What Is Your Sense Of Agency And How Do You Increase It?

Last updated on November 30th, 2023 at 01:08 pm

Discover how you can be in control and the initiator of your own thoughts, actions and behaviours through your sense of agency.

Some people drift along life, living by mere instincts and intuition without putting thoughts into their actions and behaviours.

But you are different by having an agency sense, and taking ownership of your thoughts, behaviours and actions in whatever situations you find yourself.

This complex phenomenon is influenced by various cognitive, social, and emotional factors and plays a fundamental role in your everyday decision-making and sense of responsibility.

In this article, we have distilled everything you need to know about the sense of agency, also called personal agency and how you can cultivate and sharpen it to navigate life and live on your own terms.

Suggested: Personal Agency: The Pillar of Every Personality

Table of Contents

Sense of Agency Meaning

A man exercising sense of agency

What is your Sense of Agency?

It is the subjective feeling of being in control of your own actions and their consequences.

It is the perception that your intentional actions are the cause of specific outcomes.

This sense is crucial in your daily life, as it provides you with a sense of autonomy, responsibility, and motivation.

It has to do with the integration of sensory information, motor actions, and cognitive processes to construct a coherent experience of being an agent in the world, capable of initiating and influencing events.

Recommended: Improving your Mental Health

Why is it Important to have a Strong Personal Agency?

Having a sense of self-mastery and personal agency is crucial in both personal and professional settings as it empowers you to take control of your life, make choices, and take responsibility for your actions.

Here are the key reasons why having a sense of initiative is important in these contexts:

Autonomy and Self-Empowerment: A sense of agency encourages autonomy and self-empowerment, enabling you to feel in control of your life, make aligned decisions, and achieve personal growth and fulfillment.

Goal Setting and Achievement: Personal agency empowers individuals to set goals, take action, and make progress towards success. It provides clarity, motivation, and the ability to overcome obstacles on the path to achievement.

Resilience and Adaptability: Personal agency enhances resilience and adaptability by enabling individuals to actively respond to challenges, find solutions, and adapt strategies, fostering the ability to navigate difficult situations and bounce back stronger.

Decision Making and Responsibility: Personal agency promotes effective decision-making by encouraging individuals to analyze situations, make informed choices, and take responsibility for the consequences, promoting accountability and personal growth.

Initiative and Proactivity: Personal agency drives you to take initiative, be proactive, and actively pursue personal and professional objectives, resulting in increased productivity, efficiency, and overall success in your endeavors.

Leadership and Influence: Personal agency contributes to effective leadership by enabling individuals to exert influence, inspire others, and drive positive change, making them well-suited for leadership roles.

Related: What is Sensory Perception?

Factors Influencing the Development of Personal Agency

Several factors influence the development of your personal agency and sense of control, including childhood experiences, self-perception, and external validation.

Let’s explain…

Childhood Experiences: Early childhood experiences shape the development of personal agency. Encouraging children to make choices, solve problems, and take responsibility enhances their sense of initiative, while control and discouragement hinder it.

Self-perception: Your self-perception and beliefs about your capabilities shape your sense of control. Factors like self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-confidence influence your belief in your ability to influence your environment and achieve goals. Positive self-perception strengthens agency.

External Validation: External validation, such as recognition and support from others, positively influences a sense of agency. Praise and positive feedback reinforce belief in your abilities, while criticism and discouragement can hinder its development.

Cultural and Social Factors: Cultural and social factors shape agency development. Emphasis on collectivism or societal expectations can influence an individual’s belief in their ability to control and shape their own lives.

Related: Sensory Experiences and Sensory Organs

Factors That Hinder the Development of Sense of Agency

A man who is practicing sense of self-mastery

Several factors can hinder the development of this phenomenon as we can see below:

Lack of Control in Your Life: When you feel that you have little or no control over your circumstances, it can undermine your personal agency. This lack of control might be due to external factors or personal challenges, making it difficult for them to believe in their ability to shape their lives.

External Influences and Societal Expectations: Societal expectations and external influences can shape your perceptions of what you should or should not do. When you conform too much to these external pressures, it can hinder the development of your own sense of self-mastery as you may prioritize the expectations of others over your own desires and goals.

Fear of Failure and Self-doubt: Fear of failure and self-doubt can be significant obstacles to the development of a strong sense of agency. If you are afraid to take risks or doubt your capabilities, you may hesitate to take the necessary actions to shape your life and pursue your goals.

Overdependence on the Opinion and Validation of Others: Relying too heavily on the opinions and validation of others can hinder the development of a sense of control. If you constantly seek external approval and validation, you may find it challenging to develop a strong internal locus of control and may become overly dependent on external sources for guidance.

Impacts of Technology and Social Media: Technology and social media can have both positive and negative impacts on the development of a sense of autonomy. On one hand, these platforms can provide opportunities for self-expression and connection. On the other hand, constant comparison to others, cyberbullying, and the pressure to conform to online trends can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and hinder the development of a strong personal agency.

