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Locus of Control – How To Take Control of Your Life

Locus of Control – How To Take Control of Your Life

Locus of control is the extent to which people believe they have control over the events in their life.

Recall a situation when you encountered a failure. You can go a few years back if you like. For example, you lost a match while in school, you missed a crucial deadline at work, or your stock investment went downhill.

What was your reaction to that event? Did you feel the outcome was due to your actions or due to uncontrollable external circumstances?

If you believe you had control over the event, you possess an internal locus of control. If you believe the result was due to external factors, you have an external locus of control.

Locus of control

Your locus of control is an important aspect of personal development because it influences your thoughts, actions, and decisions from daily life. If you believe your actions determine the outcome, you’re more likely to change yourself for the good. If you believe you cannot change the result no matter what you do, you’re unlikely to make changes in your own behavior.

What is locus of control?

Locus of control is a psychological concept which indicates how strongly people believe they have control over the things that happen to them. People fall under two categories – external and internal locus of control. The characteristics of both these categories are opposites of each other. Therefore, you’ll hardly find a person who falls at the borderline of external and internal locus of control.

Types of locus of control:

Let’s take the example of Elton(E for external locus of control) and Ian(I for Internal locus of control). Both of them have recently gone through a breakup under very similar circumstances.

Elton believes that his girlfriend dumped him despite his efforts to make the relationship work. He blames her for not reciprocating the love he showered on her.

Ian believes that his girlfriend dumped him because he did not do enough to keep her happy. After all, if she was happy in the relationship, she wouldn’t have broken up with him. He identifies all his shortcomings to ensure he does not repeat the same mistakes in his next relationship.

Related article: How to spot your own mistakes

locus of control example

Did you notice how two people had stark opposite reactions to the same situation? One chose to believe that the breakup occurred due to factors outside his control, while the other chose to believe that he should have done better to salvage the relationship.

If you had to visualize locus of control as an image, this is how it would look like.

circle of influence

The inner-circle depicts the areas you believe you have control over. The outer circle contains factors you cannot control. But, the contents of these two circles aren’t predetermined for you by birth. You make a personal choice of deciding which circle does an event fall under.

In the above example, Elton chose to place the breakup within the external circle, while Ian placed it within his internal circle.

No one has a 100% internal or external locus of control. At times, one might move an event from one circle to another based on his/her perception of the circumstances.

Internal locus of control:

People with an internal locus of control exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Take accountability for an outcome, no matter how small
  • Find corrections and improvements in their behavior for the future
  • Face challenges head-on and strive for a solution
  • Do not give up easily
  • Are not easily influenced by the opinions of people, media, or other random sources of information
  • Work well when they have the autonomy to make their own decisions

Related article: Why you should stop reading the news

Those with an internal locus of control, make consistent efforts to improve the areas within their self-defined inner circle. They’re least bothered by the events in the outer circle which they believe they have no influence over. As a result, such people are constantly working on improving themselves and reaping the rewards in the process.

The two circles of influence for a person with an internal locus of control are similar to what is shown below:

internal locus of control

If you fall under this bracket, you will take responsibility for most of the events which occur to you even if you can only influence them indirectly. You put in your best foot forward to stir things from your side to hit a better outcome. At the same time, you’re aware of things you have no control over such as terror attacks, natural calamities, or the results of sports events, and do not let them affect your decisions or mood.

External locus of control:

People with an external locus of control exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Quick to blame others or situational factors
  • Complain frequently
  • Dissatisfied with most things around them
  • Believe luck plays a pivotal role in success or failure
  • Find themselves in a corner during a difficulty hoping others will come to their aid
  • Find an explanation for discontinuing their effort on a goal
  • Give up when the going gets tough
  • Believe that the ability they were born with isn’t sufficient to attain success
external locus of control

Those with an external locus of control assume that have limited influence over results. They believe luck and destiny determine where they end up and make little effort to change themselves.

Even if they set goals for themselves, they stop pursuing them when they notice the first sign of hard work. Nevertheless, they have a logical explanation to convince themselves and others why chasing the goal was not worth it.

Related article: The negative consequences of blaming others for your mistakes

Locus of control test

By default, we assume that we possess an external locus of control. But is that true? Let’s find out. Given below are the characteristics of two different people. Hold a mirror to yourself and evaluate which one of the two personalities is a closer match to yours.

A word of caution before you start. You’ll find yourself leaning towards the better traits, but you’ll have to be honest with yourself.

Person A:

  • Success requires being at the right place at the right time
  • I don’t get the results I deserve
  • My destiny was already decided when I was born
  • Setting goals for the long term doesn’t make sense because unforeseen things occur from time to time
  • To attain success, a twist of fate or a stroke of luck plays a key part

Person B:

  • You reap what you sow
  • My colleague got promoted instead of me. What can I do better the next time?
  • If you try hard enough, you’ll get lucky eventually
  • I have the potential to change the world
  • Let me think how can I change that

So, which personality seems closer to yours?

If your thoughts match that of person A, you have an external locus of control.

If your thoughts match that of person B, you have an internal locus of control.

You can take up a detailed locus of control test too if you like.

How does locus of control influence your life?

