Proactive Mindset: Freedom of Choice

When I first discovered the power of a proactive mindset, it was a truly freeing experience.

This is the first part of an 8-part series called “7 Habits of Highly Effective Pharmacists.”

When I first discovered the power of a proactive mindset, it was a truly freeing experience. Looking back at my life, I don’t know how I never realized its impact sooner.

One problem I had with my family really illustrates how a proactive mindset can change your life for the better.

A few years ago, I’d come home from work and be ready to relax, but my 1- and 3-year-old daughters would have the living room in shambles—nothing like the neat and tidy home I imagined I might come home to. The girls might be running around, and my wife might be lying on the couch for a well-deserved rest after dealing with them all day.

I thought I was managing to hide my frustration, but when I’d begin to interact with my wife, I’d launch into passive-aggressive questioning: “So have you been having a fun day today?” or “Have you been relaxing all day today?” This, of course, would make my wife feel guilty for lying down, or angry.

The next day, it would be the same thing again. I’d think things like:

  • “If only she’d just do this.”
  • “If only she’d tell the kids to clean up their toys.”
  • “Why do I have to spend all this time cleaning when she stays at home?”

Whether you fall on my side or my wife’s, I think you can relate to this problem. Maybe you find yourself saying or thinking:

  • “If only I had a more patient husband.”
  • “If only my boss wasn’t so crazy.”
  • “If only my technicians would listen to me.”
  • “If only I had more training.”

The problem here is what I call the victim mindset. For the victim, the problem is “out there” and it can’t be controlled by him.

The victim mindset works like this: a stimulus elicits a reactive emotional response, which is often blaming others while the victim fails to look inward for the answers.

The Proactive Mindset

The opposite of the victim mindset is the proactive mindset. I discussed this in a previous episode of Pharmacy Life Radio relative to Viktor Frankl, a man who was imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II and realized that although the Nazis took everything from him, they couldn’t take his freedom to choose.

This proactive thinking was for Viktor a kind of freedom—albeit simply a freedom of choice that allowed him to think beyond himself. He no longer had to rely on his emotions to guide him toward anger, sorrow, or resentment.

When you commit to being proactive and choosing the freedom of choice, you take responsibility for your life. You don’t blame others, conditions, or circumstances for your predicament, in which you’d choose to become reactive and feel like a victim because you rely on your emotions and believe you must control the situation. With a proactive mindset, however, you understand that your behavior is a function of your decisions, not your conditions.

You've probably met someone with a victim mindset lately. It’s the family member who always has awful things happening to her. It’s the co-worker who never causes the problem, but thinks he’s always doing what’s right.

The victim says, “You’re the problem.” The proactive person says, “How can I solve the problem?” In order to change from the victim mindset to the proactive mindset, you must understand you have the power to choose your response.

Choosing Your Response

Here’s how I applied the proactive mindset to my messy house example.

After much unnecessary arguing, I finally learned I had the choice to get angry or not. As I was coming home, I recognized the house was probably going to be messy, I might have to spend some time cleaning up, and I might need to help my wife with some of the housework.

My wife and I came up with a few ideas and plans we could implement to help each other in this process. My wife is okay with messy, but I realized I’m going to get angry if the house is messy when I come home.

If I can anticipate the problem, I can plan how I will react. I decided to expect the messy and help clean up as soon as I could if that’s what it would take to make me happy.

Because I changed my mindset and took ownership of the problem, my wife and I haven’t fought about our messy house in several years.

So many of us are just waiting for someone else to fix our problems, but the truth is we must take ownership of our problems and fix them. When you accept this truth, there’s so much freedom because you have the ability to choose. And those who choose to take action to solve their problems are those with happy jobs, great finances, happy marriages, mature children, and healthy bodies.

When you stop blaming others, you don’t look at the world and think, “How the world can give me more of what I want?” Instead, you think, “How can I give more to make the world a better place?” It’s so freeing to understand everyone makes choices. Circumstances can come and ruin your life, but you must realize you can control your next decision and do the next right thing to move on.

When I think about someone with the proactive mindset, I think of my mother. My father left when I was 2 because he had an affair. My mother could’ve let that dominate her entire life by thinking, “How can I get this guy to pay for child support? How can I make him suffer?” But instead, she was brave and said, “I’m going to do the next right thing for my son and for me. I’m going to go back to school and get an education so I can have a job and take care of my family.”

Rather than reacting as a victim, my mom was really proactive.

Becoming a Proactive Person

It’s a big step to actually become a proactive person. Try this exercise to get you thinking in the right direction:

Step 1: Write down a problem you face. It could be with your job, significant other, finances, or even physical health.

Step 2: Write down all the reasons you believe you can’t fix that problem. These should be things like, “I don’t have time to go to the gym.”

Step 3: Answer these questions: “How could I respond proactively?” and “How could I choose to behave differently?” Write down a couple ideas for how you can take responsibility for the action.

If you do this for 3 days, I think you’ll find you tell yourself a lot of things that aren’t true. You may realize how often you say some of these things to yourself and how bad it makes you feel. Maybe it makes you feel trapped and only fuels your anger toward the individual or circumstance you believe is controlling you.

How can you respond proactively to a problem in your life, and how can you choose to behave differently?