proactive mindset: spanner turning cog in brain

Sue France explains how to develop your proactive mindset using critical thinking, confidence and motivation

All Assistants need a proactive mindset. This mindset includes such traits as:

  • being able to manage up
  • thinking on behalf of your executive
  • playing devil’s advocate and looking at things from different perspectives
  • managing your own time as well as your executive’s
  • anticipating the team’s needs
  • being forward-thinking
  • being solution-oriented
  • taking ownership and accountability
  • motivating yourself and others

all whilst demonstrating your value.

To enable your proactive mindset to work, you need the following three elements:

1. Thinking Time

Effective Assistants align their thinking with their executive and the organization. To be proactive, you must schedule some “thinking time”, whether it is for strategic thinking about adding value to your executive, thinking about how you could improve on processes and procedures and solve problems, or even thinking about your own career. Once you have some ideas on a way to improve things and save time and costs or a way to change things for the better, then it is time to make a decision using critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking

Questioning is the key to critical thinking; you need to question everything. Through questions, you can explore the deep layers of meaning and reasoning that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Questions to use in critical thinking:

•        What’s happening? Gather the basic information.

•        Why is it important? Ask yourself why it is significant and whether or not you agree.

•        What don’t I see? What am I missing and is it important?

•        What else is there? What other ideas exist?

•        What if…? Are there other possibilities?

•        What biases are there in the thinking and how can I mitigate them?

•        Am I concentrating on what I can control and influence rather than what I cannot control?

Challenge current beliefs and mindsets – including your own! Reframe the problem. The ability to see a problem in a different way is crucial. Reframing encourages you to shift your focus from the symptom to the root cause.

Think about any obstacles that may occur and think about solutions. If and when you do hit obstacles, you already have an advantage in solving the issue and are less likely to give up.

Thinking time also includes time for goal setting.

2. Confidence

Once you have spent time thinking and decided on your way forward, you need the confidence to stand up, speak out and take action. Confidence comes from loving yourself first; ridding yourself of limiting beliefs allows your confidence to come from within. Positive self-talk is important; listen to what you say to yourself and change negative thoughts to positive ones. The stories you tell yourself control your emotions and moods, so take control of your thoughts and, if necessary, actively change your mindset.

Creating the feeling of confidence

Remember a time when you really felt confident. Remember what you heard, saw and felt and really get your brain back into that time as if you were there. As the feeling of confidence grows and intensifies to its highest level, then do an anchor trigger, such as touching your finger and thumb together. That will anchor that feeling, allowing you to bring back the feeling of confidence whenever you want.

The more times you set the trigger when you have a required intense emotion, the better the emotion will become associated with the action and the better it will stick and be effective. As the body listens to the brain as well as the brain listening to the body, realise what your body language is doing at the time you are feeling confident and take note. Put yourself into the same confident body language stance whenever you want to feel confident. Then, whenever you need confidence, use your trigger and body language to bring back the feeling of confidence.

3. Motivation

Motivation is combined with dedication to act, accountability and pertinacity. As motivation is driven by your subconscious mind, which is driven by emotion, just because you may not ‘feel’ like doing something, it should not stop you. Therefore, if motivation is combined with dedication to act and achieve your desired outcome; accountability for delivering the right work, on time and to the best of your ability; and pertinacity to never give up, then as soon as you take action to start that job, your feeling will change to enthusiasm and even excitement.

Sue France’s DAP motivation model

If you wait for motivation, you may never get started. Instead, use your dedication to take action no matter how you feel and then motivation will follow. Start small if you must and build momentum. When working through your priority list, for example, make sure you schedule difficult tasks in the morning after a good night’s sleep when your brain is fresh and has full capacity energy. The brain uses 20% of your energy intake, and this is soon used up. You can concentrate well for 25 minutes at a time and then you will need to take a brain break.

The break can be a 3-minute mindfulness exercise to reboot your brain, a walk around the block or making a drink, but moving and getting away from your screen will help reboot your brain. Also, the day after a weekend break is a good day to schedule the most difficult tasks.


Every Assistant requires a proactive mindset. This can be developed with hard work and consistency.

  • Set aside some time for thinking to see where you can improve on things and add value to yourself, your executive and your team.
  • Keep rebooting your confidence and remind yourself how good you are.
  • Use my DAP motivation model and have the dedication to act on your decision with confidence, take accountability for your actions and have the pertinacity to allow nothing to get in your way to achieve your goals.

This article features extracts from the 2nd edition of The Definitive Executive Assistant and Managerial Handbook, available from 3rd November 2021 and on pre-order now on Amazon.

Sue France FCIPD/INLPTA is passionate about the development of all Assistants, having been one for over 30 years. She has owned her own training company since 2009 working in over 36 countries with thousands of assistants, both face-to-face and virtually ... (Read More)

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