How To Take Personal Initiative
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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How To Take Personal Initiative
At points in our lives, we all find ourselves falling into an inactive rut. We do nothing to improve ourselves or develop our skills, instead just coast through life and hope for the best. Sometimes we dig the rut even deeper and become – for lack of better words – a blob.
"Speak for yourself, Scott!" I know; it's not exactly a fun thing to admit, but if you're like most people, there have been times when you haven't felt in control of your life. You've let yourself slide and didn't take the initiative to do anything about it. I know I have.
Recently I've been learning about inaction's polar opposite. It's the force that drives people to take control of their lives; the motivation that flicks the switch, pulling us from the complacent darkness of inertia and into the glaring light of progress. That force is personal initiative.
Perhaps you're someone who is particularly prone to rut-digging, or maybe you're at the bottom of a rut right now. Either way, let's talk about personal initiative and what it can do for you (hint: a lot).
Today's Inspiration: Dre Baldwin
Before I dive into this concept of personal initiative, I want to hear from the guy who brought this concept to my attention in the first place. Dre Baldwin is a former 9-year pro basketball player who traveled to no less than 8 countries in his career after walking on at an NCAA Division 3 school.
He is now a full-time entrepreneur who has authored 29 books and performed 4 TEDxTalks on Discipline, Confidence, Mental Toughness & Personal Initiative. Dre has over 137,000 subscribers on YouTube, and his daily Work On Your Game podcast has been downloaded over 3 million times.
Can you imagine writing 29 entire books? Not only that, but managing 29 books on top of public speaking, running a business, and maintaining a podcast? Before speaking to Dre, I knew our conversation was going to be a cracker – and it was.
Dre's Winning Attitude
The sports scene is rife with drama and scandal. For an industry that should be all about healthy competition and camaraderie, it often seems to be anything but – and that's why some athletes simply don't make the cut. They develop a weak attitude and fail to put their best selves forward.
Dre is one of those people who decided from an early point in his career to do things at 110 percent capacity. When training for professional basketball – even before getting an offer or scholarship – he would train as though he had already made it.
"I thought that's what any athlete would do. But what I realized very quickly was that not every athlete did this, because people were looking at me like they were surprised. I thought, 'Isn't this what anybody would do? You show up ready for your job – or at least, ready for the job that you want.' I thought that was a normal mindset."
Evidently, Dre's attitude set him apart from the pack and helped him land a gig playing professional basketball in eight different countries. That's an incredible accomplishment, and it flowed into the next phase of his career – a motivational speaker and business coach in the areas of mental discipline.
"My definition of a professional is the person who shows up every day and delivers regardless of how they feel. Because some days we're sick, some days we're tired. Sometimes, you don't feel like turning the mic on. You don't feel like writing another page for your book. But you're getting paid for it – it's your job. You got to show up and do the work."
Dre’s Principles for Success
With such an inspirational start to our interview, I was excited to pick Dre's brain on some of the principles he teaches in his books and podcasts. I highly recommend watching the entire interview if you'd like to hear his expertise on discipline, confidence, and mental toughness, but here's a brief overview:
Principle 1: Discipline
"This is the foundational point, I think, for any professional in anything. Because if you look at the dictionary definition of a professional, it's a person who gets paid to do something; an occupation. But my definition of a professional is the person who shows up every day and delivers regardless of how they feel."
Principle 2: Confidence
"If you think about the most confident people, they are usually very disciplined individuals. And why is that? It's because they're showing up, and they're doing the work, and they know that they are following their principles on a day-to-day basis; they have earned the right to be confident."
Principle 3: Mental Toughness
"Mental toughness is your willingness and ability to continue being disciplined and confident, despite the fact that following the program – following the rules, your discipline, and your confidence – have not yet produced the desired results. Do you look at it and say, 'How do I fix this'? Or you just throw your hands up, give up, and quit?"
I've listened to hundreds of business podcasts and read many business books, but I've never heard anyone explain these concepts so succinctly or convincingly as Dre did. The three principles he outlined – discipline, confidence, and mental toughness – are essential for success in any field. They also lay the foundation for personal initiative.
Personal Initiative, According to Dre
"The way I describe personal initiative is being that go-getter – the person who goes and makes things happen instead of waiting for things to happen."
Dre explained something that really struck a chord with me. Often, listening to motivational podcasts and reading books about discipline trick our brains into thinking we've accomplished something. We become so enveloped in the Stoic mindset that we forget to actually take action.
"The three things we've talked about so far – discipline, confidence, mental toughness – you could do all of that by sitting in your seat and never doing anything. You can read about it all day, and watch YouTube, and listen to podcasts, and all that stuff. But personal initiative is taking that potential energy and turning it into kinetic energy; energy in motion."
Feeling challenged? I did, too. I feel like so many people in our society are in the same position; we're inundated with information but not enough action. Especially in the business world, we want to know every single step before we start moving.
