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Jan 12, 2023 | by Dr Radha Modgil

Personal power: reframing the locus of control

Continuing our exploration of the role of power, agency and control in wellbeing, Dr Radha Modgil, clinician, broadcaster and author of Know Your Own Power, shares her thoughts on personal power.

Here she explores the importance of personal power in navigating challenges, cultivating resilience and thriving, both as individuals and collectively.

What images and associations come to your mind when you hear the word ‘power’? You might think of a top down societal structure, figures of authority, or maybe money or ‘status’. Or you might think of abuse of power or lack of autonomy.

When I heard the word ‘power’ growing up, I mainly thought of its negative associations. I also thought of the collective aspects of power – both in our communities and in countries – and the global nature of how humanity has constructed our world and the way in which we live. 

As I got older and experienced life with all its challenges, growing as a person and learning more about myself, these associations with power changed. I thought more about how power is reflected in our own lives: what is meant by our personal power?

Rethinking power: from macro to micro

Forget power being something passive that is foisted upon us; how about reframing power as something we can affect ourselves? 

While our ability to self-determine is impacted by socio-economic factors and external circumstances outside our control – such as where we live and the opportunities that are or are not available to us – what if we could all feel a certain degree of power over our own lives?

What about reframing power to be something on a micro scale, something that is recognisable on a daily basis and something that applies to our thoughts and feelings and therefore our decisions?

Reframing and reclaiming personal power

As a clinician, broadcaster and author focusing on mental and emotional health, I see time and time again the impact of reclaiming our personal power.

Published in January 2022, my first book focuses on how to get through life when everything around you falls apart. It looks at the process of understanding why things have happened and how to learn from those experiences, and then how to move forward. 

One of the hardest things about writing a book is constructing a title that will do justice to the subject and content. I could have chosen many different titles, but I decided on ‘Know Your Own Power’.

Why? Well, because the book’s theme is what you can do in the context of the reality you face, rather than what you can’t. It reframes the locus of control to what is in our hands and reiterates that there is nothing to ‘fix’ when it comes to us or our lives, rather just to tap into. Our ability to control the things we can, and let go of what we can’t, is where our power lies. It is the start of everything.

Power is not always about pushing through and carrying on. It is more nuanced, which is why I wanted to reframe it to be reflected in all kinds of strategies and tools that we wouldn’t normally associate with power. For example, our power lies in being patient with ourselves, in being kind and gentle, in resting at the right times. It lies in taking responsibility for our part in a situation, rather than feeling guilt, and in noticing when someone else had a part to play.

Power lies in changing things up when the outcome is uncertain, rather than staying stuck in old patterns. Our power lies in recognising what we want to change in the story of our lives and realising we can rewrite our story moving forward. And in finding our ‘why’ – our purpose in life – and translating that into our ‘what’ needs to change and ‘how’.

Personal power is about acquiring the skills to notice thoughts and feelings, and to practise strategies for our mental health that support how we act as a result of our emotions.

Autonomy, in my experience, improves self esteem and confidence. It recognises the importance of personal value recognition, value and respect. All of these are beneficial for our mental health and our emotional wellbeing. Having autonomy over our lives encourages us to thrive, to flourish and to feel a sense of value within society, therefore increasing the likelihood that we will give back and want to be involved in our communities.

In a world where ‘top down’ power structures are being seen more clearly for what they are and what needs to change, where we are being asked more and more to make our personal values and the way we want to live our lives evident, and where community and connection has never been more important, perhaps it is our collective personal power that will find the solutions we need to the challenges we face, and that will affect change.

Power, agency and control: Further research and resources to explore

Personal wellbeing means both feeling good and functioning well, which includes being autonomous and connected to others.

According to findings from the World Happiness Report, the freedom to choose what we do in life is one factor that explains the difference between high and low wellbeing countries. Evidence also indicates that autonomy is fundamental to wellbeing across cultures and is strongly related to happiness, life satisfaction and purpose.

If we feel more in control of our lives, we tend to be more optimistic about the future, as well as happier and healthier. There are a number of things we can do to help us to cope in situations that are beyond our control, including staying connected to family and friends. Arts and cultural engagement can also increase feelings of control, enjoyment and connection

We are conducting a rapid evidence review focusing on the concepts of agency, control and power at the community level

We plan to explore the evidence for both individual and workplace agency and control in due course, subject to funding. If you’d like to work with us on these projects, please get in touch.


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