Locus of Control

Locus of control is a theory in social psychology that refers to the degree to which an individual believes that they can control the events in their life.

Those with a high internal locus of control believe that they can shape the events in their life. They believe that the results that they achieve are derived from the actions that they take. This type of person will not make excuses if they don’t get what they want when they want it, rather they will look inward instead and ask empowering questions such as “how can I do better?”, “what do I need to change?”, and “what are others doing that I can incorporate into my life to make it better?”.

Those with a high external locus of control believe that they are a victim of the world. They believe that they have very little control over their lives or the events that happen to them. They may give their best towards achieving a goal, but if they don’t get the goal then they look to direct the blame at something or someone other than themselves. They constantly blame others and external circumstances, and play the victim card, if their life doesn’t go exactly as they want, exactly when they want it to.

Psychologists suggest that those with a high internal locus of control are more resilient, more emotionally stable, and more likely to view setbacks as instructional and educational. They are also more likely to seek to influence others in a positive way. Most people are not one or the other; however, they exhibit both external and internal tendencies from time to time.

In the three years that we been involved in direct sales we can see a correlation in the success of a consultant and whether they have an internal or external locus of control.

The consultants who exhibit an internal locus of control are more persistent, adaptive and successful than those who exhibit an external locus of control.

Here is a comparison showing how an internal versus external locus of control individual would view a certain fact scenario:

Fact Scenario: I’m getting very few sales

– Internal: What am I doing wrong?  What do I need to learn to be successful at this?  How can I better communicate?  Who can I model?  What are other successful people doing that I’m not? What do I need to learn about my product to be a better seller? How can I learn from successful people? It can’t always be this way.  If I keep at it then it has to change.

– External: This product is hard to sell. People don’t want it. The economy sucks. Others are better than me.  It is hard to get people interested. It was the prospects fault.  They wouldn’t listen.

I believe that you need to adopt an internal locus of control to be successful long term in life. I also believe that it is the secret to happiness and success in all aspects of your life, no matter what industry you are in.

If you find yourself leaning towards the external side from time to time here are some tips to help you change:

– Make small daily goals and complete them. This will give you momentum and you will realize that you have the ability, internally, to make things happen. Don’t always focus on the big goal or big picture if you have an external locus of control. Chunk it down. Think small and focus on completing a series of small tasks.

– Surround yourself with other people who are internal locus of control people. You will start to see how they think, this will influence how you think.  If you are external locus of control you will start to realize that your worldview is just your worldview.  Other people don’t share it.

– Cut out any media influences that are causing you to be external locus of control. The TV is a big one.  The news can make you believe that everything is outside of your control.  It isn’t.  You have power to shape your life.  You have power to not be a victim.


2 comments on “Locus of Control”
  1. Brent says:

    I am going to incorporate the ideas in here to my daily work as a project manager. Running into roadblocks is common in projects and as part of my job it is to ensure roadblocks are smashed. Regardless, it is easy to start to blame prior to smashing. I want to be more apt to start smashing and pass completely over the blaming part. Thanks for the post.

    1. Thanks Brent, the unfortunately reality is that a lot of people will write this type of post off as “idealism” or “positive thinking” and suggest that in the “real world” it is impossible to fully implement because rationally we can’t control everything.

      I agree that we can’t control everything – there are certain factors that are outside of one’s control (wars, disease, others people’s actions or lack thereof). We only really control our mind (what we think about and the attitude we embrace) and our actions (which are directed by our mind).

      So the point is not to realistically “control” everything. The point is to look inward no matter what life gives you, and for each event in life, ask the question “what can I do to make this better”, without looking around to blame someone or something. Blaming never empowers us. Blaming also never allows for a creative solution. Creative solutions are the product of people who look at a given situation and ask an empowering, self-directed question like “how can I fix this?”

      This is the essence of internal locus of control. A person who does this maintains emotional control, despite external circumstances. The more emotional control the better their actions will be in the circumstances. This is particularly important if the circumstances are stressful or severe. I believe that we are most empowered when we truly believe that we can influence the outcome. Otherwise we enter into blame, victimization, and despair territory – none of which is helpful to a given situation, and none of which will allow for a creative solution to a given problem

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