Do you believe that luck plays a large role in getting what you want out of life? Or do you believe that through your own hard work and efforts you can achieve the things that are important to you? Which do you think is more true?
Do you believe that whether someone likes you or not is beyond your control, or do you believe that how you treat people will determine whether they like you or not? Which is more true?
Do you believe the things that happen in your life are of your own doing? Or that you don’t have much control over what happens in life, or in the direction your life is headed?
How you answered these questions indicates whether you tend to have an internal or external “locus of control”. What is that? People with a more internal locus of control tend to believe that they are primarily responsible for their own successes and failures. People with a more external locus of control tend to believe that what happens in their lives is primarily due to external forces, like luck, other people, or factors beyond their control. How we see things in this regard will have a significant impact on our motivation, expectations, self-esteem, and success. This is sometimes referred to as the “spotlight effect”. Imagine that there is a spotlight either shining down on you, or outside of you.
There are clear benefits to having an internal locus of control. Of course we can’t control everything that happens to us. But having a sense of mastery, a sense or being able to make decisions, set goals and accomplish them, and respond effectively to the external forces that affect us all tends to lead to greater success. People with a more internal locus of control are more likely to take actions that will improve their situation, rather than complaining or passively waiting for something to improve. They strive to achieve by developing their knowledge, skills and abilities. They take responsibility for how things are going in their lives. When things don’t go the way they hoped, instead of giving up or looking for someone to blame, they try and figure out what went wrong, and how they might be able to improve the outcome next time. People with an internal locus of control tend to work harder and persevere longer in order to succeed in achieving the things that are important to them.
Locus of control appears to be primarily learned. Therefore, if you would like to develop more of an internal locus of control, there are ways you can do so. First, recognize that you always have a choice. Every decision you make is a choice. Even not making a decision is a choice. We may not be able to control everything that happens in our lives, but we can control how we respond. Making choices rather than being passively carried along is confidence building.
Make it a point to set goals for yourself. As you work toward accomplishing them, you develop a sense of confidence and mastery over your own life. Pay attention to your self-talk. Don’t fall for internal excuses like “I don’t have a choice”, or “there’s nothing I can do about it”. When you catch yourself thinking like this, stop and recognize that you do have choices. Maybe not over everything, but perhaps over more than you think. Practice taking some control and stretching your mental muscles! Another confidence and internal locus of control builder is outdoor education courses of all types. Good for kids and adults alike.
Is there a downside to having a strong internal locus of control? Most qualities have a positive and a challenging side to them, and this is no exception. People with an internal locus of control tend to be more successful, but sometimes in the process of being so darn confident and achievement-oriented, they might sometimes forget to be sensitive to other peoples’ needs and preferences. In the effort to take charge, it’s possible to become too controlling, and it’s important to be able to work in harmony with others. So take the time to listen and pay attention to other people along the way.
Interestingly, research shows that as people get older, they tend to become more internal in their locus of control. This probably comes from their increased ability to influence the things in their lives, as well as the realization with age and wisdom that much of what happens to them is a result of what they do.
What do you think? Do you hold yourself responsible, and give yourself credit, for the outcomes in your life? Or do you blame others for the bad outcomes (it sure wasn’t my fault!) Do you throw away the credit for the successes (oh, anyone could have done that; it was lucky; it was no big deal, etc.)
So take charge! Quit making excuses; set some goals; learn that new skill; lose that weight; take credit; take responsibility; accomplish something; enjoy your life!
Dr. Catherine Aisner is a Psychologist in South Lake Tahoe, helping individuals and couples improve the quality of their lives. She can be reached at 530-541-6696 or online at www.CatherineAisner.com.