7 Keys to Courageous Self-Expression | Agency (Part 2 of 2)

Omigoodness, y'all... it appears as though we've done it... reached the end of our exploration of the 7 keys of courageous self-expression! In the final episode of the long-running series, we get more practical than ever. Candice has spent nearly two decades consumed by a curiosity: Why is it that some people are so capable of creating meaningful change (aka: movement) in their lives, while others continually struggle to find traction? It was at least in part, her desire to find an answer to this question that led her to pursue a Master's degree in Social Impact. Now fresh out of grad school, she shares some potent takeaways from her postgraduate research on human agency and social change - weaving together personal stories, data, and scholarly research to help you identify some of the barriers that might be standing between YOU and the changes you seek to make in your own life and in the world at large. This episode is recommended for anyone experiencing feelings of stuckness &/or for those who hope to re-imagine a more pluralistic society; one that prioritizes equity and universal access to the internal and external tools necessary to create meaningful change.

0:42 - Cold Pressor Task (story)
6:43 - Agency Arena #1
9:46 - Mental health
14:54 - Meditation & mindfulness
16:50 - Pea Green Sofa (story)
18:48 - Agency Arena #2
22:36 - Belonging & why it matters so damn much
25:38 - Class Mobility (story)
28:09 - Agency Arena #3
30:28 - The convenience of “self-help”
36:53 - Agency Arena #4
39:23 - Choice & moral intuition

#17 | Results Are In

Welcome to The Deeper Pulse. This is Candice Schutter.

This is it, my friends... the final episode in our long running series on the seven keys of courageous self-expression.

In the last episode, I spoke about the five facets of personal agency and how it is we begin to, in actuality, move toward what moves us.

This episode is devoted to a few of the many takeaways from my postgraduate research on human agency and social change. And of course, as always, I'll be sharing stories along the way.

Let's not waste another minute. Let's get right to it.

I first became interested in the study of human agency in 1997, when I was an undergrad at the University of Kansas. My academic advisor was a world renowned researcher and a pioneer in the field of positive psychology.

Dr. Charles R. Snyder, we all called him Rick, was a professor at the university and the editor of the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology. He was best known for his research on hope and the attitudes and thought patterns that shape it and drive human agency.

I conducted research under his direction as a part of my honors thesis. Every student who enrolls in Psych 101. Is required to participate in a certain number of research studies each semester. Four mornings a week, I'd take the elevator to the fourth floor of Frasier Hall, don a white lab coat, and usher students into a small room with a table and two chairs, one at a time.

First I'd ask them to complete the hope scale, which was a written survey designed to measure emotional set point upon arrival. When they finished, I would ask the participant to relax with eyes closed, before leading them through a guided visualization where they tapped into a memory from their past.

Group A was invited to relive an experience where they had succeeded in achieving a meaningful goal. Group B, however, was invited to remember a moment when they had failed to meet a goal that they'd set for themselves. And then there was a control group who was simply asked to sit in silence for the duration of the exercise.

Following this brief guided meditation, I would then invite them to participate in what is known as the cold pressor task, a somewhat archaic tool for gauging pain tolerance.

It got a little media hype when Dr. Snyder a few years later demonstrated its use live on Good Morning America. It's nothing fancy. Picture a large plastic tub filled with ice water. Participants were invited to place their non-dominant hand into this vat of freezing cold water and hold it there for as long as they could tolerate. Now the hypothesis of this particular experiment was that hopefulness and positive emotional associations would positively correlate with how long an individual was able to withstand the numbing pain of the water before calling it quits.

In the end, we did find some evidence for this, but the results were not as clear cut or significant as Snyder had hoped. He and I both knew that there were too many other variables at play. Variant pain sensitivities, personal temperament, gender biases, indifference to the research overall, the list goes on. All of this had no doubt influenced the results. And yet, it would be many years later after my own journey through trauma informed therapy that I was able to see even more clearly the limitations of our research.

