What follows is about the best example about personal agency that I can think of, which unsettles me slightly because I’m not sure what I’ll write about after this. I’ll think of something.
I used to be in the army. It was a while back but I learnt a lot from those days. One of those things was owning my plan. When I was going through officer training, we had to do something called PRACTAC. It involved each of us being put individually into something akin to a sheep pen, looking out over a load of fields and coming up with a plan of attack (literally). We were on our own, under exam conditions (because if we ever had to do it for real, we really couldn’t cheat), and had 1 hour to conduct our planning before verbally delivering our set of orders to a seasoned Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) who would pass or fail us on the quality and delivery of our plan. It was make or break stuff. Failing this wasn’t an option. It was in nobody’s best interest to pass someone who didn’t come up to standard as it could risk lives or at least make the army look bad.
So, I scrutinised the ground, decided whether to go left or right flanking, allocated my resources, and I wrote my plan. It was nerve wracking. I wanted to make sure I got it right and didn’t forget anything, and so I wrote everything down. Pages and pages of stuff. It was all there like a script for when I gave my orders. That was the problem. It was like a script. When I stood up, I gave all the detail but it was all from the page, if you’d taken that notebook away from me, I’d have been sunk.
It worked out and I passed but I knew I could do better. Next up was my specialist infantry training. More tactics, more standing in sheep pens. This time it was called Exercise RIPCORD. Same idea but we had 20 minutes. 20 minutes! How the hell am I supposed to write all that stuff down in 20 minutes?! The answer was I couldn’t. There was no way I could scribble that fast sat in some field resting a tiny notebook on my knee. The solution? Ownership. I had to own my plan. I had to own my words. I had to have agency. I delivered my orders with a page of notes and probably could have got by if you’d taken that page from me because the plan was mine, not my notebook’s.
Writing notes and having data is comforting but essentially you’re just outsourcing your brain. When you need the information it’s out there [points to convenient piece of paper] not in here [points to brain part of head]. It’s terrifying but worth it. Don’t use notes.