“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
– Maya Angelou
We can’t plan for every eventuality—almost no one expected a global pandemic—and you don’t want to be so on-guard that you can never relax.
At the same time, you CAN put a few simple systems or behaviors in place so you live more proactively and present—that way when the next big thing happens, it may be easier to meet it as it arrives with less overall disruption and upset.
Think of this like yoga or a martial art—the more you practice, the more your balance develops and the easier it is to stay planted where you are regardless of how extended a limb is.
Except in this case, we’re leveraging our core values to keep us firmly rooted and less buffetted by temporal conditions.
Orienting ourselves around those values is a key to productivity and taking a proactive approach to whatever life has in store for us next.
PROACTIVE VS REACTIVE
Here’s one thing COVID did for us, if we care to see the opportunities in addition to the costs and damage. It highlighted every time-waster and inefficient process in our lives.
If you were coasting along, thinking things were fine and likely to remain fine—meaning running on auto-pilot and somewhat checked out—you may have experienced a degree of panic and emotional distress while navigating the actual circumstances Covid caused … in addition to what we’d consider the predictable feelings of upset one has when things go awry … BECAUSE you were not totally awake. That’s what I mean by being in “reactive” mode.
You have to scramble to wake up and quickly get up to speed or risk making hasty and unconsidered choices just because you were caught unawares … and all that self-talk about NOT being alert only adds to the upset and agitation.
When we are vigilant and proactive, we’re actively scanning the horizon for things heading our way. It doesn’t mean we are on high alert or expecting ourselves to never miss something—it does mean we’ve already weeded out some inefficiencies and built buffers into our lives. We have a system in place that provides a bit of a cushion AND we are likely less thrown as far when an imbalance or surprise occurs.
We all have areas of our lives where we’re reactive at times—it’s unreasonable to expect that you can successfully monitor every system all the time by yourself. We also have the opportunity to foster a proactive mindset so we are more engaged more often with the things that matter most.
Think of it as owning the driver’s seat of your own life—and avoiding the passenger seat except for those occasions when you deliberately and consciously get into that seat for a rest while someone else drives.
We can sit and see where the car goes in both positions. When we’re driving, we have the agency to also steer it where we want to go. It’s important to remember that, almost always, our direction is within our control.
Living with that awareness, that we have the power to choose, creates confidence. We see the benefits of living proactively, scanning the horizon and refining our processes so that we’re ready for whatever comes next.
OUR LIFE, OUR VALUES
It’s also helpful to proactively monitor that the things we are prioritizing match OUR core values. When we’re coasting, that alignment can sometimes drift.
Using YOUR values as your true north is the only way to make sure that you don’t wake up in a few years living someone else’s life.
Or prioritizing tasks that you don’t actually give a crap about.
Alexander Hamilton—who had no idea he’d someday be the star of several rap battles on Broadway—said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”
He was talking about reactivity. Think about the early days of COVID, and how easy it was, without much scientific information, to get sucked up into a vague and overwhelming sense of fear and confusion. Slowing down and isolating ourselves proved more useful than racing to the store and stock piling toilet paper.
That’s the difference between agency and maintaining a proactive stance versus becoming reactive and just grasping for something, in this case a rather ineffective life preserver in the shape of a toilet paper roll.
When we establish proactivity as a practice, we’re ensuring that we are comfortable and prepared, and at the wheel, alert and ready to drive.
So how can we use the instability of the past year as fuel to future-proof our systems and processes?
One of the wake up calls is to pay attention to when we are NOT paying attention.
Again, the idea is not to be on hyper-alert stressing out your adrenal system, but consistently scanning the horizon and expecting the unexpected enough so that when the unexpected occurs, we may not know how to deal with the specifics, but we’re less disturbed that something unknown to us has actually happened.
We’re expecting surprises rather than thrown off balance by them.
That way, next time— since as long as we are alive there will be a next time of something—we’ll be more ready and less rattled.
THE BOTTOM LINE
No one’s got a crystal ball and can predict the future, can they? If someone can, PLEASE introduce me to them!
Barring this mystery seer, we’re all walking forward each day, ideally paying attention and staying awake and alert without worrying or fretting.
And we also are not in denial that major events will happen in our lives and in the world at large.
We can meet those events as a somewhat underprepared and possibly helpless passenger—or we can keep our eyes on the road and have a firm and steady grip on the steering wheel. We do have a choice on how we move through time and space.
Use your core values to drive your decision-making, and turn paying attention, refining your systems and streamlining activities to increase productivity into a regular practice, like any other form of exercise.
The effect is similar: you’ll feel sharp and poised and ready to meet whatever arises with balance … even when the ground underneath us is shifting.
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