If You Ask, You May Receive: Learning to be Proactive

There’s an old adage that goes: “If you ask, you will receive.” This is an oversimplified statement that will frequently prove to be false! Yet if we modify this basic idea, we end up with commonsense advice that we can all understand and get behind.

Learning to be proactive can be a lifelong task

Being proactive means one anticipates negative situations prior to them happening and prepares in advance for such occurrences by taking specific and explicit action(s). Being proactive might entail asking for accommodations well in advance of a test date. Another example of proactive behavior would be seeking out a teacher, tutor, or parent for extra help before one is urgently needed and the situation is desperate. I often get requests from older students and parents alike that reflect a reactive pattern of behavior, such as, “My child has been failing English all year” when it’s already February!  Such a (frequently occurring) situation brings to mind the saying, “Better late than never.” Which is true! But better to be early than to be late. In the case of a student who is seeking help perhaps months after he/she should have, they can still make progress and improve upon whatever they need to at that time. But it is always harder to play catch up than to get in front of the ball. (See my previous blog post– Don’t Wait or Procrastinate- Motivate)

Here’s a Story for You…

While acting as an advocate on behalf of a high school student, I participated in a meeting with my student and her principal in order to receive testing accommodations retroactively due to my student’s months-long illness the prior semester. My student had been out sick for dozens of days and classes due to a debilitating and excused illness, yet she was not granted certain testing accommodations and as she is a hardworking, overachieving student, she did not think it necessary to ask at the time.  Well, she ended up being made to take the very same final as all other students, with no accommodations, and fared well below her average performance. The final grade she received thus ruined her otherwise stellar average and in retrospect, her being made to take the regular final with no additional instruction or accommodation seemed like a punitive measure by the school. So, we engaged in a summer-long chain of emails to teachers, department heads, assistant principals, and the principal in an effort to modify that grade and assignment, despite the fact that it was now completed. While we ended up successful (this student was finally granted additional instruction time AND a slightly altered version of the test to retake), going about the process retroactively was costly, time-consuming, and difficult. Had this student asked for accommodations (she would have had a compelling case for temporary accommodations under Section 504) proactively during the spring, before the final, she and her family would have saved time, energy, and money and received an outcome that was the same or better.  (On a side note, this particular student is very bright, put together, and an excellent self-advocate, so this lesson has been learned!)

Why is it so difficult to be proactive?

Why do we have such a hard time reaching out for help before the ship reaches the iceberg and why can’t we prevent ourselves from crashing into it, capsizing, and then having to do damage control much of the time? Well, we can avoid this fate. But being proactive requires us to be honest with ourselves and to face the reality of the situation that we are in.  Many of us fear the potential repercussions of a situation before it has even come to fruition and act on those fears as if they are reality. The “repercussions” may be a material consequence such as a lower grade or loss of a job or income, so we anticipate the loss of those things prior to them happening; by fearing and anticipating the worst, we create fertile ground for our inactivity which then leads to the realization of those fears. I, like most humans, have found myself NOT asking for something out of fear of what may happen. But what do we really have to lose by asking? When you don’t yet have something, you have nothing to lose by asking for it. But by not asking, we may lose the opportunity to achieve our goal altogether. And on a practical note, I have also found that many people respect it when someone speaks up and asks for something they want or need (within reason and done in a respectful manner, of course). I try to remember that the world is not set up for ME and my reality, needs, and success. But we can create our own success in the world by seeking out help or what seems like “extra”, when it may in fact be readily available, but will likely not be offered. Let the world work for you by getting to work yourself right now!

So, whether you are asking for a raise from your boss, an extension on a paper, an instructional accommodation, or a special order, go get it!

Simple Strategies for Proactivity

Figure out your specific goals

  •  Envision yourself achieving those goals
  • Do a task analysis: Break down each goal into small, achievable steps to make it more manageable

Know your Rights

  • When you understand your legal, consumer, and human rights in a given situation, you are:
    1. More able to effectively ask for support
    2. In a better position to get what you want out of that situation and in a more efficient manner

Plan Ahead

  • This includes anticipating and planning for less-than-ideal scenarios
    • This does not mean we expect or assume these things will happen, just that we should be practical by being prepared if they do

Visualize Success

  • Imagine yourself asking for what you want in a confident and clear manner
  • Visualize accomplishing your goal(s): what it looks and feels like


  • Remind yourself of what you have to lose by asking (nothing) and what you have to gain by asking (everything you want!)

Create a script or talking points in advance of taking specific action

Practice being proactive in small, everyday ways

  • Make specific or special requests at restaurants and stores
  • When you get what you want by asking for it, take a moment to fully realize and process that success, which reinforces said behavior

Most of us fall into traps of fear and inactivity that lead us to have to retroactively work that much harder to achieve success or whatever we set out to accomplish. We can free ourselves from this counterproductive behavior by acknowledging the truth of where we are and where we want to go, and can actively create success by asking for what we want and need (and are sometimes entitled to by law)!