Why High Agency Is One of the Most Important Personality Traits

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This is a repost of a fantastic Twitter thread from George Mack explaining what High Agency is and why it’s so important. I’ve previously written about the importance of having a growth mindset as well as the psychology of success.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of this concept for a long time but I’ve never had a word to describe it. I previously thought of this as a combination of relentlessness and focus – but “high agency” is a perfect way to encapsulate this concept.

Here’s the thread:


Once you SEE it – you can never UNSEE it.

Arguably the most important personality trait you can foster.

I’ve thought about this concept every week for the last two years since I heard @EricRWeinstein discuss it on @tferriss‘ podcast.


“When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something?” – @EricRWeinstein

3/ “So, how am I going to get past this bouncer who told me that I can’t come into this nightclub? How am I going to start a business when my credit is terrible and I have no experience?” – @EricRWeinstein

4/ High Agency is a sense that the story given to you by other people about what you can/cannot do is just that – a story.

And that you have control over the story.

High Agency people look to bend reality to their will.

They either find a way, or they make a way.

5/ Low agency people accepts the story that is given to them.

They never question it.

They are passive.

They outsource all of their decision making to other people.

6/ Person A is low agency.

Person B is high agency.
6/ Person A is low agency. Person B is high agency.

7/ You see high agency vs low agency everywhere.

@paulg says he can describe a good startup founder in two words – “relentlessly resourceful” (high agency)

He says the opposite of this is “hapless” (low agency).

8/ @rabois identifies high agency in employees through a mental model called “Barrels vs Ammunition”.

He wanted to get smoothies for his developers who were working late at LinkedIn. Only one high agency intern managed to get the right smoothies delivered at the right time.

9/ @JeffBezos has a framework for identifying high agency friends/romantic partners.

Answer this question:

“If you were stuck in a third world prison and had to call one person to try and bust you out of there – who would you call?”

10/ “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” – Steve Jobs

11/ @Schwarzenegger high agency was noted by Bill Burr:

1. Gets famous for lifting weights
2. Becomes the world’s biggest movie star despite nobody being able to understand him
3. Marries into the American royal family
4. Becomes governor of a state he can’t even pronounce

12/ To help fund AirBnB, @bchesky & @jgebbia sold limited-edition cereal boxes called Obama O’s & Captain McCain cereal during the 2008 election.

They raised $40,000 – from selling cereal.

Talk about questioning the story and finding a way.


13/ @peterthiel has a question to help bring out high agency thinking.

“How can you achieve your 10 year goal in 6 months?”

14/ I’ve heard @naval & @robinhanson call this “Orthaganol Thinking”

You ask questions that look to give you a completely different angle to frame the problem through.

You are thinking sideways, and you can see ridiculous ideas that the crowd missed.

15/ A journalist managed to get a shed in his garden the highest rated restaurant in London on Trip Advisor.

Now that is some high agency behaviour. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/434gqw/i-made-my-shed-the-top-rated-restaurant-on-tripadvisor

16/ “Alfréd Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz through hiding in wood pile that other inmates soaked with tobacco and gasoline to fool guard dogs.

After four nights hiding, he donned a stolen suit and began a 80 mile journey to the Polish border with Slovakia…

17/ “In his pockets, Wetzler carried a report on the inner workings of the death camp, including a ground plan, details of the gas chambers, and a label from a canister of Zyklon B – the gas that the Nazi’s used to kill millions of inmates.”

18/ He reported he saved 120,000 Hungarian Jews lives through his high agency.

Now that is high agency.

If in doubt, ask yourself, what would Wetzler do?

1. Question everything
2. Bend reality
3. Never outsource your decision making

I've been building digital businesses, wandering the world, and writing about optimizing life for freedom since early 2017. My mission is to lower the barrier for people who want to live with more freedom: whether that be as an entrepreneur, a digital nomad, an early retiree, or just as someone who wants to live a happiness-driven life.