Internal Locus of Control (and Why It’s Important to Success)

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Table of Contents

Do you believe that your life and experiences are determined by fate?

Or do you believe that you have control of your life and the results you get out of it?

The answer to these questions can determine your “locus of control.”

Locus of control is the belief system an individual has on what causes the experiences and events in their lives.

There are two types (internal and external) and having one or the other can have a major impact on your career and fulfillment in life.

What is Internal Locus of Control?

Someone who has an internal locus of control believes that the events they experience in life are attributable to their own actions. 

They believe that they have control over their destiny.

Both successes and failures can be pinpointed to something the individual did.

When life throws obstacles at a person with an internal locus of control, they believe they can find a way to overcome them on their own.

External Locus of Control

The counterpart to internal locus of control is external locus of control. 

Individuals with an external locus of control believe that external forces cause the events in their lives.

They believe the things that happen to them are attributable to external factors they have no control over. These people often feel helpless and blame things on other individuals and occurrences.

Examples of Internal vs External Locus of Control

Internal

Those who have an internal locus of control exhibit certain traits. They…

  • Believe they can control the outcomes of their life
  • Often end up more well off in life
  • Are motivated to try new things and learn
  • Reflect on what they did in order for the event they are experiencing to happen
  • Reflect on what they could have done differently
  • Achieve greater success in their careers
  • Are not influenced by the opinions of others
  • Take responsibility for their actions
  • Tend to have stronger mental health
  • Are comfortable with discomfort and challenges
  • Have a strong sense of self-efficacy
  • Get back up when life knocks them down

It’s important to note that having a strong internal locus of control isn’t all sunshine. Because these individuals have such a strong belief that their actions lead to the results they are witnessing, they have the tendency to be too hard on themselves.

They might dwell on a situation and what they could have done differently, when in reality, external factors they didn’t have control over actually lead to the event.

A flat tire caused by a nail in the road that leads to you missing an important meeting is out of anyone’s control. Beating yourself up because of that is irrational. There was nothing you could have done to prevent that situation.

External

Those with an external locus of control…

  • Attribute success and failure to luck or fate
  • Put blame on outside forces for their circumstances
  • Feel like they have no control and are helpless in situations
  • Are more likely to be anxious because of this lack of control
  • Take what life has given them
  • Wait for opportunities to come to them
  • Aren’t motivated to solve their own problems because they don’t believe they can

Just as having an internal locus of control isn’t all sunshine, having an external locus of control isn’t all gloom.

Individuals with an external locus control are great at letting go of the stresses in their lives. Since they believe it is caused by something else, they won’t stress about it.

While stressing less about things in life can be beneficial, this can still be detrimental to one’s life if the thing they are brushing off will have a substantial impact on their life.

What Causes You to Have One or the Other?

Like anything else psychological, the causes of your locus of control to lean one way or the other can stem from a variety of factors.

These factors can include your family upbringing, culture, traumatic experiences, socioeconomic status, gender, and other things.

Let’s use your upbringing and environment as examples to show how they could have affected you.

Upbringing

If you grew up with parents who had an internal locus of control, you could have picked it up from them by witnessing behaviors and how they reacted to situations.

  • Did they reassure you that you could be anything you wanted to be?
  • Did they blame things that happened to the family on external factors or did they take responsibility for their own actions?
  • When you came home and told them you got an A on a tough exam, did they say “Oh, you must have gotten lucky!” or did they say “Great job! That’s what happens when you study hard!”

Little events like this over the course of your childhood are picked up consciously and probably even more so unconsciously. 

If this leads to you having an internal locus of control, that’s great. However, if your upbringing leads to you developing an external locus control, you can find yourself fighting an uphill battle to change.

The tough thing about attributing it to your upbringing is that your belief system was developed over your entire life. Your beliefs and how you react to your circumstances have become so ingrained in your head that it is tough the change the way you think.

Yes, this creates a major obstacle in acquiring an internal locus of control, but it is not a final sentencing. Through awareness, action, and patience, you can change your beliefs. We’ll go through some tips on how you can do this later in the post.

Environment

The environment you are exposed to also has an effect on how you look at the world. If your close circle of friends is comprised of individuals that exhibit an external locus of control, it is likely that you will too.

Thinking otherwise would hurt your chances of fitting in and relating with the group.

If you surround yourself with people who have an internal locus of control, you’ll likely develop one yourself. The saying of “You are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with” holds true from what I’ve experienced. Knowing this, you can seek out individuals that embody the belief system you want.

