We all have our own agency in life, so why is it that we sometimes feel disconnected from our behaviors as if we aren’t the ones choosing them? You may find that you have a series of defaults, which can be anything from always saying no to invitations to go out, eating anything when it is offered, or always avoiding challenging social situations. The thing about operating according to your defaults is this…defaults rob you of your choice! For example, if your default is to always say “yes” to dessert whenever it is offered, then you will feel no agency or empowerment when you are faced with the option of dessert after a meal. However, if you instead pause, mindfully consider the option, THEN choose to have the dessert, you will likely feel more connected to, and satisfied with that choice. We all have the power of choice.
Similarly, you might find that you often feel overly full because your default is to always say yes when offered food. However, if you harness your agency, you will recognize that you do have a choice to say “no thank you” if you don’t truly want that dessert. There are no objective right or wrong choices. However, whether your choice aligns with your default or not, it will always feel better emotionally for you to make a mindful choice that reinforces your sense of agency.
Now let’s consider a few strategies for harnessing your ability to choose and maintain agency:
- The pause method. Consider any choice to be a prompt for you to pause and contemplate the options before choosing. Factors to keep in mind are: pros and cons, how you feel in the moment, and how your future self will feel about your choice.
- Acting opposite. Think of this as an experiment to see if your default is really the best choice for you. For instance, if you always say “no” to a social invitation, try saying “yes” instead and assess how it goes. Use this as data to inform your future choices.
- Address a part of your life that you are consistently unhappy with. Perhaps you are unhappy with your job; take that as a cue to consider where defaults might be contributing to your unhappiness, and harness your agency to practice making different choices.
Take away: Sometimes in life we find ourselves doing things without feeling like we actually decided to do them. By making thoughtful choices, whether they are what we would have mindlessly chosen or not, we are more likely to end up feeling empowered about our choices and confident that they align with our values and goals.