Locus of Control

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An external Locus of Control means thinking you are controlled rather than in control.

Locus of Control describes the way you think about the forces that controls your life. Your Locus of Control can be internal, which means you believe that your actions and abilities control your life. On the other hand, you can have an external Locus of Control where you believe that your life is controlled by external forces such as luck or fate. Your actual Locus of Control varies between the internal and external extremes, and you may have a different Locus of Control in different situations.

1 Measuring Locus of Control

One measure of Locus of Control is the Internal Control Index which uses a sliding scale, based on how frequently you agree with each statement. Another measure is the J.B. Rotter questionnaire which uses 'forced choice' questions, where you have to choose between two extreme answers.

2 The impact of Locus of Control

People with an internal Locus of Control tend to have more control of their life. They are more likely to be able to quit smoking, lose weight or manage their diabetes. People with an external Locus of Control are more likely to suffer from stress and depression. Locus of Control has an obvious impact on exercise; if you don't believe your actions influence your situation, why would you exercise?

3 Changing your Locus of Control

There are a number of techniques that may help you change your Locus of Control.

  • Change your self-talk. This self-talk includes things such as internal thoughts, day dreams, talking out loud to yourself, and sleeping dreams.
    • Be aware of negative self-talk, such as thinking "I can't do this", "I'm such a failure", "this is too much", "this isn't going to work", or similar phrases.
    • When you catch yourself in negative self-talk, try to gently correct yourself and say something more positive. Replace "I can't do this" with "this will be difficult" or "I choose not to do this."
    • One technique is to wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it each time you have negative self-talk. This can help make you more aware of the negativity, as well as providing some discouragement.
    • Try using softer language in your self-talk. Language can influence expectations, and expectations can influence perception. For instance, a dentist will say "this might pinch a little" when they give you an injection because the soft phrasing will reduce the expectation of pain, and the reduced expectation also reduces the perceived level of pain.
  • Listen to those around you. Do they tend to be negative or positive? You can try to spend more time with positive people and less with negative, but even being aware that someone is negative can help shield you from some of the effects. Be particularly careful around those that are negative about your ability to change, as this can reduce your willpower and undermine your motivation.
  • When faced with a difficult choice, it can help to make a list of your options. After listing all the options, then consider the pros and cons of each. This helps you make more rational choices, which not only helps with the particular choice, but also reinforces the sense that you are in control.
  • Choices are stressful. Even simple choices such as what type of coffee to order creates a mild stress. Habits help when you always choose the same option, so you don't have to make a new the choice each time. For instance, I don't choose when to run; instead I have a habit of running at the same time and on the same days. The key with a habit is to ensure you're forming a habit around the right choice.

Meaningful change often takes time and patience, so aim to incrementally change your outlook. Getting help from friends and family can be beneficial if they are supportive and understanding, or you could look to a trained counselor.