Recommended: Personality: Everything You Need to Know

How to Increase Sense of Agency

A parent teaching her child to have agency sense

It is possible to enhance your sense of initiative and autonomy and take control and ownership of your actions and have a sense of self-mastery.

Let’s take a look:

Self-reflection and Self-awareness: Take time to reflect on your values, strengths, and weaknesses. Develop self-awareness to understand your desires, motivations, and actions better.

Set and Achieve Meaningful Goals: Define clear and meaningful goals that align with your values and aspirations. Break them down into actionable steps and celebrate achievements along the way.

Embrace Autonomy and Take Responsibility for Your Actions: Recognize that you have the power to make choices and take control of your life. Take responsibility for your decisions and actions, learning from both successes and failures.

Building Resilience and Embracing Failure as a Learning Opportunity: View failure as a stepping stone to growth. Cultivate resilience by learning from setbacks, adapting strategies, and persevering towards your goals.

Surround Yourself with Supportive Individuals and Seek Mentorship: Seek out positive and supportive relationships. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your abilities. Find mentors who can guide and inspire you.

Mindfulness and Maintaining a Positive Mindset: Practice mindfulness to stay present and aware of your thoughts and emotions. Cultivate a positive mindset by focusing on strengths, practicing gratitude, and reframing challenges as opportunities.

Limit External Distractions and Optimize Focus: Minimize distractions that hinder your progress. Create a conducive environment for concentration and productivity. Prioritize tasks and manage time effectively to optimize focus on your goals.

Related: Beyond Reason: The Role of Cognitive Intuition in Creative Thinking

Developing a Personal Agency in Different Areas of Life

Sense of Agency in Personal Life

Personal life encompasses various aspects like relationships, hobbies, and personal growth.

Cultivating personal agency in these areas involves taking ownership and actively participating in shaping them.

In relationships, it means being proactive in communication, understanding and expressing needs and boundaries, and working towards healthy dynamics.

Regarding hobbies and personal growth, agency is about exploring interests, setting goals, and actively seeking opportunities for learning and self-improvement.

Sense of Agency in Education

In education and career, cultivating a sense of control involves taking charge of one’s own learning and development.

This can be achieved by setting career goals based on personal ambitions and passions, obtaining necessary skills and knowledge, and making informed decisions about education or career paths.

It also requires advocating for oneself, such as negotiating job offers or seeking out opportunities for professional advancement.

Related: What is Sense of Self?

Sense of Agency in Community

Community involvement revolves around actively participating in volunteer work, civic engagement, and activism.

Cultivating a sense of autonomy in this area means recognizing your potential impact and taking action to bring about positive change.

It involves educating yourself about community issues, actively engaging in volunteer activities, and advocating for causes or organizations that align with personal values.

Sense of Agency in Creativity and Self-expression

Cultivating a sense of self-mastery in creativity and self-expression involves actively exploring and finding outlets that allow for personal expression.

It could include various artistic endeavors such as painting, writing, music, or any form of creative expression that resonates with an individual.

Finding unique outlets encourages the exploration of individual talents, passions, and interests, nurturing a sense of ownership and empowerment in one’s creative pursuits.

Related: The Dark Side Of Sense Of Agency And How To Strike A Balance

Overcoming Challenges and Setbacks to Maintain a Sense of Autonomy

A teenager in the library looking for a book on how to master your sense of agency

Overcoming challenges and setbacks is essential for maintaining a sense of autonomy.

When faced with obstacles or setbacks, you can employ several strategies to regain control and continue moving forward.

Strategies for Navigating Setbacks and Reevaluating Goals

Reevaluating goals is crucial for a sense of autonomy when faced with challenges or setbacks. It involves assessing the current situation, recognizing any limitations or barriers, and adjusting expectations or plans accordingly.

This might include breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps or setting new, realistic targets.

Seeking Support and Guidance when Facing Challenges

One way to maintain a sense of initiative is by seeking support and guidance from others.

This can involve reaching out to friends, family, or mentors who can provide advice, encouragement, or assistance.

Collaborating with others who have faced similar challenges can also be helpful, as they may offer different perspectives and strategies for overcoming obstacles.

Also Read:

Related: The 5 Basic Instincts in Humans

Encouraging Resilience and Maintaining a Positive Mindset

Maintaining a positive mindset and encouraging resilience is necessary for sense of self-mastery when facing challenges or setbacks.

This involves cultivating a mindset that views setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning.

Accepting that setbacks are a part of life and reframing them as temporary obstacles can help individuals maintain a sense of autonomy and continue moving forward.

Learning from Failures and Adapting your Approach

Learning from failures is an important aspect of maintaining agency.

By analyzing past mistakes or setbacks, you can identify areas for improvement and adjust your approach accordingly.