Regardless of how positive a person might feel in any given moment, a simple shift in attitude is rarely enough to override deep seated, psychological conditioning, especially when stress becomes a factor. Guided visualizations aside, once pain or a stress response kicks in, for many people the frontal lobe quite simply goes offline. It's replaced by a knee jerk, sympathetic response, whatever it might look like for that given individual. In other words, without the practice of self-regulation the choice to fight, flee, freeze... it isn't so much a choice as it is a reflex. Any sort of stress can lead to a loss of agency because we do what we've always done rather than choosing a new way forward.

I've worked as a coach for 13 years and I've guided people of all ages through life transitions and feelings of stuckness. Sometimes it can be a little disheartening as I witness what a struggle it can be for some to move through pain, restore choice, make desired changes in life. And over time, it's made me a little bit obsessive about this question of agency.

Why is it that some people are so capable of creating meaningful change in their lives, while others continually struggle to find traction?

This became the focus of my postgraduate research. And in this episode, I would like to share some of the takeaways and a few of the results with you.

I spent the last episode, speaking to a number of factors that shape and influence our ability to move forward in life. Self determination and the ability to choose for oneself. Motivation and the sometimes complex reach for meaning. Capacity and how it shapes our responses to life. Support and the power of empathic connection. And of course, our willingness to brave change and surrender to uncertainty. All of these facets influence agency, and each of them are somehow within the realm of our influence.

But what about all the ways that life is, well, lifeing all around us... impacting our choices and actions in ways that are outside of our control? If we look to the social sciences systems theory teaches us that behavior is continually influenced by a variety of factors, internal and external, and all of those factors work together as a system.

Our sense of agency is only somewhat about us. Our choices impact and are impacted by the world around us. All attitudes and outcomes are in some way shared by the whole.

In this episode, I will be outlining what I've come to identify as the four arenas of human agency. Each of these are social atmospheres that are shaped by collective consciousness. And it is essential we hold them as such. That we take responsibility for our place in the arena, yet we do not confuse ourselves with its limitations.

What I'm about to share is a combination of personal stories, case study observations, scholarly research, and qualitative data collection through a survey that was distributed to 168 adults over the course of two weeks.

Let's start with the first arena of agency, emotional development.

Our mental health and the psychological imprints we carry that influence our ability to take meaningful action. In recent years, it's become common knowledge that childhood trauma impacts individuals well into adulthood. In the social sciences, there's been talk of adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs and how they influence brain development and emotional capacities well into adulthood. ACEs include traumatic experiences in childhood, such as abuse, neglect, addiction, etc As I've mentioned a few times, developmental psychology is important because when, early on in life, the nervous system organizes itself around disempowering or traumatic experiences, neural networks often become hyper responsive. This can impact an individual's ability to tolerate stress, strong emotions, and later in life challenges. The inability to self-regulate can lead to a repetition of trauma or mental health challenges, such as addiction, chronic anxiety, and depression.

In episode nine, I spoke specifically about my own journey with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and how it impacted my life and my ability to take constructive action on the daily.

I put on a damn good game face, but for the most part, the whole fake it till you make it thing was entirely wasted on me. Oh, I could fake it all right, but all it ever made me was more anxious. And so I ended up just opting out of life. Relationships, challenges, creative projects, you name it. Numbing out became my treatment plan. I'd show up to make my money because well, survival. But other than that, it was perpetually canceling plans, holing up in front of the TV to watch Friends reruns, binge on fried foods and chocolate.

I was chronically exhausted because life was hard work. Get up in the morning, please others, make money. Rinse, repeat. I didn't have time for goals. Goals? What a luxury! I could barely keep my head above water, emotionally, financially, spiritually. Risk felt like an impossibility. No, thank you very much. Getting by had to be good enough. Only it wasn't.

Dissociation was my coping mechanism. And the indifference I pretended to feel, was a lie. Detaching from the intensity of my emotions was the only way I knew how to survive them. And that meant pretending it was all good. Secretly wanting more, but refusing to take risks because risks meant new, different stimuli. Stimuli that seemed to always trigger something - panic, despair, self doubt, another call from a credit collector.

