Is your locus of control external or internal?

Resilient people have an internal locus of control.

If a person has an internal locus of control, that person attributes success to his or her own efforts and abilities. They feel that they have influence and are able to manage their way through life.  A person who expects to succeed will be more motivated and more likely to learn. A person with an external locus of control, who attributes his or her success to luck or fate, will be less likely to make the effort needed to learn. People with an external locus of control are also more likely to experience anxiety, since they believe that they are not in control of their lives.

Is life treating you unfairly? Do any of these comments sound familiar?

  • Why is this happening to me?
  • Why me?
  • I don’t deserve this! 
  • Life is too just too hard!
  • Everything is crap!
  • I feel trapped!
  • There is little or nothing that I can do about my future!

This is all about blame: blaming all that happens to you on others. Blame usually comes with a generous side-helping of complaining.

To focus your attention and energy on the things over which you have no control is a highly effective way of making sure that you feel unhappy, anxious and even depressed. It can even predispose you to addiction. This quickly leads to ruminating on all the things that aren’t working as you want them to, worrying about all the bad things that might happen in the future, and of course rehashing all the bad things from the past.

Remember, you are your attention. It is the only constant aspect of you; everything else changes. Where you direct your attention decides your perception, thoughts and emotions – nothing less than the quality of your life. Focussing on those things out of your control is probably the very worst way to use your attention.

Living with an external locus of control means  you have adopted the mind-set of a victim; you feel powerless, things happen to you, unfair things, bad things, but you cannot do anything about them. You have no choice but to put up with the suffering that others, that this (often crappy) life inflicts upon you. There is no escape.

This in turn leads to that most pointless of feelings: self-pity.

This causes so much suffering and is utterly pointless. It certainly doesn’t have to be like this.

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” Stoic philosopher Epictetus

If you want to improve your levels of resilience and improve your chances of happiness then:

Focus on those areas where you have control

When you focus on those things that you cannot control, then you are reactive.

When you focus on those things in your control you become proactive.

There are a limited number of things that are within your direct control. Focus on those things:

  • Your perceptions  
  • Your thoughts
  • Your words
  • Your actions and behaviours
  • Your reaction to things that happen
  • Your decisions and choices
  • Your mood
  • Your work ethic
  • Your habits (eg. food, exercise, meditation)

By focusing on what you can control, you can move on quicker, be more resilient, experience less stress, bounce back, spend less time worrying, and have a more positive influence on those around you.

Think about the reactive people in your life who try to control everything, or the micromanager at work.  When inevitably things don’t work out, they spend their time complaining about it: their crappy boss, their stupid company, their partner, society, the government – blame, blame, blame. They feel constantly disappointed, powerless, stressed out. Isn’t it odd how they always seem never to have any control at all?

By contrast, proactive people focus on what they control. When they do this, they naturally increase their influence in the workplace, at home and socially.

Copyright© Geoffrey Molloy 2022

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