The First Law of Productivity

What does your language say about the control you have of your life?

Ever had a day where you were just unstoppable? Or a day where you just couldn’t build any momentum?

Newton’s First Law of Motion is usually expressed in two parts:

  • An object at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force.
  • An object in motion will remain in motion untill acted upon by an outside force.

It’s an analogy for growth and productivity, too. There are several ways I could phrase this. For now, I’ll go with:

  • A reactive person will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force.
  • A proactive person will remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force, and may keep going anyway.

It comes down to how much responsibility you accept for your outcomes and actions.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/selensergen

Reactive people (generally) act in response to another agent or influence. They have ceded the locus of control for their success and happiness to someone or something—sometimes anything—else.

Proactive people take the first step. They know they don’t have to do everything themselves, but they need to initiate action. They understand that outcomes don’t spontaneously come about. They must be planned and promoted, and the responsibility to do so lies with them.

Have you ever heard someone use one of these excuses when something didn’t get done? (Have you ever said them yourself?)

  • “What else was I supposed to do?”
  • “I did my part.”
  • “That’s not my job.”
  • “We’ve always done it that way.”
  • “I have to …”
  • “Why does this always happen to me?”

That’s the reactive language of a victim. Someone who isn’t in control of their circumstances. Anything that happens to them is done to them by somebody else. They aren’t acting—they’re being acted upon.

I cringe every time I start to feel those words forming in my mind, and try to rephrase them before they make it out of my mouth.

  • “What else can we do?”
  • “What still needs done?”
  • “How can I help?”
  • “How can we do this better next time?”
  • “I’m going to …”
  • “What can I learn from this?”

See the difference? There’s no shifting of responsibility to someone else. No blaming. No deflection. The language is proactive—the language of a person who is going to stand up, be counted, and make things happen.

A reactive mindset is self-reinforcing. You get into a negative cycle. Every time something bad happens, it’s just more proof that the deck is stacked against you. It doesn’t matter what you do, so you stop acting. You stop choosing. You sit back and let life happen to you.

You know what? A proactive mindset is self-reinforcing, too. You get into a virtuous cycle. Every time something bad happens, you look for the good in the situation. You learn from your failures. You see, through experience, that you can overcome any challenge, any obstacle that comes your way. You act, you choose, and you dream—and you make your dreams come true.

None of us are perfect. We make mistakes. We have bad days, where we just want the day to be over so we can have another clean start. Learn to push through the fog. Own the mistakes, learn from them, and try not to make the same mistake twice.

You are responsible for the choices you’ve made that have brought you to where you are today. If you like what those choices have brought, congratulations. Well done. Keep going. If you don’t like it, make new choices.

No one is more interested in your success, happiness, and well-being than you are. No one has more control over what happens to you than you do. You are responsible for you.

Question: How do you show that you are responsible for your life? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.