Understanding why a sense of agency is important for our well-being, let’s first look at what the sense of agency is:
Marc Jeannerod (2003) described the sense of agency as ‘the way by which the self builds as an entity independent from the external world.’
And this sense of agency is vital for us to feel in control of our lives and is also called a sense of control.
So, having a strong sense of agency is the subjective awareness of acting on one’s own volition in the world. To initiate, execute, and control what we think is right for us to do.
As such, a sense of agency is integral to experience meaning and freedom and knowing that you can be and are in charge of your life goals.
A Healthy Sense Of Agency is the Opposite of Anxiety and Depression
I an ever faster changing complex world, many of us can feel overwhelmed, stuck, and lost. Wide-spread feelings or anxiety and depression can result from this perceived loss of control.
And an over-boarding welfare state and a culture of victimhood make it even easier to position us at the receiving end of life.
But creating a fulfilled and meaningful life requires us to take charge of our life and execute how we want to live. Knowing we can choose and improve our abilities and intelligence towards the life we desire lies at the heart of a growth mindset.
Growing and feeling accomplished is the very basis of the human condition and necessary for our well-being.
Our Sense of Control Sits in between a Stimulus and Our Reaction
Likewise, Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist, and concentration camp survivor, writes in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’:
‘Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’
This space that Frankl refers to is the power of our agency. And this sense of personal control is also an important characteristic in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihályi has called the experience of flow.
Also, colloquially known as being in the zone, a flow state is the full mental immersion in our current activity. A feeling of flow comes with focussed energy, complete involvement, and enjoying the moment.
In the same vein, giving employees in the workplace this sense of control can increase how much energy and focus they will bring to their jobs.
For example, the Toyota Production System (TPS) made management history by giving workers control. Indeed, the TPS granted workers the ability and the empowerment to turn off the assembly line.
Also known as one element of ‘Kaizen,’ Japanese for ‘improvement,’ this kind of genuine decision-making authority creates additional motivation and ownership.
How to Increase Your Sense of Agency
So if a sense of control has a significant positive effect on our well-being, how can we strengthen our agency?
In their recent book, ‘The Power of Agency,‘ psychologists Paul Napper and Anthony Rao have identified seven principles to improve our sense of control.
Or, as the subtitle says, ‘conquer obstacles, make effective decisions, and create a life on your own terms.’
The Seven Principles to Improve Your Sense of Control
- Control Stimuli – Manage your exposure to external stimuli in a world that is overloaded with almost everything.
- Associate Selectively – Choose the people you surround yourself with carefully. Friends ought to be empathetic, optimistic, and open-minded people who help boost your mood and achieve your goals. Feeling good is healthy!
- Move – Sufficient physical movement and wholesome nutrition constitute the basis for a strong body and a healthy mind. Make exercise and healthy food and constituting part of your everyday life.
- Position Yourself as a Learner – Remain open throughout your life. Do question, listen, and learn to get an ever-deeper understanding of the world around you. And, in turn, your decision-making ability will improve.
- Manage Your Emotions and Beliefs – Becoming aware of how your emotions and beliefs influence your thinking and behavior will build better confidence.
- Check Your Intuition – Being in touch with your intuition provides you with added creativity and a deep sense of guidance when tackling life’s challenges.
- Deliberate, Then Act – Avoid acting exclusively on your impulses. Rather, follow a structured reflection process and only then take action.
These seven principles systematically improve one’s sense of agency. And they support and reinforce each other.
As a result, you might use deliberation to tackle an important life question like in which country and city to live.
Checking in with your intuition will enhance the strength of your decision. While keeping excessive external stimuli at bay simultaneously for a clear mind makes taking the decision easier.
And being healthy due to regular movement and proper diet, you have enhanced cognitive abilities anyway.
Move Towards Your Dreams for A Meaningful and Happy Life
So why a sense of agency is important for your well-being is due to what it helps create: freedom.
And then couple freedom with health, and you will feel well, even be happy.
While having a sense of control in your life is essential, we don’t think it is the whole story yet.
Particularly, a key question of any transformational process in life is: What is the next step I take right now? And the next step after that? What has to happen between where I am today and the life I dream of for myself?
Put simply, we need a framework that implies a sequence of life principles. But which, at the same, accounts for each person’s individuality.
Check out our Transformational Bootcamp for an evidence-based framework for personal transformation. Here, we call it living switched-on.