• Is too much of your day reactive?
  • Do you lack the control you need and want to do properly?
  • Do you sometimes do things against your better judgement?

In today’s world, its too easy for the above to become normal. We feel as if we’ve less options and our actions and decisions are influenced by other people or external pressures.

Making such externally-motivated decisions often have benefits. They might help us get the job done faster and within budget. We might get rewards or reduce threats, e.g., by helping us fit in, keeping favour with the boss, or having an easier time.

But despite these actions appearing to be the best option at the time, they all have the potential – particularly if they dominate over time – to reduce our autonomy and psychological wellbeing.

What is Autonomy? Why Do I Need It?

Autonomy is one of three basic psychological needs that underpin our psychological wellbeing. It improves how we feel each day, our overall happiness and life satisfaction, and our ability to thrive and function at our best.

We feel autonomous when we’re able to; have control of available options, freely choose what we do, and make decisions that are guided by our internal motives. Our internal motives are those that fit in and reinforce our deep-rooted beliefs of who we are and what (the values) we hold dear. Also, the things we find rewarding to do in their own right, e.g., learning, having fun, mastery.

Improving Autonomy

So what can you do to get back in the driving seat? To improve your autonomy? The following aim to help you increase your autonomy, functional ability and psychological wellbeing by enabling you to:

  • See more and better options of how to deal with a concern(s).
  • Make more internally-motivated decisions.
  • Make better in-the-moment and long-term strategic decisions.
  • Use your future time and energy efficiently.

You can consider each for yourself or as a team. In relation to work or life in general, or to a specific issue or concern, e.g., improving your health, prioritising how to spend money, dealing with poor management behaviour.

1. Know:

  • Your internal motives. Consider what makes you you. What values do you hold? What do you enjoy? It might help if you consider a time when you were at your best/most proud. Or why you admire someone.
  • What motivates your decisions. Not everything you do will be motivated by internal motives. But be aware of the overall balance between internally or externally-motivated actions and how this affects your wellbeing.
  • Your habitual behaviours. I.e., the things you do with little conscious thought, e.g., always saying yes, constantly checking emails, or crashing out on the sofa with a beer or glass of wine at the end of the day.
  • There’s always a choice. Remember, that doing nothing to change a situation is the result of your choice to do nothing. You have accepted the status quo regardless of how it affects you.
  • Having autonomy is not the same as being independent. Instead, it’s about having free choice as to when and how to engage with others.
  • Of others. Always check the effect of your decision will be in line with how you believe you should treat others.

2. Take Control

Take time to systematically consider your chosen concern by completing the Circle of Control exercise below (based on Stephen Covey’s work). It aims to reduce the concern by highlighting what you can do to take control.

You’ll need 3 sheets of paper with one of these titles on each; Circle of Concern, Circle of Influence, Circle of Control. Also, pens and some quiet time.

  1. On your ‘Circle of Concern’ page, make a full list of everything that matters about the concern, e.g., what causes it, how it impacts you or others.
  2. Looking at this list:
    • Consider everything that you can directly control. I.e., what you can do to manage yourself, your actions, thoughts, emotions, body responses, language. These are indicated by “I/We can…”. Cross them off your Circle of Concern and add them to your ‘Circle of Control’ page.
    • Consider everything that you can have some influence over. These are indicated by, “I/We could overcome/do this IF…” For example, “We could overcome this if we find out more about; the situation, other courses of action, or someone else’s perspective and pressures”. Or “If I developed a skill or used my skills to build a better support network”. Cross them off your Circle of Concern and add them to your ‘Circle of Influence’ page.
  3. The issues left in the Circle of Concern, should only be those that are genuinely beyond your control or influence. Typically, it’s best to accept these if you can – acceptance is known to be good for positive – or at least accept that you will spend less time and time and energy on them. You can, of course, look at them again if the situation changes and you start to have more influence and control.
  4. Look at your Circles of Control and Influence. Explore the steps that you’ve identified and develop an action plan with realistic time-lines for working on each. Focus on quick wins, but also chip away at longer-term solutions. In all, you’re prioritising how to focus your time and energy to achieve greater control.
  5. Throughout, be aware of making decisions and actions that fit in with your internal motives: This will boost your autonomy and wellbeing.


You can control more than you think. Be aware of your internal motives. Use them to take control and focus your energy on making a meaningful difference to your own wellbeing and life, and to the lives and wellbeing of others.

This article was written by Caroline for the FMPA’s ‘Football Medicine and Performance’ magazine (Issue 29, Summer 2019).

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