The ironic truth
Ironically, while we try hard to control our lives' external events, we're okay with the idea that we can't change who we are: we are the way we are.
We spend a lot of energy trying to control our environment and circumstances. We want to know what to expect, what is expected of us and what we need to do. That effort gives us the illusion that we have a say in the outcomes; it makes us feel safe.
Ironically, while we try hard to control our lives' external events, we're okay with the idea that we can't change who we are: we are the way we are. We jump to the conclusion that change is too complicated or impossible and that we have little to no say in the matter. It often sounds like "it's in my genes," "it's part of my personality," "it's how I grew up," and "it's how my parents were."
We can't actually control what we think we can, and what we believe we have no say in we can, in fact, develop.
The reality is that we have very little control over external circumstances. We can certainly influence the world around us, but we cannot control it. When we try, we typically become exhausted, miserable and unhappy.
However, we have control over who we choose to be, what we choose to believe in, what values are suitable for us, and what skills we develop. We have agency.
As Rick Hanson points out in this book Resilient, agencyis a skill, an internal resource that we can exercise. While in most circumstances, we do not have external agency, we do, however, have internal Agency.
We can choose what meaning we attach to the circumstances surrounding us and how we respond to them.
I had the privilege of travelling to South Africa in my twenties; it was a life-changing experience. I spent time with beautiful souls that lived in shacks and under what we'd define as horrible conditions. Something truly unique to me was that regardless of their circumstances, they still smiled. It wasn't one of those fake smiles; it was genuine. There were lightness and warmth in their presence. As I visited different villages, I experienced more of the same: people walking in the streets with smiles on their faces.
Taking ownership over the meaning we give our circumstances and how we choose to respond is valuable. And that's precisely what it is; it's a muscle which we can develop. We can build our Agency in how we think and experience life. We don't have to be prisoners of our every circumstance, thought and emotion.
By redirecting the energy we waste in trying to control the world around us and invest more in developing our internal Agency, we empower ourselves to choose to work toward happier, healthier and more productive lives.
Sparknotion – Think Differently.
A practice for developing agency
The purpose of this practice is to help you build your ability to make things happen. Ideally, we want to create a space where you get to accomplish that regularly.
Every day, pick an activity you do within your control already and decide to extend the time you engage in it. If you do yoga, choose to hold a pose for an extra 20 seconds. If you move weight in your gym, decide to do one extra rep when you would usually stop. If you typically run five-kilometres, choose to run an extra one. You can also choose to do something that you usually wouldn't, like going for a walk if you have been inside more lately.
Once a day, take an activity and make a decision. The goal isn't to push yourself to do something impossible; it's to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone through an act of Agency.
Take 5 minutes every day to reflect on your experience.
What was challenging about employing Agency in that moment of decision?
Was there any resistance, and if so, where was that resistance showing up for you?
If you didn't do the practice today, what kept you away from it?
Be open to what you might discover.
Experiment with this practice for a month while continuing to stretch yourself, and see what kind of results you get.