How to be a massive success, idea #1: don't get reactive

I’ve been writing this and my other blogs for a while, but that doesn’t make me immune from making stupid mistakes.

In this case, my mistake got me unfriended and blocked on Facebook. It got me no perceptible forward movement on anything I truly think is important in life. It got me wrapped up in turmoil. It got me writing long blog posts with little response.

It was a waste of time and energy.

As with any negative thing that happens in life, it’s always vital to ask: what’s the lesson? What was I meant to learn? There’s always a lesson. In this case of getting unfriended and blocked, it took me a while to discover. When I did it was profoundly powerful.

The realization was that I had gotten into a mode of reactive, knee-jerk thinking rather than proactive thinking.  It was reflecting in my posts on Facebook and on my blog. They were reactive posts. They were against stuff I don’t like rather than towards stuff I want or like.

It is never a way to build towards anything good in life. It is a step backward, and that’s why I’d been feeling so poorly. It’s why I felt stuck. (Which doesn’t happen often these days, fortunately!)

One of the most negative modes of habit that any of us can get into is reactive mode. That’s a mode where we are emotionally reacting against stuff we don’t like, rather than working towards stuff we like.

What is reactivity?

Reactive is defined as showing a response to a stimulus. It is the process of observing or seeing something in the outside world, then having a knee-jerk response about that thing (which might, for example, including writing a blog post about something one doesn’t like – no, I’ve never done that… wink, wink).

The opposite of that state is proactivity. Proactivity is acting from an internal motivation to do something positive, good, and forward moving.

The past few blog posts that I wrote were all written from the reactive standpoint.  They were responses to things that I didn’t like or agree with that I’d seen in my outer environment.

This blog post is the (re)starting of a new direction – something that comes from that inner drive to move forward, and to help others in doing the same. It’s not that all my blogs in the past have been reactive. They haven’t been. It’s been an unconsciously planned mix of both proactive and reactive writing. A random mix is not good enough. Not to create massive success, that is.

The mix

That’s how most of us operate in our daily lives. We have this blend of reacting much of the time, with the occasionally inspired proactive thing that we do.

But that’s not enough. If you’re going to do anything great in this world, you can only do it proactively. Whether your greatness lies in inventing, discovering, writing, building great wealth, or whatever…. it can’t be done in reactive mode. It can only be done proactively.

This is one of the biggest shifts that I’ve made over the past 4 years. I’ve gone from someone who reacts nearly all the time, with only occasional proactivity, to someone who is proactive much of the time, with occasional reactivity.  So for me, this “month of reactivity” that I fell into last month was a good reminder of where that leads: on a road to nowhere.

Emotion is bad… no… good… no… which is it?!…. (aaaahhhhhhhhhh)

There’s a lot of confusion about emotion and feeling, and it’s role in a productive life. Some would have you turn all your emotion and feeling off, and to become a mindless robot just going through the motions. These are the people who believe that all emotion and feeling is bad and leads to sin, temptation, and downfall.

Others (like me sometimes) claim that you “have to listen to your feelings” to move quickly and intuitively towards what you want out of life. Are you confused by that?

Most people are. Let me attempt to de-confusify things:

  1. If an emotion (or feeling) comes from reactivity towards something you’ve seen or experienced – especially if that thing is negative – in all likelihood it isn’t going to help you one little bit to act upon it. You will find yourself just making the situation worse – as I experienced with my reactive blogging. For example, let’s say you see a mouth-watering piece of chocolate cake on the counter, and it tempts you to “eat me now!” Let’s say you’re reactive, so you do exactly that. Where does that get you? Heavier and less healthy.
  2. If a feeling (or emotion) comes from an internally generated desire for something positive, such as “hey, I want to share this great idea with people” or “what if I call up Fred to tell him about this idea I had” or whatever – then in all likelihood you will help yourself move much more quickly towards what you want. In contrast to our chocolate cake example, let’s say you want to get fit. So you proactively feel like going for a run. Where does that get you? Feeling even better, building muscle, and getting more fit. It’s the opposite of the reactive chocolate cake eating.

We get out of life what we focus on (and therefore act upon). If you are focused on these proactive feelings and emotions, you are acting upon something very different than if focused on the reactive stuff.

If you are acting reactively, you are by definition acting behind the curve. If your action is proactive, you are ahead of the curve.

Leaders, innovators, and successful people are always acting ahead of the curve, which means they think and take action proactively.

Commit to being proactive, and get success in return

If you want to be a great success in whatever you do, make this one commitment: to become proactive at all times.

Is it easy? No. You will be tested and challenged on a regular basis to get sucked back in.

Is it worth it? Yes. The world will open up to you in proportion to how much you act and think proactively, rather than reactively.

Dr. Morgan Giddings

6 thoughts on “How to be a massive success, idea #1: don't get reactive

  1. And now, I’m going to react to your blog entry, by suggesting that you consider an alternative viewpoint: Practically everything we do in life, is a reaction to something. The internally generated desire “get fit”, is a reaction to a dissatisfaction with not being as fit as one desires. If I may take some metaphysical license, our lives are essentially dialogs with the universe, and at any given point in time, neither we, nor the universe are able to act completely independently of the history of that dialog.