"These days, how many people have a podcast? How many people write books, and how many people are making YouTube videos? Literally everybody is doing it. So many of us can get into what we call analysis by paralysis – we're just taking in all this information, and we don't feel like we know enough to take action yet."
Oomph. Dre did not pull any punches, for which I was glad. So what is the alternative? How do you show personal initiative in this case?
"The problem is that by the time you figure out what to do, the opportunity is gone. The options are gone, your vitality is gone. So I tell people all the time – you only need 10% of information to get started. Along the way, you will learn more. You're probably not going to get the perfect result with only 10% of information, but you make your self eligible to get to the perfect result."
What Does the Research Say?
After our interview, I was intrigued by this concept of personal initiative. Where does it come from? Was Dre the original penman or was it explored in business literature? Amazingly, the first few Google results were peer-reviewed papers. It's rare to find a business concept that hasn't been monetized to the moon.
The first paper I found was specific to social entrepreneurship. "Individuals with personal initiative are capable of using their prior knowledge, proactive and innovative and experience to be alert as they create social ventures that create social impact."
This makes a lot of sense to me; people with PI are the ones who start social movements and rally others to their cause. They don't passively comment from the sidelines or share an emotional article on Facebook.
I then found a 2001 paper published in the Research in Organizational Behavior journal described personal initiative as "...a work behavior defined as self-starting and proactive that overcomes barriers to achieve a goal."
Interesting – this sounds a lot like plain old initiative. So what makes it personal?
Well, the same paper clarified that 'PI' isn't exclusive to work-related activities. "Personal initiative is seen to sharpen and partly modify the concepts of reciprocal determinism, organizational citizenship behavior, innovation, entrepreneurship, work performance, intrinsic motivation, and self-regulation."
So, it would seem that taking personal initiative is akin to being a proactive problem solver with a can-do attitude. It's about stepping up and doing something, instead of waiting for someone else to do it first.
Three Behaviors of Personal Initiative
Here's a simple visual from the 2001 paper:
As you can see, there are three main behaviors shown by people with personal initiative:
- Self-starting. Rather than waiting to be acted upon, people with PI take the bull by the horns and initiate action.
- Persistent. As Dre said, people with PI don't give up when success seems out of reach. They take a new angle or try a different approach.
- Proactive. Rather than sitting back and reacting to circumstances, people with PI are always on the lookout for new opportunities or ways to improve things.
This is the type of conversation that excites me. It means we don't need to give in to our ruts, and we can always find ways to improve our lives and businesses. Sometimes, an attitude adjustment is all it takes to get unstuck.
Solid Strategies for Embracing Personal Initiative
To wrap up the newsletter, let's dive deeper into the idea of personal initiative and how you can use it to empower your life. What are the takeaway strategies you can start implementing today?
1. Understand the power of personal initiative and how it can benefit you.
Personal initiative is about being proactive rather than reactive (or worse, passive). When you take charge of your life, you're in the driver's seat – you get to call the shots. This can be a powerful feeling, and it can translate into big benefits in all aspects of your life.
By reading this far into the article, you're already taking steps to understand and embrace personal initiative. As you continue to learn more about it and put its principles into practice, your life will become richer and more fulfilling.
2. Identify your weaknesses.
I'd love to say this journey is going to be easy, but in all honesty, it's not something you can simply launch into unawares. Take some time to do this first:
- Write down all of the areas in your life where you've chosen inaction. Is there a goal you've been sleeping on? Have you got a business idea you've been procrastinating? Maybe you've been wanting to learn a new skill, but keep putting it off.
- Now ask yourself why you haven't acted in these areas. What's holding you back? Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, lack of confidence or simply not knowing where to start can all be factors.
Once you know what your weaknesses are, you can start to address them and build up your personal initiative muscle.
3. Take a content sabbatical.
As I discussed with Dre, analysis paralysis is a very real threat in 2022. We are inundated with books on habit building, fitness, mental discipline, goal setting, and so on, and we refuse to take action until we've learned it all.
But it's impossible to learn everything – so take Dre's advice, and settle for knowing just 10 percent. Take a break from your podcast, shut your book, and spend some time putting what you've learned into practice.
4. Do something a bit crazy.
Sometimes, the perfect remedy for getting out of a rut is to do something drastic. Not dangerous or reckless, but something that will shake up your daily routine and get you thinking out of the box.
Choose something from your list of weaknesses and take action on it – even if that means starting small. Just make sure you take some form of action, however small!
If you're struggling with inaction right now, I hope this article has given you something different to think about. You've likely been slamming yourself with podcasts about productivity and growth – and I know how suffocating that can feel.
Instead, do something daring. Take some personal initiative in an area of your life where you've been stuck. And if you're still feeling lost after that, remember Dre's words: "You're probably not going to get the perfect result with only 10% of information, but you make yourself eligible to get to the perfect result."
Watch the full interview here. Until next time!
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