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How to develop personal agency

“Everybody wants to be someplace he ain't.” ― Henry Ford

I have two questions about your car: How well does it perform and how much of its performance is under your control?

The answers depend on how you measure your car’s performance, so we’ll define and measure it as simply as possible: by how well it does what you want it to do. Not by how fast it goes, gas mileage, or its maximum RPMs. If it is doing what you want and expect it to do, it is performing well.

There are three factors that determine your car’s performance:

1) build

2) environment

3) treatment

The build defines its limits. A sports car has a higher top speed than an economy car. An economy car has a higher maximum MPG rating than a large truck. A truck has a bigger payload capacity than a sedan.

The environment affects its performance as well. A cold weather climate will be harder on it than a more moderate zone. A rough, pot-hole filled road will take a greater toll on it than a smooth avenue.

How it is treated by the owner and driver also has a huge impact on its performance. A well-maintained SUV can outrun a neglected sports car. A smartly driven truck can get better fuel economy than an economy car with bad tires and an inpatient driver.

Motorin' through life

Why am I going on and on about your car’s performance? As you've probably guessed, it’s a metaphor.

Imagine that your life is a vehicle. It gets you to your various destinations like a car. It has limits based on how it was built (your genetics) and where it is driven (your environment). However, how it performs within those constraints depends on you and how you treat it. You are the owner and the driver.

You control when to go fast and when to slow down, when to take risks and when to play it safe, when to go far and when to stay close to home. In other words, you control how well your life does what you want it to do.

You have agency. You’re in the driver’s seat.

Again - Three Factors

Like a car, there are three factors that determine how your life goes:

The Build

Each of us is built from a unique combination of ingredients. It is human nature to focus on the traits we can’t change - our genetic make-up, our age, our parents, our education, etc. We throw our hands up in resignation when we underperform or fail to reach our goals and say, “I can’t help it. It’s who I am.”

It is true there are upper limits to our abilities. I know I do not have the talents of a professional tennis player or a rocket scientist. But we can be intentional about improving the areas of our “build” we can control.

You can improve both your body and your brain through diet, exercise, sleep and other habits. Your DNA may determine your talent limits, but you can hone what you do have through training and practice and supplement them by developing complimentary useful skills.

The Environment

Much of your environment is outside your control. You can’t control how people treat you. You can’t control government policies. You can’t control market forces or the economy. You can’t control the fickle finger of fate.

You CAN influence other people - and thus some of your environment - by being trustworthy, likable and positive. Likewise, while good luck may or may not find you, you can improve your chances by devleoping your skills and network and being where luck is most likely to strike.

The Treatment

No matter how much raw genetic talent we have, that talent will only take us so far. We need to monitor our performance and our progress, identify trouble spots (like lizard brain biases), and make the necessary adjustments, improvements and upgrades. In other words, you are the driver, the navigator and the mechanic of your life’s vehicle, so you need to develop the skills to improve your performance in those areas.

Grab the wheel

Most people don’t give themselves enough credit. You have agency - the ability to control your success and happiness. You need to seize it and run with it.

Remember - you are not a passenger in your life’s journey. You are in the driver’s seat.

And that's the best place to be.

Think well and be well!

- Steve

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?


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