In your work life, you could be employed by a company with a “can-do” attitude. Management at the company focuses on instilling confidence within their employees and often remind them of their importance to the company. 

They say, “Without you all, the business wouldn’t be here today. Because of the work of every individual, the company is able to succeed as a whole.”

When you are in an environment like this, you feel like your contributions are actually making an impact. This leads to you building resilience and a willingness to improve your knowledge and skills. You feel like you are in control of what will result from your work and input.

The thought of “It doesn’t matter what I do because the business will go on anyways” never crosses your mind.

Importance of Having an Internal Locus of Control for Your Life and Career

Having an internal locus control can be a key factor in your success and overall happiness in your career and life.

Believing that you can control your outcomes will give you the motivation and resilience to overcome anything that life throws at you.

You’ll also have a firm belief that you can do anything you set your mind to. That mind sound cheesy reading it, but the cliche is true for those with an internal locus of control.

They believe nothing is unattainable and think that the sky’s the limit. Even if they have ambitious goals and fail, they will probably still achieve a high level of success. In addition, if they fail, they will reflect on what they could do differently and try again.

This belief and behavior will be essential in your career. You won’t get every job offer or every promotion. If you tell yourself “Oh well, why bother trying again. There’s nothing I can do,” then you are severely limiting yourself from growth.

On the other hand, if you have an internal locus of control, you’ll tell yourself, “Okay, I didn’t get it this time and that could be because I’m not good enough yet, but I know I CAN become good enough through my own work and actions for the next time.”

The self-determination and ability to get back up when life knocks you down will benefit all areas of your life.

Your mental health and happiness will be better off as well. When you believe in the possibility of changing your current situation, you’ll take the required action to do so.

A Personal Story

The idea of internal locus of control was first presented to me early into my college career and I’m glad it did at that time. It changed the way I looked at things and lit a fire up underneath me because my beliefs shifted into me being able to take matters into my own hand.

Whenever I had a failure, I took responsibility for it and changed the way I did things to achieve a different outcome the next time. The belief that I could drove me to countless iterative changes and reflections in all aspects in my life.

I didn’t always have an internal locus of control. Before, I believed that external factors created a certain fate for me. For example, I grew up and went to public schools in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada consistently ranks at the very low end of the nation for education.

When I arrived at the University of Utah, I noticed that my peers seemed a lot smarter and sharper than I was. I blamed my lack of competence on the fact that I didn’t receive the highest quality education. This was an external force that I was attributing to my abilities.

Once I learned about “locus of control,” it opened my eyes to the fact that I could change my situation. I no longer believed that I was destined to be behind my peers. I believed that I had the ability to learn whatever needed to be learned and that it was up to me to do so.

I worked to catch up to everyone and saw progression. That progression was all the evidence I needed to confirm that I did have control over my knowledge. I carry an internal locus of control to this day.

I believe it has gotten me to where I am today and will get me to where I plan on being in the future.

Tips to Develop an Internal Locus of Control

1. Change your mindset, self talk, and the story you tell yourself.

2. Focus on what you can control in life.

3. Be aware of your habits and build good systems.

4. Internalize the successes and failures that occur in your life and reflect on what actions you took that lead to them.

5. Change your environment and expose yourself to those who have an internal locus of control.

6. View challenges and obstacles in a positive way. Think of it as life testing you and your ability to overcome what it throws at you.

7. Understand that you DO have a choice to change your circumstance.

8. Turn criticism and rejection into motivating lessons for growth.

9. Seek support from family, friends, and mentors for advice and inspiration.

10. Fake it til you make it. If you are consistently faking and thinking in a certain way, it will eventually become natural.

11. Be patient. Changes to something like your locus of control can take time since your current belief system is so ingrained in your head.

Summary

Locus of control is the belief system someone has for the causes of the events and circumstances in one’s life.

This can be an internal locus of control or an external locus of control.

Having one or the other can change your outlook and the outcomes you receive in life and in your career. If you are someone who currently has an external locus of control, understand that you CAN change that with a shift in mindset and patience.

Overcoming something as ingrained as your belief system won’t be easy, but it isn’t impossible. I shared proof through my own personal story and I believe anyone is capable of changing their beliefs.

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Author: Brandon Hill

Brandon is the creator of Bizness Professionals and author behind each post. He is currently a working professional, primarily in finance, and looks to provide resources to aspiring or current young professionals for well-rounded professional and personal development. Find out more on the About page.

There may be affiliate links on this page, which means I may receive a small commission for any purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Products that are linked are ones I highly recommend and have used/tested myself.

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