By Dr. Laurel Schwartz
Different people have different points of view as to the circumstances that shape their lives. Some people feel that their own behavior or actions determine the direction of their lives. Other people feel the exact opposite – that their lives are shaped by forces over which they have no control such as fate, destiny or other external events. These differing points of view are what make up a theory of personality development called “Locus of Control.” It was originally developed by Julian Rotter in the 1950’s.
To demonstrate this concept, imagine a person takes a driving test and fails. The person with an “internal locus of control” would come to the conclusion that they failed because they didn’t practice driving enough or they were preoccupied with a recent fight with their girlfriend so they were unable to concentrate. Someone with an “external locus of control” would blame the examiner for giving poor directions or the lousy weather that made it difficult to see. If they passed the driving test, the person with the “internal locus of control” would credit it to their own efforts. For the person with the “external locus of control”, they might credit their success to luck.
Children too, can be encouraged to have an internal or external locus of control. They can view, for example their success at their schoolwork on good study habits and active participation in the classroom. Another orientation would be to feel that no matter what they did, it didn’t matter. In other words, their own behavior never effected any change.
Research suggests that people with an internal locus of control tend to be happier; less depressed, less stressed and expect that their own efforts will be successful. However, its important to remember that for successful outcomes self-belief is generally not enough. You also need ability and opportunity.
An internal locus of control, however, isn’t always better. There are circumstances in life when being more easy going is an asset. Also, people with an internal locus of control can sometimes be very controlling or demanding of others. In work or in their personal life, people with whom they interact may, at times, feel run over or overwhelmed.
For each person, the question is not where their locus of control is – inside or outside of themselves, but whether the strategy they use works for their life. Does yours?
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