If you were standing on a highway, and a transfer truck was approaching at 70 miles per hour, what would you do?
I’ll bet you’d move out of the way unless you have a death wish.
It’s easy to take action when a tornado is coming. Would you stay in your house if it could quickly and violently become a pile of matchsticks, rocks, and glass? A few people might hold out in their homes to keep the potential looters away. But most of us would run for our lives. Besides, you can’t rebuild if you’re dead.
Initiative is a valuable trait to have. None of us is born with it. It has to be cultivated like the flowers in your garden.
So how do you cultivate initiative?
First, let’s define it like the legendary Coach John Wooden did. He said, “Initiative is having the courage to make decisions and take action. People with initiative will take action when action is needed.”
That seems easy at face value. When a train is rapidly approaching, you get off the tracks. When there’s a thunderstorm, you take shelter inside. If someone’s chasing you, you run with everything you’ve got to stay alive. But what if you’re afraid? What if you don’t know what to do? What if you do it wrong?
It’s when what’s in front of us is fuzzy that we freeze. When we freeze, we often end up doing nothing. When we do nothing, nothing improves.
Here are some strategies to address these issues that keep us from taking initiative.
First, recognize there will always be things that are unknown in any situation.
You can’t know everything unless you’re God. Since you’re not, accept that fact. Just doing that will free you to act, knowing you could be right or wrong. Life hands you cards to play. It’s up to you to make the most of what’s in your hand. And just like a card game, you won’t win every turn. You can do your absolute best on every turn. That’s the only thing that is really under your control anyway.
Second, you can reduce your fear of the unknown with the proper knowledge.
There are fundamentals in every profession. In sports, there are crucial skills required to win contests. When repairing a car, there are certain procedures that always work. When you travel, you have to take particular roads to get to your destination. Learn and master the fundamentals and you’ll be successful much of the time. You’ll have a framework that will give you boundaries, help you solve problems, and make decisions. If you are weak in any of the basics, find a mentor who can help you become stronger.
Third, you cannot develop initiative without action.
Taking initiative involves getting past your fears – fear of the unknown and the fear of failure. Developing intiative means you make decisions. If you’ve been alert, you’ve gathered valuable information through your experiences. You’ll use this together with what you observe in the moment to make a choice. Depending on the time you have, you’ll weigh the possible options in your mind. Once you’ve settled into a choice, you pull the trigger with immediate action.
You might make mistakes. You might fail. Don’t worry about it. Forge ahead. Do your very best and you’ll minimize the risk of blowing it. Then, when you do fail, learn from it. Doing that will add more to your self-improvement than anything you’ll ever read, hear, or see in someone else.
Develop initiative. Sow the seeds of decision, knowledge, and courage. Water them with action regularly and you’ll reap a harvest of intiative that will stand with you in life’s biggest challenges.