The concept of locus of control is huge and defines how you approach almost everything in life.  It is a thinking style that refers to how you perceive the cause of life’s events. Do you believe that your destiny is controlled by you or by external forces such as luck, chance or fate? Locus of control is very closely tied to depression and hopelessness. Research studies in these areas have long exhibited a direct correlation between mood and these thinking patterns.

There are thought to be two types of locus of control:

  1. Internal Locus of control- This is the belief that our outcomes are contingent on what we do to make them happen- our own decisions and efforts. We tend to accept responsibility as well as credit for our actions. This orientation has been shown to generate more effort and willingness to take risk as well as be behind high motivation and perseverance. If good things happen, you believe you deserve credit for your hard work or abilities, if something bad happens, you believe it is due to something you did wrong or could have done better.
  2. External Locus of Control-This is the belief that your outcomes are contingent on events outside your control- luck, chance or fate. When bad things happen or you behave in a poor fashion you may tend not to take ownership of it.  “The government was late with my check, it wasn’t my fault I needed money and had to rob the 7-11”.

On the flip side, if something good happens or you are successful at something you may take no ownership of that either i.e., if you get a job you wanted you assume there were no other candidates or the employer was in a hurry to hire someone.

In general it is considered to be more psychologically healthy to possess a certain level of internal locus of control. Luckily locus of control is largely a learned concept and can be learned no matter where you are in life or what age you are.

In general people with a more internal locus of control tend to have better paying jobs, be more achievement oriented and more resilient in the face of adversity.

Perhaps you have been told by someone that you have no ability or are no good and worthless, chances are you then did not develop internal locus of control. You felt if something good happened it must be due to luck as you have no ability or innate worth. Not only parents are guilty of this message to young people but sometimes teachers and counselors as well.Toxic environments and dysfunctional families tend to teach external causes for things.

It is actually healthy to have a bit of both thinking styles in your repertoire. If you fail and then tell yourself you are totally a loser when perhaps there were some extenuating circumstances then you are likely not to try again. If you are able to say, I did my best but it was hard due to lack of knowledge, or just some specific circumstance like weather, you are more likely to believe you will experience success again in the future.


This article was written by Dr. Sherman and originally appeared on PsychCentral.com

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