Locus Of Control: The 'Location' of Resilience
Making productive decisions can be difficult. But in the valley of disappointment, maintaining perspective and moving forward can be even harder. Most of us have experienced this for ourselves: the fog that emerges when we lose our momentum.
What if our perspective of control could clear things up? What if it could change how we show up? The actions we take and the motivation we feel? This is where the locus of control comes in.
In Latin, "locus" means location. So the locus of control is where we believe control comes from. More technically, it's the degree to which we believe we have control in our lives. Coined by psychologist Julian Rotter in 1954, he believed the way we view the world impacts the outcomes of our lives. He proposed that a person's locus of control can be:
Internal: The belief that our quality of life is largely due to our own choices and actions.
External: The belief that our quality of life is largely determined by outside forces i.e. luck, fate, chance, environment etc.
But it's not as simple as choosing one or the other. Instead, they mark two ends of a spectrum and we can often operate with both in mind. For example, if a project deadline is pushed back because a teammate is sick, you might attribute it to bad luck but view the newfound time as within your control. This is a healthy mix of internal and external, often called 'bi-local'. So how can we figure out where we generally sit?
Identify Your Locus
What you pay attention to can often reveal whether you lean towards an internal or external locus of control. Take a look at this diagram, and assess what you tend to focus on.
To help identify where you sit, you can use these questions:
Which circle do you spend most of your time thinking about?
Which circle do you see yourself actively trying to change?
Which areas bring you the most stress?
If you spend more time thinking about what you can influence or can't control, chances are your locus leans towards external. If you spend more time focusing on your own choices, then chances are your locus is more internal.
Research shows that an internal locus of control is linked to higher levels of happiness, resilience and effective leadership. Within this framework, believing that we have greater agency in our lives can jumpstart change, fuel our motivation and inform how we respond. On the flipside, there is a dark side. The same agency that can motivate our growth can lead to guilt and shame when things go sideways.
In these cases, leaning on outside forces can help us maintain our perspective and move forward. For example, having a bi-local view of health means you might work to make improvements where you can (internal locus). But you'll also feel comfortable relying on outside guidance like healthcare professionals (external locus). With this in mind, how we do cultivate a stronger internal locus?
To strengthen your internal locus, here are two key strategies:
Focus on what you can control. Identify where you're paying more attention to external forces and if it's unhelpful for you. For example, if you're focusing on what others think of you and it's eating away at your momentum, try to refocus on what you can do and what you want.
Embrace setbacks as an opportunity to learn. When something doesn't go your way, focus on what you can learn and how you can evolve. The golden formula here is to name what you're feeling and identify the lesson. Let's say you lose a big deal and you think "If I had been better, this wouldn't have happened." Does that capture how you're feeling? Yes. Is it productive? Not very. Instead, shift your language to "I'm feeling really disappointed. What can I do in the future to ensure a higher chance for success?".
Tying it up
Your locus of control can influence the decisions you make in hard situations. It impacts your happiness, resilience and leadership. By shifting towards an internal locus of control, you can free up your mind to focus on what you can control rather than what you can't or what others believe.