Taking control is a really odd phrase, because it can refer to Vikings ‘taking control’ of Dublin and to someone ‘taking control’ of themselves so they don’t eat that sixth muffin. In both cases, there’s willpower, drive, and direction involved. In both cases, there are external and internal elements at play. However, for the horned-raiders taking a town to the sword or that unlucky soul resisting baked goods, they have beliefs about how their actions affect the external world which will make huge impacts on their outcomes. This is called…
Locus of Control
Developed by Julian Rotter, locus control refers to an individual’s beliefs on whether external or internal influences are more likely to affect the course of their life. Let’s take a real-life situation and apply locus of control to it:
Your partner is reaching for the sixth muffin, and you’re worried that you’re about to witness someone contract diabetes in real time. Intervening, you stop them by shouting “don’t eat that muffin you disgusting ball of lard!”
Infuriated, your partner grabs the muffin and throws it at your head.
Now, in that situation, how much control did you have of that muffin being thrown at you? How much control did you have over your choice of words? Was it a simple reaction to the environment you were placed in, or did you make a concerted effort to have things go that way?
Why is this important?
Not only was a perfectly good muffin wasted, a high locus of control (ie you believe you have control over circumstances taking place in your life) has huge benefits for you. According to researchers in Austin Texas, these benefits include:
- Increased optimism
- More engaged with positive behaviours
- Less prone to depression
- Improved health
Other research on locus of control shows that you will have
- Higher job satisfaction
- More creative drive
- A belief that your uniqueness is being used
Which is all well and good to say, but let’s go back to our muffin shenanigans to see if we can figure out why this might be the case.
If you have low locus control, you might think ‘there’s nothing I could have done to prevent being assaulted by that muffin – my partner wasn’t in a stable mindset, they put me in a position where the only thing I could do was refer to their gluttony in order to stop them’.
At this point you’ve washed your hands of all responsibility. If there was nothing you could have done, and the situation was foisted onto you, then why would you need to change or adapt or develop? On the other hand…
‘I had a big part to play in it. Choosing to say that my partner was a ball of lard wasn’t nice and my actions caused them to act out.’
Now there’s a chance to reflect. How could I have changed things? Next time I’m faced with such a situation, I could try to be calmer, tell them I’m worried about them. Maybe I’ll do something right now and suggest we diet together. I have control over what happens next, so I’m going to do something.
Bringing it into your life
We’re about to approach a catch-22. Let’s say you have a high locus of control – this all makes sense, and you’ll read the article, and feel good about your life and how you think about the decisions you make. Go you!
If you have a low locus of control, you might be thinking ‘well, this stuff is decided by genetics and events that happened in your life, so really, it’s still out of my hands’.
Which may be true, to a certain extent, but human willpower and creative genius didn’t give us jet planes, smartphones, fitbits and Krispy Kreme for no reason. If you do find yourself blaming external reasons, you could always ask yourself a question:
So, it’s out of my control. But if it wasn’t, how could I have made it better?
Entertaining the hypothetical is a great starting step on a journey to taking ownership of your motivation, your life, and your career goals in 2016.
Catch you next Monday!
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