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Mastering Proactivity: A Guide to Achieving Your Goals

Proactivity is a powerful tool that can help you achieve your desired outcomes. Proactivity is more than a mindset or an attitude. It's also a process that can be applied to any set of actions through anticipating, planning, and striving to have an impact [1].

In this article, we consider what motivates proactive behaviour and how proactivity can be applied to goals including those to meet all your obligations.

Proactive Motivations

There are four key factors that encourage proactivity when applied to meeting goals: the obligation, ambiguity, accountability, and autonomy [1], [2].

  • Obligation refers to the goals associated with an outcome that you want to advance. It is the desired result that you are working towards. Considering goals as obligations creates an impetus for proactive behaviour. Obligations can be short-term or long-term, and they can be personal or corporate. Examples of obligations include losing weight, delivering a project, or making progress towards net zero emissions.

  • Risk refers to the uncertainty (ambiguity) with respect to reaching the goal. It is the possibility that you may not meet your obligation. Uncertainty provides a motivation to be proactive - to improve the probability of success. Risks are the effects of uncertainty on our objectives which can be controllable or uncontrollable. Examples of risks include decreased health, unrealized project benefits, or negative impacts on the environment.

  • Incentive refers to the accountability for the results. It is another motivation that drives you to achieve your obligation. Incentives can be intrinsic or extrinsic, and they can be positive or negative. Examples of incentives include realized benefits, financial rewards, or social recognition (i.e. reputation).

  • Promise refers to the autonomy and agency to develop and work the plan. It is the commitment that you make to yourself to achieve your obligation. Making and keeping promises provide moral motivation to satisfy the obligation. Promises can be personal or corporate, and they can be explicit or implicit. However, to be effective they need to be declared and documented. Examples of promises include meeting deadlines, targets, or following rules.

Proactive Goal Setting

These factors can be applied to the process of goal setting to maximize proactivity in the following way:

  1. Identify Obligations: start by setting clear and realistic goals that are aligned with your values, priorities, and commitments. Identify what you want to achieve and why it matters to you. This will help you stay focused and motivated.

  2. Evaluate Risk: these are potential obstacles and challenges that may prevent you from achieving your goals. Assess the likelihood and impact of each risk and develop contingency plans to mitigate them. This will help you stay prepared and resilient.

  3. Establish Incentives: create a system of rewards and consequences that will hold you accountable for your results. Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures. This will help you stay motivated and committed.

  4. Make and Keep Promises: develop a plan of action that is tailored to your needs and preferences. Break down your goals into smaller, manageable tasks and set deadlines for each one. This will help you stay organized and on track.


Being proactive is a strong tool that goes beyond just a mindset, evolving into a dynamic process applicable to various actions through anticipation, planning, and active impact. We explored four key motivators for proactive behaviour: obligation, risk, incentive, and promise.

Obligations drive proactive behavior by linking goals to desired outcomes, whether short-term or long-term, personal or corporate. Risks, as uncertainties related to goal attainment, push for proactivity to increase the probability of success. Incentives, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, positive or negative, help make individuals accountable for results. Promises, involving autonomy and agency, provide moral motivation for meeting obligations.

Combining these motivations, a proactive goal-setting process involves identifying obligations, evaluating risks, establishing incentives, and making and keeping promises. This approach ensures clarity, resilience, accountability, and structure, fostering proactive behaviours toward achieving meaningful outcomes.


[1] "The dynamics of proactivity at work", Adam M. Grant, Susan J. Ashford, 2008

[2] "Promise Theory", Mark Burgess



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