Anyone who has survived a mental health crisis knows that there are times when the desire for emotional stability takes priority over everything else, including the desire to reach for the next goal post. Sometimes staying vertical is the only thing we have bandwidth for.

So I wasn't at all surprised when the research confirmed my personal experience, that low agency correlates with higher rates of addiction, depression, and anxiety. An analysis of survey responses revealed that people who felt the most stuck in life were more likely to report feeling powerlessness over their emotions and less confidence in their ability to bounce back from disappointment and life's challenges.

Mental health and personal agency are inextricably connected. Yet, the good news is neither are static.

I have a newly sober friend who's been struggling with depression for a few months now. After trying and failing multiple times to access psychiatric support, she chose to wean herself off of her antidepressants as part of her new sobriety plan. Just the other day, I was talking with her and she told me she finally had it. She couldn't take it anymore, she'd called in and renewed her prescription. It had been nearly two weeks and she was beginning to feel like herself again. Her eyes were clearer, more focused. Levity had returned to her voice. I was relieved for her, that she was experiencing a dramatic and meaningful shift as a result of a choice that she made that felt right and true to her.

A bit later in the conversation, she inquired about my research and I told her about some of the trends that were showing up regarding agency and mental health.

And she said to me, " Well, there's no doubt in my mind that if I filled out that survey today, my results would be so much different."

She'd participated in the online survey when I'd distributed it many weeks prior. And she was noting that, while her life conditions hadn't changed much at all, because her depressive symptoms had lifted, her perception around her own sense of agency felt dramatically different.

This really got me thinking about the immensity of the emotional self and how the changing tides of mental health impact agency on the daily. So I got off the phone with her, and I took another peek at the data. And I discovered something else in the numbers that I find significant.

As I said, low agency scores correlated with higher rates of anxiety and depression. However, this was only the case when it came to immediate mental health challenges. I'd asked people about their experience with each of these variables over the course of their lives, and the vast majority of survey respondents reported having experienced mental health struggles at some point in their lives, including many who were currently reporting high degrees of agency. If you look at the low agency scores, they show up most frequently for people who are having recent and immediate experiences with anxiety and depression. This suggests that how we feel right now shapes our perception of agency, for better or for worse.

When we are emotionally unstable, it can feel like stuck is the only setting available to us. We may even default to something called learned helplessness, wherein our perceived failures in the moment are internalized to such a degree that we feel powerless over life as a whole. We stop trying because we've convinced ourselves that this is all we can have, or this is all we deserve.

And yet, emotions are transient by nature. We have to train ourselves to let them pass through us, without identifying with them. And there are many resources that have been shown to help with this - mindfulness practice, trauma informed therapy, situational support or group counseling, regular movement and exercise. Each of these can repattern our responses and shift us into a more constructive headspace over time. When we combine them, they can literally reshape our psychology.

And each of these things have one thing in common, a willingness to be emotionally and intellectually vulnerable. As Maya Angelou says, "when you know better, you do better." And if we want to know better, we have to become brave enough to admit our challenges, be willing to brave our emotions and our intellectual blind spots preferably in front of a witness we feel safe and held by.

When you're feeling stuck and you cannot for the life of you see a way out, that's the moment to brave vulnerable expression. That's when you know it's time to reach out for help. From a trusted confidant, a loving family member, or a professional who is trained to listen. Like any skill worth cultivating, emotional intelligence must be developed and strengthened over time.

And there are countless ways to build these skillsets. Keep in mind group therapy, doesn't have to look like a support group. It may be as simple as hanging out with a group of people who share your interest in hiking, pottery, or long form poetry. In the same regard, mental health treatment might be with a trained professional, or you might find comparable relief through a bi-weekly yoga practice, online book club, or working for a volunteer organization that aligns with your personal experience in a meaningful way. Whatever you choose, I encourage you to bring as much presence to it as you possibly can.

Because, get this...
70% of people who scored high on agency metrics also reported having a regular meditation or mindfulness practice. 70%, almost three times the number of low agency scores who came in at around 25%.

