Matt Klay: Look at me being proactive

Proactivity III: How proactive are you?

My last two blogs were about what proactivity is, and how being proactive relates to being reactive. Today I want to do something else. It’s all good and well to have a lot of information, but you need a way to apply it. Luckily my source material offers two ways in which you can test yourself on how proactive you are: the language you use and the Circles of Influence and Concern, which I’ve written about before. This is what today’s post is going to be about.


Language is a strong indicator in how someone sees herself and her situation in life. If someone uses passive language a lot, it’s an indication that that person tends to be reactive. If someone uses active language a lot, it means that that person is more likely to be proactive.

Talking is something that we do, we don’t really think about it. I want to challenge you to do so for a day. What kind of language do you use? Are you more an “it’s not my fault that…” kinda person, or do you say “let’s look at the alternatives” more often? Alternatively, you can try listening to what other people are saying instead.

Here are some examples of reactive language:

  • There’s nothing I can do about that…
  • It’s just the way I am…
  • If only…
  • I wish I had…

These sentences are all indicators that the person saying them doesn’t feel the freedom to choose his own actions and responses to consequences.

The sad thing about reactive language is that it creates a downward spiral for yourself. It’s just like boosting your confidence by saying “You can do it, you rock!” to yourself in a mirror. With every reactive sentence you mutter, you get a little less confidence in the freedom of choice. Every day it becomes a little bit harder to act proactively.

Change the language, change the person

So you gotta turn it around, bub! Just like reactive language puts you in a downward spiral, using proactive language puts you in an upward one. Use proactive language instead or reactive language, and you’ll progressively become more proactive. It’s a way of conditioning yourself. You have to be aware of the language you use, though.

Examples of proactive language are:

  • I choose to…
  • I can be more…
  • Let’s do this!
  • I am in control.

The big difference between reactive and proactive language is, as Covey puts it, the “have’s” and the “be’s”. Reactive people use the “have’s” (“if only I had a more understanding wife”, “I have no influence at my job”), proactive people tend to use the “be’s”( “I can be more patient with my kids”, “I am having fun”).

Or to put it differently, proactive language is active, reactive language is passive. (I think, I don’t remember all of my grammar. Don’t kill me if I got this wrong.)

That’s the language part. On to the second way to test your own level of proactivity.

The Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern

First, think of all the things that concern you. It will be quite the list. Personally, I’m concerned with my family, my income, exercise, food, and my health, amongst other things. You don’t have to limit your list to these subjects though. I can imagine being concerned with terrorism, the Trump presidency, fake news, traffic and many other things.

Do you have your list? Now imagine all those items on your list as a single circle. This is your Circle of Concern. How large is your circle?

Now think of all the things that you can influence, the things you have some control over. Be honest with yourself. You can influence what you eat for dinner. You probably don’t have much, if any, control on the Trump Presidency (if you do, contact me. I’d love to talk to you!) or terrorism. Draw another circle with the same center as your Circle of Concern. How large is this circle?

You’ve probably drawn a donut. The larger circle is the Circle of Concern, the smaller one your Circle of Influence. This is as it should be. Proactive persons have a Circle of Influence that is almost as large, or at most the same size as their Circle of Concern. Reactive persons have a small Circle of Influence and a large Circle of Concern. There are people with a larger Circle of Influence than their Circle of Concern. This isn’t good either. This means they have the possibility to use their influence, but they don’t care to use it.


Being proactive gets you into an upward spiral. You are proactive, have some successes, gain influence, realize being proactive works, are a bit more proactive etc. etc. Being proactive will cause your Circle of Influence to grow. The opposite is true as well. If you are reactive, nothing will really improve, you get the feeling it doesn’t matter what you do, lose influence, are a bit more reactive, things will change for the worse etc. etc. If you act reactively, your Circle of Influence will shrink.

Focus on being proactive to increase your influence.

What can you do to be more proactive?

Now do the following exercise. Draw your Circles. Write everything that concerns you in your Circle of Concern. The things you have influence over, you write in your Circle of Influence.

Now pick one of the things that’s in your Circle of Concern. What can you do to bring it into your Circle of Influence?

For example, let’s say I’m concerned with global warming. I don’t have the means to stop it, but I can do my part. So I can start recycling my waste, buy organic products, create a community event where we all clean a bit of nature every second tuesday of the month. There are lots of things you can do in almost every situation, if you don’t get too distracted by the big picture.

That’s it for today! Next time I’ll discuss consequences and mistakes.

Talk to you later!

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