In my recent reading (The Seduction of Victor H. by M.J. Rose), one character asked another, “Do you understand how you got this point in your life?”
The question embedded in the dialog caught my attention as one worth considering beyond the pages of the novel because the answer we each come up with is very important to how we view our lives and our decisions, as well as our attitude towards our past, present, and future circumstances. Articulating the “how” for oneself beyond a simple yes or no answer is essential for any learning that will come from considering this question.
You need not articulate the particulars of “how” but rather look for patterns in your perspective on the events in your life. Generally speaking, do you go with the flow or do you create the flow? Are your circumstances accidental, determined by fate and things that have happened to you or are they intentional, determined by the choices you made or didn’t make? Are you reactive or proactive? It’s the patterns rather than specifics that matter because they help us learn our locus of control, that is, the extent to which we believe we have control over our lives.
Broadly speaking, you’ll either believe your own choices and behaviors, your skills, knowledge, understanding, and hard work got you to where you are (referred to as an internal locus of control) or you’ll believe events controlled by genetics, environment, chance, or fate happened to you that were beyond your choices, intelligence, and actions (referred to as an external locus of control).
One locus is not good or bad, better or worse than the other. Each has benefits and pitfalls. For example, someone with an internal locus of control may have a strong sense of self-motivation (benefit) but may also try to control too much, become short-sighted, and become overly negative or hard on themselves if they don’t succeed (pitfall). Conversely, someone with a strong external locus of control may have a calm, big picture perspective (benefit) but may also try to play the victim card and avoid responsibility for themselves and their lives (pitfall).
Never heard of or thought about locus of control? Read a little bit more about the topic here, then take this short assessment to determine where you fall along the continuum. This assessment will give you a number from 1-13 when you “check your score”. A low(er) number indicates an internal locus of control; a high(er) number indicates an external locus of control. This second assessment addresses locus of control and attribution style, which pertains to the forces we hold responsible for our successes and failures.
Most of us will end up somewhere along the continuum between the two extremes, believing that to some extent we control our lives while also recognizing that fate, chance, luck, and circumstance play a role as well. But just like with a thinking dominance, most likely we are pulled towards one perspective over another. This pull operates systemically and has consequences and impact on our lives, our relationships, and our sense of self-efficacy in ways that may or may not be beneficial and productive. It’s up to you to explore and understand your locus of control and its impact and to make any desired changes in your approach to your life.
Have fun and keep learning.
Image credit here, professormikey.blogspot.com.