What the woo? Why does meditation makes such a difference? Well, from firsthand experience, let me just say, mindfulness shifts us out of the drama and into a more expansive headspace. Meditation can help us to build a variety of other skills, such as awareness, emotional self-regulation, and deep belly breathing that relaxes the nervous system.

The doorway into mindfulness, in my experience, is often and in through the body. I say this because I'm a bit 'heady' by nature and for a good long while when I first started practicing meditation and whatnot, the word mindfulness felt like a bit of a misnomer.

For me, deep mindfulness is more like bodifulness. It's the ability to empty the fullness of the mind into the body, where it resides anyway, and do the business to get real and right within. The way into mindfulness for me was through movement in the body. To be honest, I'm not sure I would've gotten there otherwise, but that is a podcast episode unto itself.

For now hear me when I say this... while there are no quick fixes when it comes to our underlying mental health, and unfortunately social systems have not yet been set up to adequately support us, the work of repatterning our responses is worth every ounce of effort. I would not trade the inner work I have done, physically and emotionally speaking, for anything in this world.

Because for me, there has been no greater source of personal agency than a relaxed, regulated, and balanced nervous system. Circle back to episodes 8, 9, and 10 for more on all this.

I never met my paternal grandmother, but I've often imagined how she and I might've spent our time together. Lounging casually on a pea green sofa, talking for hours, jazz music playing softly in the background. Every now and then one of us will say something unseemly and my grandmother will raise her glass with a chuckle, the ice in her bourbon keeping time with the music as our eyes meet knowingly over the edge of her lip-stained glass.

This of course never happened. It's a fantasy, an emotional apparition. My Grandma Barbara took her own life two years before I came into this world. She left me to carry her story in my body.

Orphaned as an infant by her immigrant mother, my Grandma Barbara carried trauma in her bloodline. At 14, she landed herself in a juvenile detention center. She was sentenced to seven years, was supposed to stay there until the age of 21, but was released at 18. And she would marry her first husband shortly after. Her life is a story for another time, but for now, let me just say that my lifelong challenges with anxiety and depression began to make the most sense when, during my college years, I came to know my grandmother's story. She passed down to me full lips and a narrow waistline, along with a cavernous capacity for grief and sorrow.

I say this without a shred of bitterness or regret. It is the knowledge of her many years of silent suffering that has made me so goddamn adamant about sharing myself transparently with the world around me. Knowledge of her sacrifice has given me the courage to be brave with my life. Her tragic death somehow settled in emotional debt for both of us.

Nevertheless, I'm still working to restore agency, to liberate both her and I from the social contracts that inhibit free flowing expression.

This brings us to the second arena of agency. Psycho-social influences. How history and culture shapes our sense of belonging and our ability to move forward in life.

Generational trauma and the history of our ancestors, it influences our physiology, our psychology, and our sense of agency in life.

Culture is made up of stories that we continually re-enact. It's the mythology that shapes our sensibilities. Where we live. Who we're surrounded by. How people who look and think like us have long been treated by society. All of this and more shape our perceptions of the world around us.

In episode 14, I spoke a bit about the work of Ken Wilber, whose research on integral theory invites us into more expansive consciousness. Wilber is widely known for his work with spiral dynamics, a psycho-social model of development created by Don Beck and Chris Cohen.

Spiral dynamics describes nine stages of psychosocial development, and it gives a clearer context to the many ways in which culture shapes our worldview. It also provides a helpful framework for understanding how environment shapes intrinsic motivations, particularly as it relates to agency, empathy, and social responsibility.

To give an example, an individual passing through what is known as stage four, mythic consciousness, is primarily motivated by ethnocentric values. My people, my tribe. Imagine if you will, a staunch traditionalist waving a Don't Tread On Me flag.

This particular psychosocial framework relies on a us-versus-them mentality that contributes to feelings of defensiveness and ideological divisions.

There's nothing wrong with the stage of development. It is one we must all pass through.

However, if we contrast that to someone who possesses a stage six, postmodernist perspective, someone who is personally motivated by pluralism, equity, and a world centric point of view, this individual is more likely to express tolerance, or perhaps even generosity when it comes to issues of diversity.

