“What we’re witnessing in our practices, and indeed across every spectrum of the human experience, is an increasing number of people who have lost their ability to adapt to stress–with the result that they lose the ability to direct their lives. Psychologists refer to this as a loss of agency. Agency is what allows you to pause, evaluate, and act when you face a challenge–be it at work, home, or anywhere else in the world.
Agency is about being active rather than passive, of reacting effectively to immediate situations and planning effectively for your future. When you become too overwhelmed you lose your agency, you can no longer evaluate your circumstances, reflect on the challenges and opportunities you’re confronted with, make creative decisions, and act in ways that open up possibilities for a meaningful life on your own terms.
In simple words, agency is what humans have always used to feel in command of their lives. With it, people are able to live in ways that reflect their interest, values, and inner motivations. Building agency is central to what therapists and consultants like us do in helping people improve their lives, it has been debated and written about by mental health scholars for years.
And yet only recently has it begun to penetrate the popular consciousness as essential for coping with the obstacles that life throws our way and building a healthy fulfilling life. Its erosion is linked directly to the crisis levels of anxiety we see in current times, for physiological reasons we will get to below, and because when we don’t have agency, problems fester, and plans don’t get made, leaving us with the constant sense of worry about the things that aren’t getting done and the impending consequences of inaction.”
~ Paul Napper and Anthony Rao from The Power of Agency