In psychology, we use the terms ‘reactive’ and ‘proactive’ to define different types of response to stimulus. These are the distinguishing features of reactive vs. proactive behavior. This article also explores the affect that reactive vs. proactive behavior has on emotional health.
Reactive Behavior behavior is typically behavior that occurs in response to a stimulus. Reactionary behavior is influenced by outside forces. For example, you believe that someone has wronged you or been rude to you, you ‘react’ by punishing or vindicating yourself. To ‘react’ to means that you allow someone else’s behavior or choices to guide your own actions.
Proactive behavior takes time to consider options and weigh outcomes. Proactive behavior is not controlled by outside stimulus (aka someone else’s behavior). To be proactive is to consider your options and make your decisions based on what you think is best for you at the time. Proactive behavior is also referred to as responding, rather than reacting.
Reactive behavior is generally spontaneous while proactive behavior requires some time and thought. When a person reacts to perceived insults, threats or actions he doesn’t like, it is usually done in haste and anger, giving vent to the first words out of his mouth. These people are described as reactionary. Proactive behavior takes an ‘I’ll get back to you on that’ attitude. Proactive behavior means choosing a course of action, not necessarily in response to what someone else has done.
When I am angered and respond with the first thought in my head, those words will be angry, vicious and vindictive. That’s pretty much the first response with most anyone. It’s our territorial animal nature coming out; a dog’s instinct is to snarl when her territory (or loved ones) are threatened. Even if the dog just sense danger, the hackles go up, the teeth are bared and growling begins. The message is clear. Do not mess with me. And there may be times when this response isn’t unhealthy. But if that is my reaction to every situation, I need to step back and rethink my behavior. Do I feel threatened or am I just annoyed? Am I habitually angry? Do I react rather than respond?
If you can separate in your mind, what someone else is doing from what you are doing, you will find it easier to plan your own actions. Making choices about how you will act in any given situation, independent of how someone else is acting, is ‘proactive’ and healthy. If you are like me, you don’t want someone else’s behavior or choices to dictate how you act. I want to plot my course of action for myself, not just in reaction to what someone else does or says.