Ever heard the term “locus of control”? If you have, maybe you’re not quite sure what it means, or how it plays into the importance of our ability to maintain a healthy and happy life.
The term “locus of control” was first coined by Julian Rotter, an American psychologist (locus is the latin word for “place” or “location”). He developed this influential concept in describing how we see our ability to control what’s going on around us. “How” is the key word. How you feel about your circumstances, whether personal or business, will dictate whether you view the event as a challenge or a threat.
As a Threat (Yes, it’s negative.)
If you feel trapped by your current circumstances then, according to Rotter, your locus of control is externalized: meaning you feel you have no control or influence to change your current circumstances because you feel they are the influence and product of your environment. People who externalize control of their life have feelings of “what’s the use” and “it’s just fate”.
This is a threat to our self-esteem and overall sense of well-being! When control is externalized, it’s easy to feel helpless and to blame others and point the finger at everyone but yourself. You tend to be a negative person and when bad things happen, you have a feeling of hopelessness about changing the outcome and give up more easily when setbacks occur.
As a Challenge (Yes, it’s positive!)
When you feel you have control over your life events and circumstances, then your locus of control is internalized. Ones who internalize control of their life feel like “I’m in control of my destiny” and “my success or failure in life depends on me”. It can be a challenging way of life, but in a good way because YOU are solving problems, creating solutions, being persistent, and affecting the outcome.
When control is internalized, you don’t blame others for the outcome… you blame yourself. In this case, blaming yourself is not a negative but a positive in the sense that you know you made the mistake (if that’s the case), so you can fix it. When control is internalized, you give yourself credit for your successes and failures rather than giving credit to others for these efforts regardless of their outcome.
How Our View Affects Our Health
Most of us aren’t even aware of our general locus of control, but yet we know how our feelings of helplessness, or feelings of control, color our day-to-day and level of happiness. Rotter believed that we don’t fall totally into one locus or the other. I personally think it’s worthwhile to find out where you fall on the locus scale. And more importantly, if you lean more on the side of externalizing: how can you tip the scale in favor of internalizing? This is the question we each need to answer. Hmmmm… I see a Part 2 in the future!
If you’re curious as to where you might currently fit in your own locus of control, you can try a quiz on mindtools.com.
A Penn State study that tracked patient’s health for over 10 years is particularly interesting when exploring how our view affects our health and the findings were fascinating.
“This study revealed that participants who became upset by daily stressors and dwelled on them were more likely to suffer from chronic health problems—from pain to cardiovascular issues—10 years later.” – Penn State Study
Additionally, a British study concluded that “Having a stronger sense of control over one’s own life in childhood seems to be a protective factor for some aspects of health in adult life.”
So is there a strong possibility that for those of us that “externalize” our control, by giving this control to others, we are asking for the possibility of future health problems by continually feeling helpless and hopeless?
Since stress level, happiness and well-being seem to be directly impacted by how we view our world, we need to make it our goal to lean more toward feeling in control of events and circumstances. Internalizing seems to be an important and positive contributing factor in decreasing our level of stress and increasing our level of well-being.