In 1954 Julian Rotter, an American psychologist, coined the phrase Locus of control. The degree to which people believe that they can influence their life through the choices they make. Those with an internal locus of control take responsibility and praise or blame themselves for the levels of success or failure that they have reached. Hard work brings positive outcomes. Those with an extrinsic locus of control rather tend to blame factors outside of their control for their success or failure things like, luck, fate, destiny and other people or circumstances rather than themselves.
A college student with a strong internal locus of control will associate good grades with a sense of hard work and effort and not natural born talent. An athlete with a strong internal locus of control will blame a lost race on his own lack of effort and level of preparation instead of bad luck.
Locus of control has been the subject of research for many psychologists over the last few decades and studies have shown that people with an internal locus of control generally obtain better jobs, receive higher paying salaries, more stable marriages, and have greater levels of success. People with an external locus of control are more susceptible to stress and anxiety as they are always blaming other factors for their failure.
Everyone has a natural tendency to lean more towards either the internal or external locus of control in most areas of their life. The good news is internal locus of control can be learned and developed; you can choose to change the way you see things. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself on the spectrum, by choosing to think differently and alter your inherent beliefs you can shift your perspective towards the internal locus of control. It starts with making the decision to change and see things differently.
Martin Sullivan in his article A story that encourages self efficacy and internal locus of control shares The Empty Rowboat story which I have adapted as follows:
It is a perfect day, the sun is shining, and there is not a breath of wind the perfect opportunity to take your rowboat onto the river. You climb inside and start rowing, soaking up the sights and enjoying the peace and tranquility that the early morning brings. You are alone, there is not another person or boat visible as far as the eye can see and you have the entire river to yourself. All of a sudden the silence is broken and you glance back to see another rowboat breaking water behind you. To avoid constantly glancing over your shoulder you decide to row all the way across to the other side of the river and allow the other boat to pass and then proceed to soak up the scenery and delight in the fresh air when all of a sudden the rowboat hits you head on sending you sprawling into the water.
You surface, grasping for air and are rife with anger. After all, you rowed right across the water to give yourself space and avoid that boat in the first place. As you pull yourself up and back into the boat, you notice that the other boat is empty, simply drifting down the river with no one steering it.
The first question to ask yourself at this point is, “Where did your anger come from?” Like most people, you would probably answer “from the other boat.” After a bit of thought and realising that there is not anyone else on the river and boats generally do not express or harbour anger in any way you would have to acknowledge that the anger stems from directly inside of you.
Now let us rephrase the question, “What if there was someone else in the boat, then where would the anger stem from?”
The anger comes from inside of you irrespective of whether there is someone else in the boat or not.
This simple story effectively illustrates that all emotion stems from inside of you and as soon as you realise this and learn how to take control of it you will once again be at the wheel able to master your actions and choose the direction you wish to follow. We are quick to blame others for our emotions, inadequacies, and failures when in reality they come from inside of us.
You might have your emotions under control, but where do you lie on the locus of control spectrum when it comes to your personal health and wellness?
Are you quick to blame your high cholesterol and diabetes on family genes?
Is it too expensive to buy more fruits and vegetables to help prevent disease?
Do you have no time to exercise and prepare healthy home cooked meals?
Are you slave to the foods placed before you?
Is your health in someone else’s hands?
Who is to blame when chronic disease hits and you are too obese to go for a walk with your grandchild in the afternoon?
In his book Smarter, Faster, Better Charles Duhigg states, “An internal locus of control emerges when we develop a mental habit of transforming chores into meaningful choices, when we assert that we have authority over our lives.”
It starts with thinking about each scenario as it arises and asking yourself the question are you trying to dodge the bullet and shift the blame. Or are you ultimately the one in control?