The Passivity Trap

The Passivity Trap

One of the key threats to a life well lived, is succumbing to the passivity trap.  Websters defines passivity as:

Passivity: acceptance of what happens, without active response or resistance

While acceptance of the realities of our life is a mature and healthy outcome, the lack of response noted in this definition is the core issue.  Acceptance means we simply acknowledge facts for what they are.  If we don’t we can spend our whole lives wasted on unhelpful coping mechanisms simply trying to avoid acceptance of reality.  Once we accept reality for what it is, we are freed to envision a different future.

If our lives are a story being written, we have not been designed to be passive, unresponsive participants.  We are called to write engaged, proactive, compelling stories with our lives.   We are co-authors, partnering with God to discover and live our best lives in his grace and empowerment.

Some might argue that there are moments to be “passive.”  While I might want to use a different word, I acknowledge the core principle.  In seasons of discernment, of regrouping, or in rebalancing our lives, we might need to “downshift.”  That is an intentional action.  Passivity lacks intentionality and is the opposite of proactiveness.

The passivity spectrum includes:

  1. Subconscious Passivity refers to a lack of awareness for what is driving our current passive behaviors, patterns, and responses.  This can be caused by a weak sense of self identity, painful events, becoming emotionally stuck around a setback, or unfulfilled expectations.
  2. Conscious Passivity refers to an awareness of circumstances, a key pain point, or other catalysts that result in us blaming others for our current conditions.  While we may not be aware of our passivity, we are able to articulate while we are choosing the course of action we are choosing. 
  3. Mindless Passivity refers to an individual who from the outside of their lives may not look passive and in many cases may have the appearance of “success.”  When you dig further what becomes clear is that they are going through the motions of life with little intentionality.  They may have learned to checkout to maintain harmony in their roles and relationships, are following a popular culture script for success, or feel they don’t have valid options, but regardless of the cause, their hearts are not fully engaged.  They are not living their story, they are instead living a generic script which, when pressed, they will not find overly meaningful.

At its core, a passive life embraces unhelpful beliefs, mental maps and behaviors that ultimately limit and excuse.  A passive approach to our lives cannot lead to the alive, vision awakened, courageously loving self that we were created to be.  The causes for passivity are numerous, reflecting our individual stories and lives.  The result is the same.

To embrace our life vision and purpose, we must shift from the drift towards passivity into an intentional designing of our lives.  This proactive approach is a shift in mindset recognizing:

  • I have been designed for a life of deep purpose and meaning
  • Pain is a reality of this world, it is either the great barrier or great teacher
  • I can’t control my circumstances, but I can control my response
  • I can be honest about my pain, hurt, or frustrations, while still choosing an intentional course forward
  • While not ignoring emotions, I can influence my emotions by choosing my mindset
  • When I look up to God I can learn to see his presence in this part of my story
  • When I look out to others I can discover how I have been called to positively impact the world
  • While I can’t control many things, I do have control over my routines, rituals, and how I show up in my roles, relationships and responsibilities


1. Pause to reflect on your life.  Survey your key roles, relationships and responsibilities. 

2. Reflect on how you are showing up?  Passive or proactive?

3. Identify the beliefs, values and behaviors that drive how you are showing up.

4. Determine your best forward to continue with your current trajectory or chart a new course.