain situations – for example, snapping our nearest and dearest when they annoy us by accident, or telling ourselves there’s no way we can go running if it’s raining – we actually have the power to overcome these mental and physical responses. We can become proactive rather than reactive.
It’s much like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). In simpler terms I think it’s about dedicating time to developing ourselves, which requires self assessment and reflection. The first few weeks of January can feel like we’re shifting up through the gears on a rusty car that has been sitting in the drive for a long time over the festive season. But just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean we are new people… we are still very much ourselves, carrying all the same burdens and joys that we’ve built up over the course of our lives. The question is, during this time, how can we make small adjustments to elevate pro-activity and diminish reactivity? And how do we do this when things get busy, when the year properly gets going and work gets on top of us? The answers will be different for everyone but David Kolb (who invented the Experiential Learning Cycle Theory) argued,
An experience on its own is insufficient to facilitate learning. It needs to be followed by reflection on what happened, thoughts about what might happen if you do it differently and active experimentation on doing something differently and testing the results.