What is agency and how does having it benefit you?

Having agency is a terminology used to describe a person who has a sense of control over their lives, recognises that they have the capacity and capability to influence their thoughts and behaviours and know that they can handle a wide range of tasks and situations.


Lacking agency refers to when your attention is hijacked. You don’t feel a sense of control over your life, you are not able to reliably influence your thoughts and behaviours and doubt that you can handle a wide range of tasks and situations.

You may lack agency if you are or have experienced prolonged stress or anxiety, are suffering from depression or other chronic conditions or feel powerless to change your situation.

We don’t fare well if we feel helpless, powerless to change things, or lack the resources to change path or direction. Neither do we fare well if our situation is hopeless, the environment plays a big part in our sense of well-being and if circumstances create a hopeless and helpless scenario then maintaining agency becomes increasingly difficult.

The other major factor is feeling worthless, whether self-imposed or learnt from someone else, believing that you are less than worthy is a major self-sabotaging belief, especially if that belief was imprinted in our younger years before we could recognise that it was someone else’s belief and dismiss it.

For example, Susan found herself in the position of suffering from physical ill health after previously being fairly fit and healthy. In her mid-30s, it was a shock to lack energy and the physical ability to do what most would consider everyday tasks such as maintaining the family home, cooking, cleaning, and working.

Over time, her ill health took its toll, and she began to feel depressed and anxious about her future. For a few months, she lacked agency, having been told by medical professionals that she would just have to learn to live with her condition had set her on the path of feeling hopeless and helpless, and because she wasn’t able to do the ‘normal’ things she used to, her sense of worth deteriorated. This is commonly referred to as the hopeless, helpless, worthless trap, for indeed it is entrapment.

Taking agency involves actively asserting your control and making decisions that influence your life or circumstances. It's about recognising that you have the power to shape your own path and taking responsibility for your actions and choices. This concept encompasses several key aspects:

Self-awareness: Understanding your values, desires, strengths, and weaknesses is crucial in taking agency. When you're self-aware, you're better equipped to make choices aligned with your goals and beliefs. Being self-aware and understanding yourself helps regain your sense of worth.

Making choices: Agency involves making decisions, whether they're small, day-to-day choices or significant, life-altering ones. It's about actively deciding what steps to take rather than letting circumstances dictate your actions. Making choices, especially when they relate to you and your life, helps counter the sense of feeling helpless and that it’s hopeless.

Taking responsibility: Accepting accountability for the outcomes of your decisions, whether they lead to success or failure, is part of agency. It's recognising that your actions have consequences. Accountability counters the effects of feeling helpless and that things are hopeless.

Empowerment: Taking agency often involves empowering yourself and others. It means believing in your capabilities and finding ways to assert your influence in situations that matter to you. Empowerment also permits you to learn skills and strategies that self-awareness identifies as lacking, further countering the effects of helplessness.

Resilience: Understanding that not all outcomes will be positive but persevering despite setbacks is essential. Having agency means bouncing back, learning from failures, and adapting to challenges. Being resilient improves self-esteem and self-worth.

Self-validation: Learning to be the judge of your own efforts and appraising your own achievements brings a sense of fulfilment, self-worth, self-awareness, resilience and increased agency.

Taking agency can lead to personal growth, increased self-confidence, and a greater sense of fulfilment as you actively shape your life according to your values and aspirations.

Creating more agency in your life involves empowering yourself to make meaningful choices and take intentional actions. Here are some steps to help you create more agency:

1. Self-awareness:

Understand your values, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. This awareness forms the foundation for making choices aligned with your true self. Start making notes of what you truly value, and what your strengths and weaknesses are and ask trusted others to assist you if you don’t know where to start.

2. Set clear goals:

Define what you want to achieve. Break down big goals into smaller, actionable steps. This clarity helps you direct your efforts effectively. Use existing strategies such as SMART goals, specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and time-measured so that you set yourself up for success rather than failure.

3. Take responsibility:

Acknowledge that you have control over your actions and reactions. Avoid blaming external factors for your circumstances. Even when situations are challenging, focus on what you can influence. If you have cultivated a blame mentality, start by asking yourself if it truly is entirely someone else’s fault and then ask yourself what part you and your actions played in creating the situation.

4. Develop decision-making skills:

Enhance your ability to make informed decisions. Consider the available options, weigh their pros and cons, and make choices that align with your values and goals. Remember that nobody has a crystal ball, you can only make the best decisions you can at the time you make them. If your available options and choices change, then re-evaluate your decision and change path if appropriate to do so.

5. Enhance skills and knowledge:

Continuous learning and skill development expand your capabilities and increase your confidence to take action. Consider some coaching if you recognise that you lack skills, however, you must be prepared to act on and use the skills and learnings that you acquire.

6. Manage your time and resources:

Organise your time effectively and allocate resources wisely to support your goals and priorities. If you tend to procrastinate or cram, then use your self-awareness and goal-setting skills to start changing this.

7. Embrace discomfort:

Stepping out of your comfort zone helps you grow. Embrace challenges as opportunities for learning and development. If you tend to be a perfectionist, then get comfortable in failing, and actively set out to do things that you are likely to fail at so that you overcome this fear-based self-sabotaging coping strategy.

8. Cultivate resilience:

Develop the ability to bounce back from setbacks. Understand that failures are part of the learning process and use them as lessons for future endeavours. Use the skill of self-reflection to recognise your wins and failures and identify areas that you’d like to improve upon.

9. Seek support:

Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, mentors, or professionals who can offer guidance, encouragement, and different perspectives. A flower will not flourish if fed weedkiller and surrounded by weeds.

10. Take action:

Ultimately, agency comes from taking action. Start small if needed, but take deliberate steps towards your goals. Every step forward towards a better, more self-reliant you is to be celebrated, no matter how small or significant.

11. Consistency:

This is a key component to having agency. By consistently practising these steps, you can gradually increase your sense of agency and feel more in control of your life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN
Written by Nikki Emerton
Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN

I’m Nikki, a recovered perfectionist, still a bit of an over-achiever, slightly introverted lover of running, the outdoors, wild swimming & good food!

I use several modalities, including coaching, NLP, Hypnotherapy, IEMT, CBT and somatic work. Helping people achieve positive changes so that they can live life to the fullest.

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