I share these examples to illustrate how agency becomes impacted often very directly by our cultural attitudes and perceptions. What we believe about ourselves and others significantly impacts how we move through the world.

Stuckness often happens when we confuse fitting in with belonging. When we shift ideologically away from our ingroup, and we are threatened with alienation, it can slow or even derail our psycho-social development and further disconnect us from new ways of moving through the world.

I'm hearing it all the time lately. How could they think that, say that, act that way? The facts are plain as day? We must remember the true potency and power of belonging. All too often, we sacrifice personal agency for the sake of fitting in.

Let's use a current example. Take the choice of whether or not to wear a mask. Despite what we might tell ourselves, whether or not we wear one as a force of habit is only in part shaped by politics and our read on the science. It's also influenced by what has become the norm in our given social circles. Humans are far more driven by emotion than reason, and most of us surrender choice for the sake of belonging more often than we probably care to admit.

But when we know that fitting in and conformity doesn't serve the deeper self, the reach for true belonging can lead to fortunate outcomes. Especially, if we use agency to move into social circles that accept us, not for who we should be, but who we really are.

My cousin, Robert lost both of his parents at the age of 10. He was placed in the custody of his aunt and uncle. But a few years later, when his sexuality became known... like so many gay and trans youth, he was cast out of his home. My uncle Dudley and his husband, John, we're not looking to adopt a child. But at age 14, Robert began to frequent the theater where my uncle worked. When my uncles learned that Robert had been rejected by his family, they did what they had to do.

In 1985, my uncles completed the first known adoption to openly gay persons granted by a court in this country. They not only gave Robert hope and a loving home, they offered him true belonging. Robert would go on to attend college, do volunteer work abroad, and work as a software engineer. In 1995, he met his partner, Rand, and they lived happily together for 16 years before Robert lost a long battle with aids in 2011.

It is estimated that 1.6 to 2.8 million children are homeless in the US. Of that number 20 to 40% are gay or transgender. This compared to only 5 to 10% of the overall youth population. These numbers are staggering and heartbreaking.

Who knows what may have happened to Robert if my uncles hadn't adopted him and invited him into a community that offered him love and acceptance. What might his life have looked like without a sense of belonging and support?

When it comes to agency, the impact of wholehearted connection cannot be overstated. Which brings me to perhaps the most illuminating finding that the survey results revealed.

Of the survey participants who scored high agency, a staggering 93% reported being a part of a community where they feel they belong.


This compared with 35% of low agency respondents.

What's more... low agency individuals were twice as likely to agree with the statement: I prefer to deal with personal challenges on my own, rather than reach out for support.

Both of these findings suggest that high agency might have something to do with the ability to find genuine community connection, and a willingness to both request and accept support.

Fascinating, right?

And this is just one of many examples. We could go much further down the psycho-social rabbit hole, but for now I've given you enough to consider. To summarize, we know that agency is nurtured by a willingness to step outside of well-worn cultural narratives into a more expansive worldview.

And, that when we find true belonging, when we are a part of a community that sees and knows and appreciates us, agency comes easier.

I met my partner, Chris, when I was 37. I'd been single and living alone for quite some time. I was running a coaching business, teaching seven freelance fitness classes a week, and working as a cocktail waitress on the side. Even with three jobs, I was barely scraping by. Weighed down by student loans and other lingering debt, I rarely had more than a few hundred dollars in a savings account before I had to dip into it to make up for a few slow shifts at the restaurant.

Needless to say I was pretty singularly focused on work, and I no longer paid any mind to my online dating profiles. But I'd left one account open. OkCupid. It was free, and Chris sent me a message. And soon enough, we were virtually inseparable. Roughly a year after we started dating, I moved in with. I fought hard to keep my financial independence, but after a couple more years, our lives eventually merged and I was able to relax around money for the first time in my life.