Unknown to you, your locus of control will influence many of the little decisions you make in life. Your motivation, productivity, reaction to obstacles go hand in hand with your thought process.

Those who maintain an external locus of control will play the blame game. Such people are in denial of their mistakes, and therefore reluctant to improve themselves. They attribute all failures to external factors, thereby ignoring their own flaws which ultimately leads them down the path of mediocrity.

When you believe that your results are out of your control, you put in lesser effort because you assume it doesn’t make a difference anyway. Such thinking turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the lack of effort translates into a lack of results. You finally prove your own point and tell yourself “Look, I knew it wasn’t in my destiny to achieve what I want.”

Those who possess an internal locus of control relentlessly pursue their goals. No matter how many times they encounter failure, they stand right back on their feet and give it another shot. Their obsession to reach the target leads them to try again and again until something clicks eventually.

While others call that a masterstroke of luck, people with an internal locus of control know that with enough effort, one is bound to get lucky sooner or later. Their belief in achieving any goal they want to turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy because they make umpteen efforts to turn their dreams into reality.

What happens when two people with average aim try to shoot at a target? The one who takes the higher number of shots has a greater chance of success. Likewise, the person who tries different methods to achieve his goal has a greater chance of getting there.

‘Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who usually do.’

Steve Jobs

How to change into an internal locus of control?

Even if you have the habit of blaming circumstances for failure, you can change your mindset towards an internal locus of control. Shifting your thought process begins and ends in your mind, but it is easier said than done. After all, you do not always have voluntary control over how your brain thinks.

That said, you do have control over your choices, and with consistent effort, you have the power to change your mindset forever. During your early effort, you’ll find yourself drifting into your old thought process, but if you’re persistent enough, you’ll cross swords against your inner demons and come out victorious.

Like I mentioned earlier, no one will ever have a 100% internal locus of control. Therefore, you must aim to change the sizes of your two circles. Here are 3 simple tips to increase your internal and shrink your external locus of control.

1. Find one thing you could’ve done better

No matter how helpless you feel about a bad outcome, force yourself to identify one thing you could’ve done better. It doesn’t matter if a car splashed muddy water on you while you were walking down the street or if a bird decided to poop at the exact moment when you were walking out the door wearing a white shirt. Even in such circumstances, you can find one thing you could do next time to avoid a similar situation.

For example, whenever you spot muddy water, you could maintain distance, walk faster or check for any speeding vehicles. To avoid bird poop, you can take a moment to look up when you step out the door.

If the improvement is only minuscule, that’s OK. If the improvement has very low chances of preventing the problem next time, that’s OK too.

The exercise intends to shift your mindset from helplessness to taking control and from blaming to taking accountability.

2. Watch your self-talk

We all talk to ourselves, one way or the other. For some, they’re just thoughts running in the head, while for some others, they are actual words spoken out loud.

Either way, your brain chooses to believe what you decide to tell yourself. The tricky part however is that your brain is the culprit for triggering those thoughts too, thereby forming a neverending loop.

Only you can break that cycle by forcing yourself to avoid negative self-talk. Watch out when your inner voice says things like:

  • This is too difficult for me
  • I don’t have the skills to do it
  • That goal is impossible for people like me
  • I can try but I doubt if it will work

Tweak those sentences to eliminate the negative intent. You can transform such thoughts into:

  • I know this is difficult, but I am capable of doing it
  • I don’t have the skills yet, but I can acquire them
  • The goal is impossible for me at the moment, but a few years later I can achieve it too
  • I will try and if it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else

If you observed, these changes don’t blindly change the verbiage from one extreme of blind pessimism to the other end of unreal optimism. They only eliminate fear, doubt, and negativity from your self-talk to feed your brain with the right motivation.

Related article: Your perception is your reality

3. Embrace failure

Failure is a part of life and a prerequisite for success. When people hear of a success story, they assume everything fell in place in the first attempt itself. Little do they dig deep to unearth the failures one had to go through before hitting the pot of gold.

In 2015, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google said, “Wear your failure as a badge of honor.” So, if you fail at an attempt, you have nothing to feel ashamed of. Consider yourself one step closer to success instead.

One way you can feel comfortable with failing is by putting yourself in situations where you have no shot of success. But, you’ll have to make sure you do not face negative consequences or make a fool out of yourself in the process.

For example, if you’ve never cooked before, you won’t succeed in making a blueberry cheesecake. But, attempting and failing does no harm other than a few wasted ingredients. Likewise, you have nothing to lose by attempting to run 10K if you have no practice. You’ll stop midway gasping for breath. Attempting them accustoms you to failure.

But, do not attempt things like lifting heavy weights without the knowledge of proper form or speaking in front of 1000 people when you’re unsure about your stage fear.

If you choose the right tasks to try and fail at, you’ll feel uneasy at first, but then grow comfortable with it. Over time, the comfort with failure will help you approach a difficult task with positivity.

Related article: How to adapt to a change by understanding the change curve


Your locus of control has powerful persuasive control over your brain. Whether you use that to better yourself or not solely depends on you.

So, do you want to take accountability for your actions or sweep your mistakes under the rug? The choice is yours.

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