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Internal Locus of Control: What It Is, and Why You Want It

Life can be pretty challenging sometimes. But, there are things we can do to make it harder on ourselves, and things we can do to make it easier. For example, having a negative attitude not only bums out those around you, it isn’t good for your outlook, mood, productivity, etc., either.

Another determiner of overall success is related to something called locus of control. How you understand this idea, and how you use it in your life, could make a big difference in terms of your success and happiness at work. Let’s look at the issue more closely.

internal locus of control

(Photo Credit: JessWilson/Flickr)

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First, what is a locus of control?

Let’s start by defining this idea. Psychologists use the phrase locus of control to help define and pinpoint individuals’ beliefs about how things happen in their lives. People who have an internal locus of control believe that, at least for the most part, they determine their fate through their actions and behaviors. Those with an external locus of control, on the other hand, feel that others control their fate and that things happen to them more often than they themselves actually effect change.

Some examples…

How can you tell if you have an internal or external locus of control? After reading the above description and definition, you probably already have a bit of a sense of which way you lean, but let’s look into it a little more deeply just the same. Here are a few scenarios to ponder:

  •  First, imagine you arrive 20 minutes late for work. Are you more likely to beat yourself up for not allowing enough time, or will you blame others, saying that obstacles got in your way (hit every red light, alarm clock broke, etc.) that made it impossible for you to arrive on time?
  • Next, think about how you would feel if you were passed over for a promotion. Would you sit back and wonder what you could have done better or would you blame your boss for being a big ol’ jerk? Deep down, do you feel like it’s your fault you didn’t get promoted or does this feel like something that happened to you?
  • Finally, those with an internal locus of control tend to always be pretty busy and they talk about what they have to do a lot. Those with an external locus of control are very different. They tend to mention how unfair things are quite a bit and they talk about how bad things always seem to happen to them. Which way do you lean?

An external locus of control is disempowering and holds people back.

You’ll likely be happier and more successful if you have an internal locus of control rather than an external one. It’s depressing to feel as though life only happens to us – as though we’re adrift in a river, coasting downstream in a boat with no way to direct our course or our fate. Instead, those with an internal locus of control see oars laying beside them in the boat, pick them up, and paddle. Doesn’t that sound more pleasant?

These leanings make all the difference in the world professionally. An internal locus of control motivates us to work hard toward our goals and self-correct along the way. It also helps us deal with stress and makes us less likely to feel depressed. Whereas an external locus of control is disempowering, discouraging, and frustrating, an internal one is just the opposite – so long as it isn’t taken too far.

The reality…

The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of things in life that we can control and there are a bunch of other things that we cannot. Striking the appropriate balance between these two modes might be the fairest and best course of action. Having an internal locus of control is a good thing, but not when it’s taken too far. It doesn’t help to push too hard, beat yourself up, or blame yourself for everything that doesn’t go your way. At the same time, being empowered by the belief that your actions and behaviors do determine an awful lot is helpful in a great many ways – especially when compared with the alternative.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have an internal or external locus of control? How has it impacted your life? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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