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How Much Agency Do You Have?

How Much Agency Do You Have?

  • Does your agency have limits?
  • Do you know the limits of your agency?

  • How can we deal with limits to our agency?

If these questions appeal to you then this post is going to be very interesting.

What is agency?

Agency is what makes us fully human. It is the capacity for human beings to identify opportunities and make choices that are consistent, correspondent, existentially possible, and coherent with and within reality, and to act upon them, unimpeded by external and internal factors.

(Please read Do Women Have Agency for more information about Agency.)

Does your agency have limits?

Agency is a spectrum of ability. We all fall somewhere on that spectrum.

Perfect agency is impossible since we all have gaps in our knowledge, abilities and power.

Hopefully we do have the agency necessary to deal positively with all the challenges that we face in day-to-day life and the occasional great decisions.

Since our ability to display agency is based on a mix of knowledge, habits of mind and physical limitations (including limited brain power) we all will have limits to our agency. We are after all mere mortals in a vast universe.

Making decisions also requires emotional and mental energy. Since we have a limit to how much energy we can access in a single day we need use our agency strategically.

For example, a man who is committed to romantic and sexual monogamy would be wise to avoid situations where he is alone with women he is not related to.

It's not that being alone with a woman will suddenly render him without agency, unable to control his sexual impulses. Instead, the issue is that by constantly tempting himself he would be dangerously testing the limits of his agency while he expends emotional and mental energy foolishly resisting an unnecessary enticement.

A person may get away with tempting himself for quite a while however he's is taking a huge risk. Perhaps some factor in his life changes and he is temporarily weakened, reducing his agency and weakening his previously set boundaries. This could have painful and damaging results.

The wise person will avoid unnecessary temptations. Unnecessary temptations do not make us stronger nor do not increase our agency.

Do you know the limits of your agency?


We occasionally face greater test of our agency, big decisions, wonderful opportunities or terrible challenges. These can be life defining moments. We need to know when we are facing a challenge that is too big for us alone, we need to know when to get help.

Knowing the limits of our agency is also vital for developing higher levels of agency. Believing that we have perfect agency at all times is foolish and dangerous. It's a sign of immaturity and a lack of self knowledge.

The reality is that we need to develop knowledge about our limits and how they change over time. We need to meditate on our life and learn lessons based on our past choices and the choices of others.

We should be keenly aware of things that can temporarily reduce our agency and avoid them when we need to make important decisions:

  • Poor health or injury (mental, physical).

  • Exhaustion.

  • Mind altering substances (some medicine, drugs, alcohol).

  • Internal triggers from past trauma.

  • Unhealthy social pressures.

Knowing the limits of our agency is the key to achieving the very highest levels of agency.

How can we deal with limits to our agency?

One way to deal with limits to our agency is to build it up to a higher level. Gaining knowledge, looking after our health, practicing mindfulness and ensuring that we have the resources to follow through on our decisions will improve our ability to constantly create good outcomes.

In addition we need to develop good habits that support a strategic use of our agency. Avoid anything and anyone that weakens us. Avoid unnecessary temptations. Avoid traumatic triggers that may set us on a negative path.

Break up big choices into many smaller options. Develop good habits of mind to “automate” smaller decisions and help us avoid placing ourselves into unnecessary danger. Choosing good rules to live by such as “don't shop for food while hungry” or “don’t be alone with someone of the opposite sex you are not related to” or “don’t drink and drive” will help to prevent you from facing overwhelming temptations and “agency exhaustion”.

Set healthy boundaries for yourself and with others. Avoid associating with people who have poorly set boundaries, even if they otherwise seem like nice people. Their example may negatively influence you. Don’t let anyone push you past your limits.

Setup social systems to aid us in developing and using our agency. Join virtuous groups with strict rules and intolerance for behaviours you wish to avoid. Make friends who will pressure you into developing your agency. Find a mentor, coach or therapist who can help you with more challenging decisions.


No matter where you are on your path in life, no matter your level of agency, you must know your limits and how to behave when you are pushed past them.


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