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The Difference Between Reactive and Creative Mindsets

The difference between reactive and creative mindsets is enormous. Creative behaviour will have significantly different outcomes in any given situation.


Peter Middleton

4 months ago | 5 min read


This awareness will help you to develop.

The difference between reactive and creative mindsets is enormous. Creative behaviour will have significantly different outcomes in any given situation.

Not that you have a choice per se, you are reactive until you have the awareness to be creative. The intention is to build that awareness. Welcome the reactive behaviour in an open and curious manner, then cultivate the space to choose differently.

Reactivity is not living a life of self-leadership. It’s moving through life in one chaotic or rigid situation after another. You might feel helpless, out of control, or lost in a reactive state.

It’s important to realise that someone will act reactively if they feel like they’re under threat. There’s no chance for creative thinking in threat mode because the brain cuts off the centres of rationality to focus on survival. It “flips the lid” according to Dr Dan Seigel.

Another thing Seigel says is that chaos or rigidity is a marker of a dysregulated body and mind.

Building awareness gives you the space to choose, to respond, to be creative. That’s good news.

You can always learn from reactive situations and build an understanding of why they happened, and how you’d like to better respond in the future.

Life is always a lesson, and we are lifelong students.

Bob Anderson, a leadership coach, did extensive research on leadership effectiveness; creative compared to reactive.

The verdict was unanimous. Reactive behaviour gets in the way of development, scaling and growth. Creativity promotes them.

There’s bound to be examples of both in your life, simply because you’re human. We’re flawed, we have potential. Accepting this is important; letting go of judgement, blame, shame, or criticism and getting curious will liberate you.

Let’s break down what constitutes these behaviours so you can build your awareness of where it’s showing up in your life.



Reactive mindsets often come from fear and lack. The drive for this behaviour is from a sense of what will be acceptable to other people, of fitting in, what they will think and feel about you if you do a certain thing.

“Mark doesn’t like that, so I stopped doing it.”

“Everyone will laugh at me if I reveal that I love ____.”

“I can’t tell my family that I’m _____, they’d disown me.”

A behavioural loop gets established that might make you feel trapped by this constant need to behave in a certain way.

That loop might not be authentic to you. It’s also the case that there is hardly ever a conversation to confirm the fact that the other person is satisfied with this behaviour or not.

In turn, this drives a massive amount of insecurity.


Reactive behaviour works from safety. It coordinates with the fight/flight/freeze sections of our nervous system.

It’s effective if you’re stuck in the wild, or being chased by a predator. It’s not so useful when you’re trying to cultivate an intimate relationship.

Only a couple of chemical circuits are available to us in these safety orientated body states; norepinephrine, cortisol and adrenaline. This leads to a fatigue cycle of quick activity followed by crashing into burnout that we often see in modern society.


Reactive behaviour doesn’t have to look like flipping out and shouting at someone. It has subtle nuances as well.

It might look like a dedicated world view to personal goals, consistently choosing ambition for those goals over service to your family or community. This can lead to isolation and an imbalanced lifestyle.

Rigidity or chaos

A reactive mindset is typically either rigid or chaotic. There’s nowhere in-between. It is based on the concepts of withholding, ‘power over’ and control.


Reactive mindsets are linear. They rely on familiar trajectories of rigid systems. In this way, the reactive person gets to have a level of perceived certainty in their lives.

Expected outcomes

  • Isolation
  • Controlling others
  • Fear
  • Blaming
  • Shaming
  • Judgement
  • Criticism
  • Uncontrolled personal behaviour without accountability.



Creative mindsets spring from an intimate knowledge of self. People who can act creatively know precisely what their strengths and weakness are.

They don’t let others overstep their boundaries without consequence. They don’t let people abuse them. Therefore they can access more compassionate behaviour from a space of assuredness, secure nature and vibrant energy.

They are self-authored, can discern when to collaborate with, or delegate to, someone who has more strength in an area of a project. They take on something that’s within their power, or that stretches them within their ability to handle.

They are not competitive in general. They enjoy working with others. They understand that the outcome will be better if the process is shared.


An environment of purpose fosters creativity. A longer-term goal. A feeling of something more significant than the individual moment. A big message of hope for the collective.

There’s science behind this. Dopamine circuits provide short term hits of feeling good and excited, linked to reward and motivation.

Social media really plays on this. Whereas endorphins give a slower, sustained release, and the feeling of fulfilment and love.


Creative mindset aligns to something larger than an individual self. Based around service to something. Personal ambition can be a good side note of this, but it’s not the defining factor.

Someone with a creative mind gets satisfaction out of knowing that they are serving others to feel better; they understand that this contribution will impact their overall wellbeing positively.

Mainly because creativity engages the rest and digest parts of the nervous system that fosters connection and the emotional brain centres that foster empathy and compassion.


A vital component of a creative mindset is flexibility; being able to pivot and move in a new direction if the signs are telling you that something isn’t working.

Creating innovative ideas and solutions to old problems even if they don’t have a practical application yet.

Lateral thinking

Creative mindsets foster lateral thinking. According to the Cambridge dictionary, lateral thinking is:

“A way of solving a problem by thinking about it in a different and original way and not using traditional or expected methods

Creativity also involves the ability to embrace solutions that go against your personal narrative, surrendering to that process and allowing what needs to emerge in a situation.

Expected outcomes

  • Collaboration
  • Service
  • Fulfilment
  • Love & connection
  • Creating innovative solutions
  • Rewards in reciprocation (without control)
  • Joy of living
  • Connection to community

Integrating Thoughts

This article described the differences between reactive and creative mindsets, the neuroscience behind this, and the different outcomes you can expect from the two approaches.

Living in creativity is desirable. Don’t shame yourself if you’re not there yet, many aspects of life will still be reactive for you, as they are for me and everyone else on this planet.

All we can do is strive towards building awareness, whenever we have the opportunity, and committing to responding better next time.

Key points:

  • Reactive behaviour is tied into the fight/flight/freeze responses that the human body has to respond to an immediate threat.
  • Reactivity is either rigid or chaotic.
  • Building awareness allows you to expand the ways that you respond to each situation.
  • Creativity involves flexibility and lateral thinking.
  • Creativity can include surrendering and allowing what needs to emerge in a situation.


Created by

Peter Middleton


Peter is a creative coach working to unblock people's authentic creative essence and expression. Using transformational life coaching, meditation and embodiment techniques. He is passionate about mental health, trauma informed practice, spirituality and how to create sustainable cultures that empower in equity.







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