Locus of control is a concept which describes to what extent we consider ourselves accountable for outcomes in our lives.
People with internal locus of control believe that they have the ability to control the outcomes in their lives to a large extent.
People with external locus of control believe that someone/ something outside themselves is collectively responsible for outcomes, that they also participate in contributing.
A prima facie look at the concept makes us think that internal locus of control is always preferable because it lets us take charge :-) When we dig deeper, both perspectives can serve us based on context.
An internal locus of control keeps us on our feet, prevents us from giving excuses and helps us to do everything we can to move towards a desired outcome. The drawback with this would be excessive stress due to the ‘need’ to control everything and clinging to the idea of ‘perfectionism’.
An external locus of control helps us to be less critical of ourselves, move with the flow and be more accepting of ourselves and situations. This de-stresses and puts us in a state where we have the ability to handle what turns up. The drawback of this would be ‘making excuses’ for not finishing what one has to.
My clients come in both these colours.
The ones with internal locus of control, most often finish their actions that they take up every session. They are focussed on their outcomes. They are go-getters and achievers.
During the coaching session, they discover that they can be less hard on themselves (self-compassion) and still achieve what they want. This helps them de-stress and relax. This state helps them find better solutions to get themselves closer to their goals.
The ones with external locus of control think they are part of a whole bunch of things that needs to click for reaching outcomes. They are ok being contributors but don’t think they have complete control.
During the coaching session, they learn to be more accountable of actions within their control and influence. Progressively they give less excuses in the followup sessions. This shift helps them feel more focussed and prepared to do their part. It also helps them plan better from their side and feel a lot more in control instead of having ‘I have lost it’ feeling.
So when can internal and external locus of control be useful to us to get results?
When you are really looking to achieve something, adopting an internal locus of control will help you feel more prepared. Goals setting, actions and follow-through can definitely help you get into the zone.
When you have done everything in your agency (without getting over-stressed), adopting an external locus of control will make you feel less self-critical and more self-compassionate.
In both cases, be what Stephen Covey in his book ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ called ‘Proactive’.
In the below figure,
Circle of concern represents all things that you care about (including your outcomes, issues etc).
Circle of Influence includes the things that you can do to influence the outcomes that you want.
Circle of Control includes the things that you can absolutely control and are at your agency.
Being proactive is to look at what you can do to enlarge the circle of influence. After doing all that you can, let go of the stress to control the outcome.
This will keep you in a state where you can respond and not react to what comes. From that state emerges a space between stimulus and response. And as Viktor Frankl said, in that space lies our growth and freedom.