This might involve trying new strategies, seeking additional training or education, or leveraging different resources to overcome obstacles in the future.

What Does a Lack of Sense of Agency Mean?

A lack of sense of agency refers to the belief that one does not have control over their life and cannot make decisions that impact their future.

It is a feeling of helplessness and lack of control. A lack of this sense of personal autonomy can have several negative impacts on an individual’s life including:

  • It can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. When individuals feel that they have no control over their lives, they may feel overwhelmed and helpless, leading to negative emotions and mental health issues.
  • It can lead to a lack of motivation and productivity. When individuals feel that they have no control over their lives, they may feel that their actions do not matter, leading to a lack of motivation and productivity.
  • It can lead to a lack of resilience and coping skills. When individuals feel that they have no control over their lives, they may struggle to cope with challenges and setbacks, leading to a lack of resilience and coping skills.

Related: Primal Instincts: Your Natural Informant And How to Sharpen It

What is the Sense of Agency in the Brain?

A lady who has sense of agency and autonomy

In the brain, a sense of agency has to do with the neural processes that underlie the perception of control over one’s actions and their outcomes.

It involves the integration of sensory information, motor planning, and cognitive processes to generate a sense of control over one’s actions and their consequences.

Research has shown that the sense of agency involves several brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex, the parietal cortex, and the cerebellum.

These regions are involved in motor planning, sensory integration, and cognitive processing, respectively.

The prefrontal cortex is involved in the planning and execution of actions, while the parietal cortex is involved in the integration of sensory information and the perception of body position and movement.

The cerebellum is involved in motor coordination and the prediction of sensory outcomes.

Studies have also shown that the sense of agency can be disrupted by brain damage or dysfunction in these regions.

For example, damage to the prefrontal cortex can lead to a loss of control over actions, while damage to the parietal cortex can lead to a loss of awareness of body position and movement.

Also Read: Emotional Hijack and the Consequences

Sense of Agency Examples

A confident man

Here are some examples:

  • A student who sets a goal to get an A in a difficult class and takes action by studying consistently and seeking help when needed. By achieving their goal, the student develops a stronger sense of initiative and control over their academic success.
  • An athlete who trains consistently and sets a goal to win a competition. By taking action towards their goal and competing at a high level, the athlete develops a stronger sense of agency and control over their athletic performance.
  • A person who takes charge of their health by practicing self-care, such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. By taking action towards their health goals, the person develops a stronger sense of control and control over their overall well-being.
  • A musician who sets a goal to write and record an album and takes action by practicing regularly and collaborating with other musicians. By achieving their goal, the musician develops a stronger sense of autonomy and control over their creative output.
  • A person who takes charge of their career by setting goals, seeking out opportunities, and taking action towards their professional development. By achieving their career goals, the person develops a stronger sense of agency and control over their professional success.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to have a strong sense of agency?

Having a strong sense of agency means feeling empowered, in control, and capable of influencing one’s environment and making choices aligned with personal values and goals.

What is the sense of agency personality?

It is an individual’s inherent disposition or tendency to perceive themselves as having control and influence over their actions and outcomes.

What does no sense of agency mean?

It means lacking the belief or perception of control and influence over one’s actions and outcomes, resulting in a feeling of powerlessness or helplessness.

What is the sense of agency in adults?

It is the belief and perception of control and influence over one’s actions and outcomes, allowing individuals to take initiative, make decisions, and pursue personal and professional goals.

Final Thoughts

Your sense of agency is your belief in your ability to control your actions and influence outcomes.

To increase your sense of initiative and autonomy, you can engage in activities that promote self-efficacy, such as setting achievable goals and taking responsibility for actions.

Additionally, cultivating a growth mindset and seeking feedback can enhance your sense of initiative and responsibility.

Ultimately, recognizing and embracing your own power to shape your life and actively taking steps towards desired outcomes can lead to an increased sense of self-mastery.

References

  1. Mindful.org:  Seven Ways to Develop Sense of Autonomy
  2. The Sense of Autonomy and its cognitive and neural  Mechanisms
  3. Consciousness and Cognition, 14(3), 439–458. Astafiev, S. V., Stanley, C. M., Shulman, G. L., & Corbetta, M. (2004).
  4. Extrastriate body area in the human occipital cortex responds to the performance of motor actions.
  5. Self-awareness and action. Current Opinions in Neurobiology, 13(2), 219–224. Blakemore, S. J., Frith, C. D., & Wolpert, D. M. (2001).
pyomerez@gmail.com | Website | + posts

Pyo Merez (PsyD) is a distinguished adolescent and adult psychologist at the forefront of mental health advocacy.

With expertise in cognitive and developmental psychology, focusing on social relationships, cultural contexts, and individual differences, Pyo has dedicated his career to empowering adolescents and adults.

As a sought-after speaker and panelist, Pyo shares invaluable insights on issues affecting young people, contributing to a deeper understanding of mental health and well-being in today's society.