    I would propose that the larger issue is the difference between reacting positively or reacting negatively. Sometimes, reacting negatively is all that you’ve got, and it’s absolutely necessary to do, but reacting positively, can be very powerful. A series of positive reactions in an ongoing collaborative dialog between you and the universe, is a great way to build momentum.

    I suspect internal vs external motivation (my schema for understanding proactive vs reactive) may be an orthogonal axis in the psychology of success, to the positive vs negative intent axis, but I’ll argue that the positive – negative axis is worth of far more introspection than whether our actions are internally or externally motivated.

    … Can you tell that I have a grant due on Tuesday?

    1. Hi William, great to hear from you again, except for the fact that you’re procrastinating on your grant for Tuesday… what’s up with that!?

      Anyway, I disagree. There are three stages of awareness – future, present, past (from my Creative Pipeline work) – and they can be further broken down like this:

      1. Future awareness (vision of possibility)

      2. Present awareness of ideas and inspirations that boil up from “somewhere” (call it subconscious, call it the creative muse, call it what you will)

      3. Present awareness of analyzing the knowledge and external inputs we have, and drawing conclusions from it (which may be about past or future, but this is most definitely distinct from #1)

      4. Past awareness – memories, habits, and beliefs stored in our brains.

      5. Present awareness of being, without thought (as in deep meditation)

      Modes #1, #2, and #5 are NOT reactive. These are associated with the zen-like state, or what Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. They are directed only towards a goal you have set for yourself and/or towards inner silence.

      Modes #3 and #4 are reactive. Most people spend their whole lives exclusively in those modes, so they don’t ever realize there’s any other mode of awareness. If they do touch the other modes, it’s only for brief moments of ecstatic occurrences (sex, big accomplishment, etc).

      Since you’re a comp sci person, modes #3 and #4 are exactly what computers do. So if you equate your mind to a computer in a 1:1 mapping, then you will not be able to access the other modes because you won’t believe they exist. Current computers cannot do modes #1, #2, and #5. It’s why we have no AI as of yet.

      The key to a masterful and fun life is spending only a minimal amount of time in modes 3 and 4 (only to the extent that it is useful) and the rest in the other modes.

      So, yes, there are truly proactive modes… I and many others I’ve worked with have experienced them often, but it has to be by design and intention.

      1. Hello again Morgan,

        With respect to the grant, I suspect this is diagnostic of some distinct pathology, but, I find that the closer I am pressed to most deadlines, the more trivial the ephemera in which I am willing to engage. To some extent I allow myself to persist in this behavior because it lets me focus on focusing, when I really need to focus, and to some extent because I’ve never submitted a proposal in a condition where I felt that another hour, day, or week of staring at it, would have made it better. Since I can detect no meaningful impact on the output, I’ve never seen a point in fighting my brain to curtail its wanderings. At the same time, I find that the process of engaging in interesting written dialog, significantly (though sadly, only temporarily) sharpens my writing — so why fight what works 🙂

        With respect to proactive vs reactive, it’s more the physicist in my head who disagrees, than the computer scientist. You may forget that there’s an artist rattling around in there too – so I’m not at all unfamiliar with the creative modes of #1 and #2 (my inner voice won’t stop telling itself to shut up however, so #5 seems blocked to me). The physicist however says that the visions and impulses that boil out of the “somewhere”, are almost, if not absolutely all, rooted in neural connections laid down by past experiences. They are perhaps not accessible to the conscious mind, but they’re “somewhere”, not “nowhere”. The brain from which new outputs spring, where those outputs are completely untouched by any previous inputs, probably also possesses an interesting, possibly more dangerous pathology 🙂

        I simply map these to internal motivation, versus external motivation, without concern for whether internal motivation is derived from previous experiences.

        However, this is largely a (probably) semantic diversion from the point I was trying to raise. That being that a destructive intent – one that seeks to impede something, rather than promote something – whether arrived at reactively or proactively, is typically far more detrimental to success, than a constructive intent arrived at through either mechanism.

        As an aside, I would go so far as to argue that flow can be achieved in reactive, internally-motivated modes. Tightly-coupled partner activities, such as, I strongly suspect, couples figure skating, and I’m absolutely certain, partnered technical climbing, almost require a shared flow “telepathic” experience for enjoyment and success. These activities are critically reactive, and fundamentally produce nothing but endorphin-rush nail-biting terror, until the partners move past conscious reaction and and situational analysis and develop a “shared mind” that can react appropriately in unison, without conscious effort.

        … I’m also not sure whether you implied this or not, but you might be (or might not be) surprised at the extent to which good programmers can enter flow while coding…

        Back to the grant!

