Define proactive vs. reactive thinking

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In business and in life, success is often determined by how a person thinks things through. A reactive thinker may battle crisis after crisis, but a proactive one seems to have everything figured out beforehand and can better deal with the curve balls life throws.

Often a person seems extraordinarily lucky in life and in business, but this luck can be traced to the foresight and vision that is the hallmark of good proactive thinking.

Definition of Reactive Thinking

Reactive thinking is crisis-based thinking, coming up with solutions after problems develop. Reactive thinking responds to the situation. A reactive thinker often spends too much of his time fighting fires. A reactive thinker is easily blindsided by circumstances. A crisis-driven reactive thinker may be more prone to feeling stress.

Definition of Proactive Thinking

Proactive thinking, on the other hand, involves foresight. To be proactive means to think ahead, in anticipation of future changes or problems. It means covering your bases to include all possible scenarios. A proactive thinker will have several contingencies in mind. A proactive thinker sees the likelihood of crises before they happen.

Real-Life Reactive

A person who lives from paycheck to paycheck may be a reactive thinker. She's staying even, meeting the crises as they come up. In business, a reactive thinker faces a financial or personnel crisis and deals with it on the spot. Setting a plan may have little to do with proactive or reactive thinking; a reactive thinker's blueprint may be short on realistic contingencies and too general to be truly proactive. Reactive thinking is better suited for day-to-day management.

Real-Life Proactive

A proactive thinker builds a personal budget, sets something aside for crises and takes initiative. In business, he is the one who screens prospective employees to determine who best fits in the organisation, and he is the one who asks "what if." He may be at odds with reactive-thinking people; they don't see as far ahead as he does. There is an element of risk in proactive thinking; the premises and scenarios may be wrong. Proactive thinking doesn't always work in day-to-day business situations, and it's easy to get locked into a plan while ignoring what is really going on.

Becoming Proactive

A reactive thinker may need to revamp her personal management style if she wishes to become more proactive. Shee will need to devote more effort to seeing potential consequences of a plan and ways to address these issues as they come up. Sometimes this means disconnecting from a plan and viewing it from different perspectives. It takes time to think proactively, though, and a proactive thinker may have difficulty swaying co-workers who need an actual cause to get them moving.