When you are dealing with a challenge in your life, do you feel that you have control over the outcome? Or do you believe that you are simply at the hands of outside forces? If you believe that you have control over what happens, then you have what psychologists refer to as an internal locus of control. If you believe that you have no control over what happens and that external variables are to blame, then you have what is known as an external locus of control.

What Is this Locus of Control? “A locus of control orientation is a belief about whether the outcomes of our actions are contingent on what we do (internal control orientation) or on events outside our personal control | external control orientation

In 1954, psychologist Julian Rotter suggested that our behaviour was controlled by rewards and punishments and that it was these consequences for our actions that determined our beliefs about the underlying causes of these actions. Our beliefs about what causes our actions then influence our behaviours and attitudes.

It is also important to note that locus of control is a continuum. No one has a 100 percent external or internal locus of control. Instead, most people lie somewhere on the continuum between the two extremes.

Those with an internal locus of control:

  • Are more likely to take responsibility for their actions
  • Tend to be less influenced by the opinions of other people
  • Often do better at tasks when they are allowed to work at their own pace
  • Usually have a strong sense of self-efficacy
  • Tend to work hard to achieve the things they want
  • Feel confident in the face of challenges
  • Tend to be physically healthier
  • Report being happier and more independent
  • Often achieve greater success in the workplace

Those with an external locus of control:

  • Blame outside forces for their circumstances
  • Often credit luck or chance for any successes
  • Don’t believe that they can change their situation through their own efforts
  • Frequently feel hopeless or powerless in the face of difficult situations
  • Are more prone to experiencing learned helplessness

Internal locus of control is often used synonymously with “self-determination” and “personal agency.” Research has suggested that men tend to have a higher internal locus of control than women and that locus of control tends to become more internal as people grow older. Experts have found that, in general, people with an internal locus of control tend to be better off.

However, it is also important to remember that internal does not always equal “good” and external does not always equal “bad.” In some situations, an external locus of control can actually be a good thing, particularly if a person’s level of competence in a particular area is not very strong.

Do You Have an External or Internal Locus of Control?

Where does your locus of control fall on the continuum? Read through the statements below and select the set that best describes your outlook on life:

Point of view 1

  • I often feel that I have little control over my life and what happens to me.
  • People rarely get what they deserve.
  • It isn’t worth setting goals or making plans because too many things can happen that are outside of my control.
  • Life is a game of chance.
  • Individuals have little influence over the events of the world.

If the statements above best reflect your view on life, then you probably tend to have an external locus of control.

Point of view 2

  • If you work hard and commit yourself to a goal, you can achieve anything.
  • There is no such thing as fate or destiny.
  • If you study hard and are well-prepared, you can do well on exams.
  • Luck has little to do with success; it’s mostly a matter of dedication and effort.
  • In the long run, people tend to get what they deserve in life.

If the statements above best reflect your outlook on life, then you most likely have an internal locus of control.

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