        1. Yeah, we should discuss further work on that “pathology.” I’m pretty good at fixing that stuff, though it can take some time and patience 😉

          With respect to the physicist in you – realize that you have a belief system that is materialist-based. It is very widespread. In fact, I write about that in my upcoming book, and I label this “psuedo-science,” because science itself is a PROCESS, not a belief or world view! And unfortunately, science in the 20th century went in a direction of strong belief that our material (classical) reality precedes and leads to consciousness. That view has very little support if you look with an open mind at the data, yet it is a very popular view nonetheless. It is not true science to come at the data with a strong, fixed belief system that filters out all data that “don’t fit the model.” Yet that’s exactly what physics and many other fields have done for the past century or more.

          So, you make the assertion that this is all just a product of “reactive” neural wiring. You are assuming a classical, fully deterministic system lies at the basis of our reality. It simply ain’t so. Quantum Mechanics does not allow it. Determinism can’t deal with nonlocality, such as boson spin pairing.

          There is no evidence that nonlocal quantum effects AREN’T happening in our brains, though there are people who, based on their pre-fixed beliefs will argue vehemently so. They are no different than the creationist who recently argued against Bill Nye the Science Guy about evolution vs creationism. Everyone is coming at these problems with these strong, pre-formed belief systems about what IS and what ISN’T, and very few (in the mainstream) are open-mindedly looking at the actual DATA.

          I have done that. The DATA (such as from PEAR labs, thousands of remote viewing experiments within the military and CIA, the noosphere project, rigorous studies of near-death experiences, etc) do not support the materialist view. In fact the THEORY does not support the materialist view. Read Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose as a starting point.

          I may not change your mind in a blog comment 😉 But I do hope to get you to consider how your strong beliefs in matter before mind (materialism) are jading your views in this conversation – and more importantly, flavoring your entire living experience with a somewhat bleak and often creatively blocked experience. Yes, materialism does that to people (I know, because it did it to me until I escaped it).

          It’s your choice – open your mind to the possibility that there’s something deeper going on that has to do with our conscious experience here as humans – or believe that we live in a deterministic, material world where we have no true free will whatsoever.

          If you doubt which choice you should make, maybe check out The Life of Pi 🙂

          1. Hi Morgan,

            Back from post-proposal housecleaning.

            You’re coming pretty close to painting yourself into a corner with noospheric arguments and the such — if everything is connected, then nothing is truly unconnected 🙂

            Regardless of the number of angels on that particular pinhead however, I think you’re misinterpreting my position. I certainly do apply a rather deterministic/materialistic version of Occam’s razor to most analyses, but, that doesn’t mean that I dismiss the possibility, or probability, of non-determinism in thought, as well as physical reality.

            That being said, the mere existence of non-determinism does not give it license to operate “in a vacuum”. My assertion that few thoughts arise in the brain, uncolored by some prior experience, doesn’t deny that non-determinism and free will can, and do affect our thinking. It only suggests that these non-deterministic effects are rarely projected into conscious thought, completely independently of the deterministic influences of memory and experience.

          2. Hey William,

            This conversation is an academic one for you. That’s fine and all – but it’s a distraction from the benefit that actually DOING this in one’s life has. It’s fine if you want to make your own success an “academic” matter rather than a “doing” matter. However, it’s not fine that the people reading this might be distracted and/or confused by it, and hence further paralyzed. So I would encourage you (and anyone reading this far) to TRY this practice rather than “academize” and “philosophize” it into oblivion, while staying stuck doing the same old things that are not working (which means continuing to be reactive).

            Because I love a good academic debate, I’ll respond to that portion.

            You made a nice tautology: “if everything is connected, then nothing is truly unconnected :-)”

            And your evidence to the contrary is….???

            Then you say: “It only suggests that these non-deterministic effects are rarely projected into conscious thought, completely independently of the deterministic influences of memory and experience.”

            Yes, thank you. My point EXACTLY. With practice, we CAN project these non-deterministic effects into the brain. That is what I’m referring to as proactivity (and creativity). Just because most people don’t do this on a regular basis, doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

            The brain is like a car on the road of life. There are outside influences, like trees and other cars. There are inside influences, the main one of which is the driver. Both influences CAN be powerful. i.e. if you run into a tree or a car, it will profoundly affect the functioning and momentum of the car. If the driver spins the wheel, it also profoundly affects the direction and momentum of the car.

            However, most of us are living lives where those external influences determine 90% or more of our directionality. If we go through life merely playing the act of “dodging obstacles” (which is reactivity) we’re very unlikely to get to a worthwhile destination.

            However, if we go through life with a clear vision for where we want to end up, and then accumulating the tools it takes to get us there (such as GPS, map, good driving skills), then we are very likely to get there. Outside influence will still play a role, however it will no longer be the dominant one. We will avoid the external obstacles on our way to our destination, even if that requires some swerves or detours. The obstacles exist and affect us, but they do not dominate us.

            Well, from my experience, life for many people (academics included) is only an obstacle-dodging reactive exercise, rather than a proactive exercise of deciding a worthy and fun destination, and going for it. (or, deciding on a destination based on what others think it *should* be, rather than what we want, which is also reactive).

            Now I don’t think that that decision comes from some form of determinism. It IS influenced by past experience, but there is still free will in making the ultimate decision about what the destination will be. That free will isn’t coming from the “mechanistic” portion of the brain.

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