Chris, isn't wealthy per se. He's a massage therapist and a DJ. But he'd inherited a chunk of money in his early thirties and had wisely invested it in putting a roof over his head. His mother had raised him to be thrifty and financially savvy with the money that remained, so he had housemates lived simply and Portland real estate had been good to him. As a result, he was financially stable and without the overhead of a house payment and compounding debt, once I moved in, he was able to provide for all of our basic needs.

And there is no denying it, that my experience of agency has shifted dramatically now that I am no longer in survival mode. For a long time, a carried shame around my financial reliance on him. But then I came to realize something. That the myth of meritocracy is well, quite frankly, in many cases, a lie.

For as long as I could remember, I'd tortured myself with the belief that money only came to those who earned it, be it through good work or good vibes, and that if it wasn't coming to me as easy as it was to others, well, obviously I must be doing something wrong.

Of course I didn't invent this narrative. I ingested it from the ethers. Now that I've lived with, and without, financial privilege, I'm able to look past my conditioning and ask better questions around the haves and the have-nots. Class mobility is what forced me to take a closer look at how my own sense of agency has been shaped by the resources that I have access to.

Which brings us to the third arena of agency. How socioeconomic and caste considerations shape our ability to express a sense of agency in life.

There are many man-made social structures that are so practiced that they seem natural to us. Gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, and social class. Each of these labels shape our access to resources, and our expressions, impacting our ability to gain traction in life.

While my life has had its challenges, it is relatively speaking, one of great privilege. I was born in a loving home. All of my basic needs were provided for. And there's no question that I've been able to leverage my talents, abilities, looks, and skin color to gain access to opportunities that might've otherwise been denied to me.

A couple of years ago, in a phone conversation with a colleague, I can't remember what sparked the comment, but she said to me:

"I just don't believe in privilege. Everything I've gotten in my life has been a function of hard work."

I don't suppose I need to tell you that this person was white.

That's the thing about privilege. If you can't see it, well, then you probably have it.

Author and journalist, Ta-Nehisi Coates, writes: "Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is more often broad sympathy towards some, and broader skepticism toward others."

Isabel Wilkerson, author of the bestselling book, Caste, writes: "Radical empathy is not about you and what you think you would do in a situation you've never been in, and perhaps never will. It is the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the path of another, as they perceive it. We don't get to tell a person with a broken leg or a bullet wound that they are not in pain, and people who have hit the caste lottery are not in a position to tell a person who has suffered under the tyranny of caste what is offensive or hurtful or demeaning to those at the bottom? The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in a dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse."

When it comes to resources and accessibility, life isn't fair. Acknowledgement of this truth, and of social privilege, is essential to the restoration of agency. Because getting unstuck, isn't always about self helping ourselves.

When I first started my graduate studies, I was pretty fired up about moving the needle when it comes to the ways in which the $13 billion self-help industry has commercialized personal growth. When I first started, I thought to myself, my intention is to help reinvent the world of coaching, to place accessibility and inclusion front and center.

And I still have this passion. I do. But also, I was missing a critical piece of the puzzle.

Just this morning, I was listening to the podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, with Glennon Doyle. My ears perked up when her sister, Amanda Doyle, who's a lawyer, longtime social activist, and powerhouse in her own right wrapped language around something that I had long sensed and known, but been unable to articulate. She was speaking about book genres, and how self-help has become a catchall for female writers, and/or books that speak to female audiences... how this is sexist and symptomatic of this idea that the problems a woman faces are of her own making and that the answers to them must be sourced internally.

And that's when it hit me.
It's not only that the tools of personal development need to be less commercialized and whitewashed, more accessible on the whole. It's also that, and please stay with me on this, this is huge. It's also that the social default of lumping all the many resources of personal growth into a self-help category reinforces the idea that our mental health is an inside job and an inside job only.

Now, obviously if you've made it this far, you know that I am an advocate for self development. But dumping everything into this category of self-help is troublesome because it implies individual solutions to collective problems. It diminishes realities that so many people face, a lack of resources and support systems that should be available to all, not just those with the luxury of disposable income.

How convenient that everything related to the soul, to inner work, emotional intelligence, all of these things are labeled self help. It shifts attention away from the system that is failing to support the people at claims to serve.

