Locus of Control - Who's Pulling the Strings?

Are you the puppeteer or are you the puppet? Are you the one pulling the strings or are you having your strings pulled?

Whether or not you are consciously aware of it, your perspective can greatly affect how you approach life. Is your destiny pre-determined and outside of your control or are you the master of your own fate?

In like manner, the lens that you use to view your failures and successes can also very much color the level of enjoyment that you may be able to derive from life. Did you win that award because of your hard work or was it largely because of outside influences? This, at its core, is the concept of locus of control. Who is in control of what you do and what you achieve?

Understanding Locus of Control

Generally speaking, locus of control can be best understood on a spectrum. On one end, you have internal locus of control. This is when you believe that your personal circumstances, achievements, and shortcomings are the result of your own personal efforts. You feel that you can exert change on the world through hard work and dedication. You feel that you can transcend hopes and dreams regardless of outside influences.

On the other end of the spectrum is external locus of control. This is when you believe that your lot in life is the result of outside influences and not the result of anything to do with you personally. Life is outside of your control, so you do not make as much of an effort to exert change on the world. You take life as it comes.

Most people have neither a wholly internal locus of control nor a wholly external locus of control. They’re selective.

The Depressed View of the World

While they may not suffer from full-blown clinical depression, many people have this more sombre view of the world. When they achieve a certain success or otherwise receive something “good” in life, they take on an external locus of control. They’ll say that they aced an exam not because they studied, but rather because the test was too easy. They’ll say that they landed a dream job not because of their qualifications, but rather because they were lucky. They’ll believe that they don’t deserve accolade.

However, when these same people receive bad news, they’ll typically take on an internal locus of control. They failed the test because of their own shortcomings. They got laid off from their jobs because of poor performance and not because of broad-sweeping budget cuts. As you can imagine, this selective perspective self-perpetuates the notion that the person is not worthy or worthwhile.

The Positive View of the World

What about all the happier people out there? They have an equally twisted view of their circumstances, except it is the polar opposite of the previous example. Looking at their lives through rose-tinted glasses, these people will typically take on an internal locus of control for personal successes and achievements. They earned a pay raise through hard work and dedication. They “landed” the perfect mate with great courting skills and a sparkling personality.

At the same time, these happier folks discount their shortcomings and failures. They got into a major car accident not because of poor driving ability, but rather because of the other bad drivers on the road. They grossly overpaid for a computer not because of a lack of research, but because the salesperson is a crook. It’s not their fault. It’s just bad luck.

This isn’t a terribly accurate view of the world either.

Neither Perspective is 100% Accurate

You should give credit where credit is due, but you should also recognize that there are certain things in life that are outside of your control. Neither an internal nor an external locus of control is completely accurate. Yes, you should absolutely be proud of your own achievements, but also have to accept fault for when things don’t go your way. By the same accord, know that some of your success is because of the influence of others, but your failure may be partly attributed to outside sources too.

Take a look at Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent. Her current celebrity is partly because of her singing prowess, but it’s also partly because of the media machine that’s propping her up. Neither an internal nor an external locus of control can account for the entirety of her current situation.