What Is The Ability To Promote Change Or Do Work Called?

Introducing the Concept of Agency

Agency refers to the ability to make choices and take action. It is closely linked to autonomy, empowerment, and having control over one’s life. Agency is about having the capacity to make decisions and enact them independently. It is often contrasted with structure, which refers to the external factors in society that influence and constrain individual behavior.

Psychologists see agency as central to human nature and experience. Having a sense of agency, or being an “agent” in one’s own life, means feeling that your actions matter and can make a difference. Agency enables people to pursue goals, values, and interests autonomously. It is associated with self-efficacy, motivation, and responding proactively to one’s circumstances.

Overall, agency is vital for human well-being and fulfillment. The ability to make choices and take purposeful action toward desired ends is core to what it means to be human. Without agency, people lose autonomy and control over their lives.

The Psychology of Agency

Psychologists have long studied the concept of agency and its link to human motivation and behavior. Agency refers to an individual’s ability to make choices and take purposeful action. From a psychological perspective, having a strong sense of personal agency is critical for cognitive, emotional, and social wellbeing.

Many psychological theories touch on agency as an important motivational construct. For example, Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory emphasizes agency in the form of self-efficacy beliefs. Bandura argued that when people believe they can influence events and outcomes in their lives, they are more motivated to take action and persist through challenges.

Other theorists like Deci and Ryan have highlighted agency via the concept of autonomy in their self-determination theory. They propose that fulfilling basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness enhances motivation and wellbeing. When people feel a sense of agency and autonomy over their choices, they tend to be more driven and productive.

Overall, psychologists see agency and motivation as deeply intertwined. Having the ability to make intentional choices and feel in control over life events fuels people’s motivation and engagement. Threats to agency, like learned helplessness, can dramatically undermine motivation. That’s why supporting people’s sense of personal empowerment is so critical for mental health and performance.

Individual vs Collective Agency

Individual agency refers to the capacity of a single person to make their own choices and act independently. It is about having personal autonomy and the ability to shape one’s own life. Individual agency relies on the self-efficacy, motivation, and competence of each person.

Some examples of individual agency include deciding one’s own career path, lifestyle choices, personal expression, and taking independent initiative. When people have a strong sense of individual agency, they feel empowered to make changes in their own lives.

Collective agency refers to a group’s shared belief in their joint capability to produce desired results through unified effort. It emerges from social connections and shared identity among individuals. Examples of collective agency include social movements, grassroots activism, unions, advocacy groups, and communities organizing for change.

Collective agency requires building a sense of solidarity, common purpose, group efficacy, and the ability to coordinate action across many people. It leverages the power of many individuals acting together to achieve broader goals. Both individual and collective agency play important and complementary roles in promoting change.

Development of Agency

A sense of agency begins to develop in early childhood as children start to understand that they can impact the world around them. As infants, babies cry when they are hungry or uncomfortable, learning that their actions can lead to having their needs met. Toddlers eagerly explore their environment, gaining confidence in their ability to manipulate objects and affect outcomes.

By preschool, children start to develop goals and act with intention. Their sense of agency expands through opportunities to make choices, experience success, and exert control over their lives within appropriate limits set by caregivers. As children grow, their agency is shaped by many factors including parenting style, socioeconomic status, culture, innate personality traits, and access to resources and support systems.

Parents who allow appropriate freedoms while providing structure and guidance tend to raise children with strong feelings of personal agency. Conversely, authoritarian parenting that is overly restrictive can limit opportunities for autonomy. Poverty, discrimination, and trauma in childhood can also negatively impact one’s belief in their capacity to shape circumstances and achieve goals.

Overall, agency develops through accumulated experiences that reinforce a sense of competence, self-efficacy, and the ability to influence one’s environment. Caregivers and society play a key role in nurturing personal agency by promoting self-direction, providing choices, celebrating successes, and giving children room to explore within developmentally appropriate limits.

Threats to Agency

learned helplessness and trauma can limit one's agency

There are various circumstances that can undermine a person’s sense of agency. One of the most well-known is learned helplessness. This refers to when people feel they have no control over a situation, even when opportunities arise to change their circumstances. For example, someone who experiences repeated failures may start to believe they are incapable of success, regardless of their efforts. As a result, they stop trying.

Other threats to agency include:

  • Poverty – Financial insecurity and lack of access to resources can limit options.
  • Discrimination – Biases and prejudices against certain groups can restrict opportunities.
  • Physical/Mental Illness – Health problems may physically limit the ability to make changes.
  • Abusive Relationships – Controlling or toxic dynamics undermine self-efficacy.
  • Lack of Education – Low literacy levels or skills may limit employment options.
  • Social Isolation – Loneliness and lack of support networks impact motivation.
  • Trauma – Significant emotional wounds can affect personality and resilience.

When people lack agency, they also lack autonomy and self-direction. Their actions become limited or controlled by external forces. Restoring agency is critical for empowerment and regaining purpose.

Promoting Agency

Promoting agency and autonomy in children is an important goal for parents and society. Some ways to foster agency from an early age include:

  • Allowing children to make age-appropriate choices about activities, clothing, food etc.
  • Listening to children’s opinions and encouraging them to think independently.
  • Teaching and modeling decision-making and problem-solving skills.
  • Praising children for self-reliance and initiative.
  • Refraining from being overprotective or controlling.
  • Encouraging children to take reasonable risks and learn from mistakes.