It is inherently sexist. Not because man, woman. But because it marginalizes what is collectively referred to as feminine. Self-help sends the message that the touchy feely stuff centered around depth and emotions that it is meant to happen on the margins while the so-called experts are intellectualizing work-arounds to all of our social problems. And the painful irony is that many of the things that we're doing in circles of self-help would provide meaningful and practical answers to collective challenges if we stopped patronizing the patrons of self-help... diminishing the importance of personal growth and self-development.

What does all this have to do with accessibility? It has everything to do with it, because when we marginalized pain, we make it way more difficult for people to find relief.

The developing human is expected to learn to read, write, do math, tie their shoes, and make money.

But we leave it to the individual to grow emotionally, deal with mental health challenges, and seek soul sustenance. There is something very wrong with this picture.

If it's sometimes feels unfair that your life is a bit harder due to a mental health diagnosis, the color of your skin, your gender identity, or the amount of money in your bank account, gaslighters be damned. You're not crazy. You are a human who is having a normal response to a world that is out of balance with the needs of its people.

Self-help might provide you with some relief. Amen to that. But it might not be enough. It is not you that is failing. It is the systems that surround you.

As an adamant advocate of personal accountability and the host of the self-development podcast, I'm here to validate that some of you might be more disadvantaged and mired in stuckness than the average bear. And that stuckness you feel, it may not be your fault. It might be a function of social roadblocks. It might make you feel stabby from time to time. And I get it. The game is rigged in favor of some more than others, and we have to continue working our asses off to fix that.

And as the saying goes, it might not be your fault, but it is your responsibility. I invite you to lean into the other three arenas best you can to restore agency and keep your life moving forward. It is not solely your responsibility to create a more equitable and just world, but it is your, and my, responsibility to stop taking on the projection that we ourselves are broken, that we must fix it on our own. We must remember our wholeness, show up together and wholeheartedly to a world that needs fixing.

All of that to say, accessibility matters and its variance can impact agency for better or for worse.

After distributing the agency survey, I crosschecked agency scores with quite literally dozens and dozens of variables. And you will probably not be surprised to learn that the variable that was most predictive of high degrees of agency was income.

Generally speaking, agency scores increased alongside income and access to opportunities. Of course, this was not the only agency predictive factor. Far from it. The other three arenas played just as critical a role in shaping overall agency scores.

However, these accessibility variations must not be ignored. Minorities on the whole reported more anxiety and depression and less access to systems of support. Coincidence, I think not? Low income also correlated with higher rates of addiction.

Survival mode isn't just a catchy soundbite. It's a patterned neurological response that disconnects us from agency and high-minded thinking. If you feel stuck because of a lack of something, maybe it's scarcity mentality, or maybe it's that you have a genuine need that's not being met. It is possible to acknowledge our needs without defaulting to victim mentality, without losing touch with empowerment on the whole.

Sometimes being honest with ourselves is the best way to get moving again, bringing us face to face with even deeper truths and the final arena of agency, ontological considerations.

I know big word, right? Essentially this speaks to the way agency is shaped by belief, faith, religion, and the existential realities of life. It's all about the meaning we give to the things that happen to and through us.

How is it that we personally see and experience life? Is it working for us? Against us? What are our beliefs, values, and virtues? Can we conceive of deep fulfillment? And if so, what would that even look and feel like to us?

Our answers to these questions directly impact how we move in the world.

Faith is a funny thing. For some people, strong beliefs power a sense of agency. My research revealed religious faith to be more common among low income and minority respondents. This is unsurprising to me because when we have less external support, it often leads us inward. Humans are resourceful by nature. When we are denied traction in another arena, we'll find agency somehow. And sometimes it's through a spiritual or religious connection. The research also showed that high agency individuals were more likely to believe in a higher power.

And yet, there are other instances where our beliefs hold us hostage to mindsets that rob us of agency, compromising our ability to evolve and move forward in life. An example of this is what happens in fundamentalist communities where dogmatic, literalized narratives lead to social isolation, and people seem to be almost stuck in another place in time.

