Notes on

The Power of Agency

by Anthony Rao

1. A Clear Head - Control Stimuli

  • Do not multitask - or at least try not to.
  • Take yourself to quiet and screen-free spaces.
  • Think about how you can get incoming information packaged and trimmed before it gets to you.
  • Control the stimuli in your life - be mindful of what happens in the background. Maybe you 'don't see it', but your brain does, and it compounds. Cut down background noises when you can in your environment. Noise had been shown to release the stress hormone 'cortisol'.
  • Pay attention to the various venues and businesses you frequent. Do they surround you with noise, harsh or excessive lightning, heat or cold?
  • Lies, if heard over and over, are frequently accepted as truths. To guard against this, slow things down. Don't let people interrupt you or talk over you. Don't passively expose yourself to information from fast commercial media, such as advertising and opinion-based news programs that pander to your emotions and beliefs. The bottom line is to limit your exposure to fast talkers and suspect information.
  • Reflection is a building block of agency.
  • Do not watch or be occupied by a screen while eating.
  • Make boredom a habit.
    • Set aside brief minutes for mindfulness.
  • Watch 2012 TED talk by Sherry Turkle.
  • Healthy moments of downtime are now 'a problem to be solved' - that is a problem.
  • Page 54, 'Media Requires a Warning Label'. Shows the dangers of media.
  • Tips to balance use of social media:
    • Don't have it open all day.
    • Weed out and eliminate some apps that you don't use.
    • Do not always 'opt in'.
    • Balance social life. 2 hours of Facebook - 2 hours of real life socializing.
    • Kill screens when socializing.
    • The above counts especially if you are new somewhere - for example when starting your first semester somewhere or starting a new job.
    • Do a digital detox regularly.

Agency Took Kit is on page 58.

2. The Company You Keep - Associate Selectively.

You want to associate with people who are the kind of person you'd like to be — people who inspire you to learn and do things you might not believe are possible. Being around such people will move you in this direction. And the most important people by far in terms of this are your closest friends, family members, or your life partner.

  • Address negative, unhealthy patterns in relationships early. And if it can't be fixed — move on.
  • When other, nearby, people are displaying strong emotions, our brains will mimic them automatically.
  • Keep in mind that stress and anxiety is contagious. Pay attention to when your mood suddenly shifts for the worse. Did you 'catch' something from someone who you might want to avoid in the future?
  • You are not obliged to give yourself over to others — not your time, not your energy, not your happiness. Give yourself permission to question or say no to situations that put you down.
  • Say no, and do not apologize for it.
  • Don't engage in negative interactions if you don't want to.
  • You are the average of the people you spend time with.
  • Don't allow online interactions to become a substitute for in-person time with the people you most care about.
  • You need to be able to change your mind about people.

3. Respect Your Body - Move.

  • "When your body is out of balance, your mind is out of balance".
  • Try to move at least every 30 minutes.

4. Position Yourself As A Learner - Position Yourself As A Learner

  • Be open minded.
  • Assume that others know something that you do not.
  • Have a growth mindset.
  • Mistakes are part of learning and are critical for success.
  • Recovering from setbacks is essential.
  • "With technology, to position yourself as a learner, you also have to position yourself as your own teacher".
  • "For an entrepreneur, 90 percent of what you need to know is in somebody else's head" — Waverly Deutsch.
  • Ask people about their thought process. How they came to that conclusion.
  • Taking physical notes help you prevent your mind from roaming during meetings and class.
  • Be very mindful of where you get your news from. Try not to get it from Facebook (and other social media) ads. Use reputable sources - as well as your critical thinking skills. Challenge your assumptions.
  • Learn from authority figures without blindly following them.
  • Do not one-up the person you have decided to learn from. Do not talk about yourself.
  • "The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you." — B. B. King.
  • Take in a wide range of information and viewpoints to expand your learning.
  • Learn to fail.
  • Speak less, listen more. Ask questions.
  • Get feedback.

5. Stable and Grounded - Manage Your Emotions and Beliefs

  • "Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not." — William James.

7. Reflect, Decide, Act With Agency - Deliberate, Then Act

  • Effective decision making is key because we are the sum total of our decisions in life.
  • Too much information can derail your thinking and confuse matters. Don't give everything you hear, see, or read equal weight.
  • Important decisions need time and resources.
  • Examine your own thinking and decision-making process. Metacognition.
    • But don't get seduced by shortcuts, and don't favor efficiency over accuracy.
    • Name your mental steps. How did you arrive at your decision.
    • Always question your decisions and how you made them.
    • Recognize your mistakes and misjudgements and remember them. Stay open and self-aware.
  • Humans are by default lazy thinkers and we are prone to fall for cognitive biases. We use mental shortcuts because of our laziness.
  • Slow down and think carefully more often.
  • The most fundamental principle of critical thinking is to question things for ourselves and be aware of the assumptions we are making.
  • Be aware of the limits of your knowledge.
  • Page 262: Critical Thinking In Everyday Life.
  • Use all the time you have at your disposal when making a decision.

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