As children grow older, promoting agency becomes about empowering youth to direct their own lives. Parents can allow teenagers more autonomy to make choices regarding academics, extracurricular activities, and social lives. Teachers can design learning experiences that allow students to take initiative and ownership. At a societal level, youth programs can be created that cultivate leadership skills, civic participation, activism and self-efficacy.

Adolescence is a pivotal time to develop personal agency that will carry forward into adulthood. When young people feel empowered and have real autonomy, they are more likely to become independent thinkers and agents of change who believe they can make a difference in the world.

Agency and Mental Health

There is a strong link between a person’s sense of agency and their mental health and wellbeing. Agency refers to the capacity to make choices and take action. When people feel they have control and autonomy over their lives and decisions, they tend to have better mental health outcomes.

In contrast, a lack of agency is associated with lower self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and poorer life satisfaction. Feeling helpless, powerless or like life is out of your control can negatively impact mental health. This is often seen in marginalized groups and populations with less socioeconomic advantages.

Counseling and therapy can be helpful tools for increasing agency and a sense of empowerment. By addressing core beliefs, building self-efficacy and teaching coping strategies, counselors equip clients to feel more in control of their choices and lives. This restores autonomy and promotes better mental health.

Counseling also provides a judgement-free space for clients to explore their values, goals and options. With guidance, clients gain insight into what they truly want for their lives. Counselors help clients find their inner voice and remove obstacles to making intentional choices.

In summary, agency directly impacts mental health and wellbeing. Professional counseling aims to increase personal agency, by promoting self-determination, resilience and emotional empowerment. This allows clients to take control of their lives in positive and meaningful ways.

Agency in the Workplace

An individual’s sense of agency, or capacity to make choices and take purposeful action, has a significant impact on their motivation and performance in the workplace. Employees who feel they have agency are more engaged, productive, and likely to take initiative. On the other hand, employees who feel powerless or unable to influence their work are more likely to feel unmotivated and dissatisfied.

As a manager, there are several ways you can promote agency among your employees:

– Give employees autonomy over how they accomplish their work rather than micromanaging. Allowing staff to have input into decisions that affect their jobs also increases agency.

– Provide opportunities for employees to develop new skills. The ability to continuously improve and take on new challenges enhances one’s sense of agency.

– Recognize employees’ accomplishments and enable them to feel pride in the impact of their contributions.

– Offer ways for staff to participate in organizational decision-making processes through committees, surveys, town halls, etc.

– Create an open and psychologically safe environment where employees feel comfortable voicing opinions and ideas.

– Set clear expectations while allowing flexibility in how those expectations are met.

– Enable employees to solve problems creatively without excessive procedures and protocols.

– Provide coaching and mentoring to help employees grow professionally and gain self-confidence.

Promoting agency leads to a more motivated, empowered workforce that feels purposeful about their work. Managers who give employees autonomy and input drive higher performance.

Agency and Social Change

Individual and collective agency play an important role in social movements and creating positive change in society. When individuals band together and leverage their agency, they gain the power to challenge existing norms, advocate for marginalized groups, and push for reforms.

Some examples of activists promoting change through their agency include:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. – As a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, MLK organized nonviolent protests, marches, and speeches to advocate for racial equality and justice.
  • Harvey Milk – This prominent gay rights activist rallied the LGBTQ community to come out and gain political influence to fight discrimination.
  • Nelson Mandela – Beginning as an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, Mandela led a movement to end apartheid and promote reconciliation, ultimately becoming the country’s first black president.
  • Malala Yousafzai – After being shot by the Taliban for advocating education for girls, Malala went on to establish the Malala Fund and become a global voice for gender equality in education.
  • Emma Gonzales – As a survivor of the Parkland school shooting, she emerged as a leading youth activist in the movement for stricter gun control laws in America.

These examples demonstrate how determined individuals can leverage their personal agency to inspire collective action towards positive change. By empowering others and organizing sustained campaigns, activists can elevate issues, challenge unjust systems, and create more just and equitable societies.

The Importance of Agency

Agency—the capacity to act with intention to achieve a goal—is important for individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. Agency enables people to turn their thoughts into actions and make an impact on the world around them. It is key for autonomy, moral responsibility, empowerment, and realizing one’s full potential.

On an individual level, high agency promotes self-esteem, motivation, and a sense of purpose. People with agency believe in their ability to influence outcomes and events. They pursue goals and take initiative rather than feel helpless. Agency provides a sense of control over one’s life and future.

For organizations and society, agency enables people to get things done, drive change, and work effectively together. It promotes engagement, productivity, innovation, social mobility, and economic prosperity. When people feel empowered to act, they are more likely to develop solutions, voice concerns and ideas, and collaborate for the greater good.

Agency is worth cultivating because a society full of proactive, empowered individuals is a thriving society. People should have the freedom and capability to act independently in their own interests while considering collective needs and values. With so many challenges facing the world, we need people who believe in their ability to make a difference.

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