This can be defined as behaviour that prepares us to deal with the future, rather than reacting to the future as it happens. Proactive individuals believe that they can make changes to themselves and their environment which will lead to improved future outcomes. Their personality traits include resourcefulness, responsibility, values and vision and these attributes motivate them to seize opportunities, set goals and take action to achieve them. So, what do proactive individuals do differently?
Proactive individuals accept negative emotions as a normal part of life’s ups and downs. Their attitude to these emotions means that they are less likely to become distressed when they occur. And, by accepting them, they notice rather than avoid them, and so develop good emotional awareness and regulation. Plus, facing up to negative emotions builds resilience and makes them better able to tolerate distress.
Protective factors and risk
The second element of the proactive approach involves incorporating protective factors into our lives while minimising risk factors. There are several factors which are known to have a positive effect on our wellbeing: exercise, good nutrition, sleep, social support and self-esteem. Conversely, factors such as turning things over and over in our minds, difficult life events, stress, burnout and social isolation are all linked to poor mental health. And although many of these things are outside our control, there will be areas where we can make changes that can minimise their impact.
Thirdly, proactive individuals build positive habits. They recognise and understand wellbeing as something that can be practised and improved. Because the human brain can reorganise itself by forming new neural connections, it’s possible to change the way we think through the process of repetition, thus enabling the development of a more resilient mindset. However, to achieve this we must identify what works and then stick to it, especially in the face of challenges. As Aristotle perceptively remarked, ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.
Finally, proactive individuals recognise the value of developing and nurturing social connections. Research has shown that even where high levels of adversity exist, social support has a protective effect on our wellbeing. Therefore, proactively managing our wellbeing is most effective when we work with others. Having a sense of belonging is a key factor in positive mental health. Unfortunately, negative emotions often cause us to withdraw from our environment and the people in it, thus damaging the very social connections which help to care for and protect our wellbeing.
We all deserve to enjoy life to the best of our ability, and that means looking after our mental health before it becomes a problem – focusing on prevention, not intervention. So, take the proactive approach: reduce risks, incorporate protective factors and develop positive habits. And don’t neglect to nurture your social connections, never forgetting that we are better together than alone.