4 mins read

Proactive vs. Reactive Goal Setting: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

01 April 2022   |   by Explore Careers
Reading Time: 4 minutes

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about setting goals and how great they are for helping you achieve success, especially with your schoolwork and studying.

We don’t want to add to the noise, but something we’ve been guilty of is setting reactive goals instead of proactive goals– learning the difference between the two has been a real game-changer!

If you’ve been struggling a bit with the whole ‘life goals’ thing, learning if you’re setting reactive or proactive goals might help you set the right goals and get started on achieving what success means to you. Let’s dive in!

What Are Reactive Goals?

There’s no hard definition of reactive goals, but here’s how we’ve been thinking about them:

1. They’re goals you make in response to a challenge or crisis that has already happened. This usually means you’re working backwards to start moving forwards.

For example: 

You miss out on a work experience opportunity because you didn’t set a reminder to get your application in on time. You set a goal to apply when the opportunity comes up again, but that’s not until next year – so you lose time and a chance to get some experience on your resume ready to apply for part-time work.

2. They’re goals that someone else sets for you. This means you’re probably not very passionate about them or invested in achieving them.

For example:

You can’t decide what career/s you’re interested in. Your teacher and/or parents decide for you and start pushing towards applying for work experience and choosing subjects in an area you don’t mind but aren’t passionate about.

As you can tell from these examples – reactive goals probably will not help you progress towards what you want in life.

What Are Proactive Goals?

Proactive goal setting is all about putting yourself in the driver’s seat and deciding where you want to go!

According to Merriam-Webster, ‘proactive’ means “acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.”

Being proactive means thinking through the actions, activities and processes you need to achieve the goals that are important to you.

Instead of being reactive and focusing on what you need to do right now, proactive goal-setting also allows you to set stepping stones in place for future you.

How Do You Set a Proactive Goal?

Proactive goals should focus on what you might call your ‘Big Picture’ ideas for life. This includes:

  • The career roles or jobs you want to do.
  • The pathway you want to take to get there (apprenticeship, university or working your way up).
  • Personal things you want to achieve (learning to drive, purchasing a car, moving out of home etc.)

Once you have the end outcome you want to achieve, you can map backwards to find the achievement points along the way – and you formulate your proactive goals around these. The idea is that every smaller goal you make adds in some way – whether big or small – to help you reach the final destination you have in mind.

It’s totally fine to change your mind or if your end destination switches to something else. Proactive goals aren’t about being rigid but helping you make the right moves towards the version of your future you think is right for you.

3 Excellent Proactive Goals to Make Now

To get started with proactive goals, you can use the ‘Big Picture’ ideas we’ve outlined above and set one goal for each of these areas. Here’s what that might look like generally:

1. My Dream Job Goal

Setting a ‘My Dream Job’ goal is great because there are SO many ways to start working towards it that don’t require too much time or energy!

It’s an easy one to build on over time, and even if you change your mind, you’ll still be learning a lot about what makes a job ideal for you.

Some smaller goals you can set around this one include:

  • The best subjects to study in your high school years and after school.
  • Research companies in your local area and nationally that offer the jobs you’re interested in.
  • Research the top skills needed to get into your dream job.
  • The types of activities you can do to build the required skills (work experience, volunteering, helping out in the community etc.)

The more you set smaller goals around this one, the more you’ll undoubtedly find to add along the way!

2. My Perfect Growth Journey Goal 

Thinking about your next steps after school, what speaks to you? Is it going to university or doing an apprenticeship? This one can focus on how you like to learn and grow.

Maybe you want to take a break from studying and focus entirely on some work experience and see a bit of the world by travelling. Perhaps you want to do some internships before committing to study further.

You can use the ways you like to learn now as jumping-off points – are you a solo study person, or do you prefer group projects? What are your favourite subjects and why do you enjoy them so much – how are you learning?

Whatever your perfect growth journey looks like, there will be lots of goals that can be made to help you work towards it – and they can start now!

3. My Happy Place Goal

‘My Happy Place’ goals revolve around the vision you have for your life and how you’d like to live it.

When you think about your future and how your life will look? Will there be travel? Working locally or internationally? Owning a house on your own or renting with friends?

You can use proactive goal setting to start making small steps towards these things. Even doing something simple like opening a savings account and committing to putting away $1 a week will add up over the years and help you work towards whatever your goals are.

An Easy Way to Plan Your Proactive Goals

Proactive goals help you control what you want to do and how you want to do it. They can be tiny and easy to achieve or bigger and need more planning – but they all need to help you work towards the bigger vision you have for yourself, your life and your career.

Setting proactive goals can take time, but it’s a vital investment in your future.

Why not pick one goal you want to focus on for the rest of the year and see how much you can achieve!

Our FREE Careers Quiz is an excellent place to start with your My Dream Job – check it out today to see what jobs might suit you – and then start planning some goals to work towards!


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