Active Thinking vs. Reactive Thinking

I work a lot with mental structures with the people I’ve helped to achieve better control over their lives. The most common mental structure that I’ve seen that needs work in people who want to feel more in control of their lives is that of active thinking compared to passive thinking.

  • Reactive Thinking – This is when your conscious mind doesn’t have much input into what’s going on. Instead, you’re simply reacting almost on auto-pilot (ie: impulsively) without actually pausing to think over your options in a meaningful way.
  • Active Thinking – This is when your conscious mind is the primary decision maker, and you are guiding the events that are happening and in control of the situation instead of simply reacting to what happens to you.

If you’ve been stuck in a way of reactive thinking for a long time, it can be difficult to shift over to active thinking right away. There are two reasons for that: First, it’s because you don’t have a model for doing it, and second, it can seem a bit abstract and difficult to apply to “real life.”

Active Thinking Starts With a Conscious Question

If you want to take control of your life with active thinking, then the easiest way to do that is to start by asking yourself a simple question throughout the day: What am I doing right now? You don’t have to do anything with that question or with its answer when you’re starting out, but getting used to asking that question of yourself in a conscious and intentional way is the first place to start.

What this will do for you is simple: It starts the shift over to consciously thinking about your decisions instead of constantly running on auto-pilot (ie: letting your subconscious mind run the show). It can even be seen as a way of easing into mindfulness, because that’s exactly what it is, but that’s not what we’re really focusing on here. Instead, we just want to focus on asking ourselves the question of what we’re doing at that particular time.

Where to Go From There

Once you ask yourself the question, the obvious follow-up is to answer it. Make sure that you answer it completely, totally and truthfully. Don’t lie to yourself at all about this, or you won’t get results that will help you to be happier and more productive.

When you answer this question, what you need to focus on is that you have a choice about what you’re doing, and you do not have to continue doing the thing that you’re doing when you ask the question. This is the moment when you can make the conscious choice to switch to doing something else because it will better help you with your goals. This is the key to active thinking instead of simply being reactive and letting your subconscious keep you on auto-pilot throughout the day.

Pairing this question-asking exercise with a simple, 10-minute meditation has been one of the easiest things I’ve done with the people I’ve worked with that has gotten the most results in the shortest period of time.