Why Reactivity Leads To Complexity

Apr 8, 2021 | Uncategorized

I have a reputation for being a decisive, proactive, making-things-happen kind of person. I’m quite proud of this.

But really? It’s a facade.

What others admire as fearless action-taking is just careful branding.

I’m actually an anxious reactor.

Oof. Even though I know deep down that that’s true—it’s hard to see it in black & white.

I move fast and make things happen so that I don’t have to sit with the discomfort of uncertainty.

Operating decisively gives me an out from worrying that, if I pause to consider the options, I might not have an answer.

Often, moving fast does generate results.

Making things happen has opened doors that wouldn’t have otherwise been opened and resolved issues that could have easily stagnated.

But the more and more I opt for fast action, the more and more complex the systems I tend and operate in become.

And with all of that complexity comes stress, anxiety, and dread.

Reactivity and complexity have a cause-and-effect relationship because, when we’re reacting, we don’t consider the impact of our actions down the line. And on the flip side, complexity creates reactivity because there are so many moving parts that can break and muck up the works.

Reacting hastily to a challenge (or an opportunity) produces a haphazard “fix” that, most of the time, causes more challenges that need to be “fixed” later on.

Fix after fix, the system—your business, your offer, your marketing, etc…—becomes bloated and unwieldy.

Eventually, all of that complexity can slow down the system so much that it just can’t function anymore.

So how can we be truly proactive while maintaining a priority for simplicity?

Over the last few years, I’ve been reckoning with, in essence, this difference between proactivity and reactivity—and my growing self-awareness that I may have a problem!

Being proactive doesn’t mean rushing toward a possible solution—the mode I often find myself in.

Being proactive means taking time to reflect and discern so that I can move forward strategically—with the potential of elegant simplicity.

Here are some of the things I’m doing to reduce my reactivity and increase my true proactivity:

  1. Consider the trade-offs. If I make this move, what do I need to let go of?
  2. Look for the long-term repercussions (positive or negative). What could be the results of this decision a year from now? 3 years from now? 5 years from now?
  3. Examine the impact on existing systems. What will need to be adjusted to accommodate this decision?
  4. Prepare to manage change. Who will this impact? How can I communicate in a way that will alleviate their concerns or questions?
  5. Entertain other possibilities. How else could I move forward?
  6. Pause and feel. Beyond the thrill of a decision, how does this feel in my body? What do my senses tell me about this taking this action?

Now, I know that it’s easy to go from being reactive to being stuck in analysis paralysis when we attempt to slow things down. And, of course, I’m not advocating for that.

I believe that the 6 considerations I listed above don’t force over-analysis but, instead, make it easier to confidently move forward.

But maybe my biggest “hack” for moving from reactivity to proactivity? From complexity to simplicity? Waiting a few days.

The rule I’ve set for myself is that I don’t take action on something until I can bring it to our weekly team meeting. At worst, I have to wait 6 days. But most of the time, I only have to wait for a few.

Once I’ve brought it to the meeting, then I can engage my fast-moving, make-things-happen energy. And, in the time I’ve waited, I’ve had plenty of time to mull over trade-offs, repercussions, impact on systems, change management and more.

This has truly made a big impact on my peace of mind—and on the functioning of my companies. What could it do for yours?


Host of What Works

Tara is a podcaster, small business community leader, strategist, and speaker. She’s been helping small business owners build stronger businesses for over a decade.  

Tara McMullin, What Works Weekly Newsletter

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