Faith is neither good, nor bad. Who or what we put our faith in is what largely defines our experience.

One of the most fascinating findings in the research was that people who identified themselves as neither religious nor spiritual, they reported significantly lower rates of anxiety, yet also higher rates of depression. Now it's impossible to know from the data why this is. Perhaps nonbelievers have less anxiety because they aren't compelled to comply with as many behavioral guidelines. This is just one thought. Who knows?

The higher rates of depression, well, I found support for this in other research that has shown religious or spiritual belief can provide a source of meaning and relief from existential despair.

I want to once again turn our attention to Viktor Frankl. A man who knew firsthand what it means to have every ounce of agency, and dignity, quite literally stripped away. Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who lost his wife and most of his family in Nazi concentration camps before he became a world renowned neurologist and author of many books, including one entitled Man's Search for Meaning.

One of his most famous quotes, speaks indirectly of agency.

Frankl writes: "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space is our power to choose. And it's in that choice that lies our growth and freedom."

Frankel speaks of how we restore agency when it comes to the unspeakable mysteries of human nature. In that space is our power to choose. That space, however we conceive of it... as a higher power that aligns with a religious framework, as a metaphysical embodiment that restores a sense of center, or even as an act of surrendering to an unnameable and unknowable grace. However we conceive of that space, and whatever it is we find in it... that sacred pause. This is the place we go to to restore agency and light our way through the dark.

It is in that space that we are able to restore our connection to a meaning that transcends reason. Agency is restored when we stopped trying to make sense of a world that we have no control over.

In order to grow beyond dogma, we must restore inner authority and discover our own uniquely, self-defined moral intuition. According to psychologists, moral intuitions are strong, stable, immediate, moral beliefs that guide our choices in life.

Back in the day, life was much simpler. Humans lived in small communities where they could defer spiritual authority to a chosen leader. One that looked and thought like they did. But we now live in an interdependent global community where information is moving at cyberspeed. Moral responsibility has become increasingly complex. How can we rely on our own intuitions when we must continually reckon with so many diverse vantage points at once? Human needs are often at odds with one another. Who's to say what's right anymore?

Well, maybe that's just it. Maybe it's not about who's right and who's wrong. Maybe it never has been.

As James Hollis describes it, "The moral measure of culture is found in the degree to which individuals and groups can tolerate ambiguity and change and how open they can be to the otherness of others."

Once again, we speak to transpersonal consciousness, an emotional intelligence that's able to hold two conflicting truths at a time.

When it comes to morality, I prefer to think of moral intuition as Ken Wilber describes it. He essentially says that the moral decision is whatever choice creates the greatest depth for the greatest span.

In order to serve more widely, we must be open-hearted, inclusive, and willing to go deeper than ever before.

And on that note, I have one last piece of data for you.

91% of high agency folks were in agreement with the statement: I believe that my life has a purpose.

If you'll recall in episode 15, we spent some time expanding our definition of purpose beyond how we pay the bills and fulfill tribal responsibilities toward an expression that aligns our actions with our deepest truths and the highest expression of our values. Something we know as calling.

When agency transcends and includes emotional intelligence, the roles we play, and the resources we have access to, it is then that we find fluidity of movement, creative freedom, and meaningful traction in life.

As I said, in the very first episode of this podcast, it is my deepest desire that this walk through the seven keys of courageous self-expression will somehow help you to turn on a light in your life, to reframe your discomfort and life's directives, so that you can learn to trust that your liberated self-expression brings a one-of-a-kind something to a world that you were meant to inhabit just as you are right now.

I celebrate the call of the wild at your core, and as always, I urge you to listen to it.

Agency, above all else, is self-trust. So my final invitation... is that you turn your life over to the one and only person who knows what's best for you. You.

I am honored that you've taken this journey with me. Thank you for the privilege of your attention. I'll be off for a few weeks and back again when it feels right.

In the meantime, know without a doubt that you are loved. And keep on moving toward what moves you?


© The Deeper Pulse, Candice Schutter