Simply giving employees a sense of agency – a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority – can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs.
We all have periods when the world seems to get a way from us. Too much to do: too little time. Before we have had a chance to finish one thing yet another demand is placed upon us.
Save the world. Feed the kids. Finish two impossible projects by Thursday. Eat lunch. Go to the gym.
We can begin to feel powerless, as if nothing that we do can have the slightest effect on the pressure we are under. We are at the beck and call of every man and his dog – or at least that is how it feels. Time runs away from us and we are left swimming in a whirlpool of stress.
Our locus of control has become external.
This is not a state designed to help us perform at our best. Working with this level of stress affects our ability to function ion many areas of our lives. We struggle to make decisions, we become unable to learn new things; not to mention the adverse effects on our physical and mental health. Even our relationships can suffer.
Yet we can do something about this.
Agency is a divine gift to you. You are free to choose what you will be and what you will do.
Russell M. Nelson
The first step towards regaining our sense of agency is to do something different. Make a change to the situation no matter how small. An action that we control.
In the short-term we can stand up and move around, take a few slow, deep breaths, concentrating on the experience of our breathing as the air goes in and out. Stretch, yawn, jog on the spot – even do some star jumps.
All these things help us to focus, to let us take a step back from the maelstrom of our daily lives. Once we can regain a little mental space we can start to deal with the pressure by focussing on one thing at a time.
When we enter this mental space we can start to concentrate on the bigger picture. What are we trying to achieve? Why are we doing this? When we have greater clarity around this we can then regain our sense of agency, once again we can internalize our locus of control and take action at our own behest.
We can only do one action at a time. The sense of being overwhelmed arises from the inability to decide what to do next. We need to ask the important questions.
- What action can I take that will move me nearer to my goals?
- What can I do now that will help me to stay in charge of what I am doing?
Once we have some idea of the answers we can begin to prioritize the demands that are placed upon us. Then we can remove much of the unnecessary stress from our lives and using our sense of personal agency we can set out to be the best version of ourselves.