Imagine you’re in a sailboat on the open ocean. You have a map and, after looking at several different options, you decide where you would like to go. Now what? Do you hope the wind and waves will get you there? Or, do you use the sail and rudder to direct your boat to the right harbor?
One of the most obvious things about the future is that we are not there yet. The question for us as we approach a brand new year is whether to drift or direct our lives where we want them to go.
Drifting through life?
The word for this direction is agency, our power to affect the future. But amazingly, some people believe they have very little agency in life. Things will be what they will be. We run into people like this all the time. Maybe we struggle with it ourselves. It seems like we’re just bobbing in the waves, going wherever the current leads.
But we have far more power than we think. All we have to do to see this is imagine what little it would take to steer our lives into ruin. The things we keep doing every day to keep our lives on track show that we have great power if we’re willing to become aware of it and use it.
What would happen if we used that agency to take our lives to entirely different destinations than the ones we’re currently drifting toward? Ask yourself: Are you a pilot or a passenger?
The power of agency
Our agency is like the rudder we thrust into the seas to direct our vessels to our chosen destinations. There are four different aspects of our agency that help us achieve our goals, according to Stanford University psychology professor Albert Bandura.
1. Intention. This means we can set our minds to a particular outcome and work with others and within our circumstances to achieve it.
2. Forethought. By visualizing the future, we can govern our behavior in the present and give purpose and meaning to our actions.
3. Action. Beyond intention and forethought, we have the ability to act on our plans, to stay motivated, and respond in the moment to stay on course.
4. Self-reflection. We not only act, we know we act. That means we can evaluate how we’re doing, make adjustments, and even revise our plans. This remarkable capacity for self-reflection is why I created the LifeScore™ Assessment, which lets us reflect on how we’re doing in life’s ten main domains. You can find out more about that here).
Because of these abilities, as Cicero said in On Duties, a person “discerns consequences, sees the causes of things, understands the rise and progress of events, compares similar objects, and connects and associates the future with the present [and] easily takes into view the whole course of life, and provides things necessary for it.”
If we’re drifting, it’s only because we’ve forgotten the deep-seated, inherent power we have to pilot our lives the way we want to go.
Are you making progress?
In large part happiness, confidence, and satisfaction in life come from making progress toward significant goals. But the first step is realizing that we have the agency we need to set and meet those goals.
Drifting is just motion, but direction leads to real progress. Are we pilots or passengers? It’s time to set the course, engage the rudder, and get going.