WorryMark Twain famously said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Psychologists call worry the “What If Disease” because people who suffer it are always wondering “What If…?”

“What if my flight gets canceled?” “What if I get laid off?” “What if this sale doesn’t close?”

While being forward-thinking and actively engaged in the future and the future of others is the norm for our team, there is something to be said for embracing a reactive mindset when needed. There’s a lot of benefit in being reactive instead of proactive when the world is in a state of constant change.  Now with the global pandemic, the instability of the economy and the general uncertainty for the future, it is impossible to proactively plan for all future states. Recognizing what you can and should reasonably plan for and what you must be comfortable in reacting to can help you weather the uncertainty. Being nimble in these times can have its advantages.

The key is to find a balance between reaction and proactivity. What can you do to get the best possible outcome given your current resources and knowledge? Put that plan in place and then take a break from worrying about the problem. If the problem changes, you’ll do something about it. If it doesn’t, you saved a lot of precious mental energy.

Some benefits to being reactive:

  • Letting folks fail is a form of training. We all can look back on moments where we were allowed to fail and learned something important in doing so. That failure was created by a manager or overseer trusting you enough to step back and be reactive to your actions versus proactively trying to protect you from making a mistake. Parents have to do this with their kids and employers must learn to do this with employees. Proactive training and mentorship are vital to set up folks for success but some reactive management can often result in the best teaching moments.
  • Reactivity can increase innovation. Creating some space for a reactive mindset opens you up for more creative and innovative work. When plans are not set in stone, you are free to react to new ideas that come to you or make decisions on just-received information in a fluid and quick-thinking way. Often times, these lightning flashes of action and ideas start the most interesting work.
  • Saves your energy for the really important stuff.  Let’s say you worry about 100 things a week that could go wrong. Only 5 of them actually happen, which means that you wasted time worrying about 95 things that never happened. That unwarranted worry is so unhealthy both emotionally and physically. Instead of worrying about it all (and I know this is super hard for most proactive personalities to do), look at what you are tasked with and decide where your proactive energy should go for the biggest impact or to mitigate the largest risk.  Then believe in yourself that you can handle any unforeseen events that may happen.

Strategic thinkers rely on proactive thinking and action to get things done. There is no doubt that looking ahead and making plans is how great companies grow and how driven individuals excel in their roles. It is certainly how businesses stay afloat. However, while there is so much to know and so much to do, there are times where defaulting to a more reactive approach has its benefits.