Do you think that the events in your life — getting hired or getting fired, falling in or out of love, moving from one city to another — are due to your actions or some outside power?
How you answer predicts your job satisfaction, stress levels, and how high up you’re likely to climb in an organisation.
Psychologists call it your locus of control. Here’s Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s take:
A locus of control orientation is a belief about whether the outcomes of our actions are contingent on what we do (internal control orientation) or on events outside our personal control (external control orientation).
Essentially, where you believe the locus (Latin for “place”) of control lies in your life says a lot about how much agency you think you have.
If you have a very external locus of control, you think that a deity or deities, fate, karma, randomness, or some other power determines what’s going to happen. If you have a super internal locus of control, then you think that your fate is in your hands — in other words, you’re a go-getter.
This proactive orientation has its benefits.
Research has found that folks with an internal locus of control:
But when taken to the extreme, the internal orientation can become a problem. Australian psychologist James T. Neill outlines the dangers:
Internals can be psychologically unhealthy and unstable. An internal orientation usually needs to be matched by competence, self-efficacy and opportunity so that the person is able to successfully experience the sense of personal control and responsibility. Overly internal people who lack competence, efficacy and opportunity can become neurotic, anxious and depressed. In other words, internals need to have a realistic sense of their circle of influence in order to experience “success.”
But if the internal locus doesn’t get too out of control, the go-getter is good to go.
The jury is out regarding where the locus of control orientation comes from, be it nature or nurture. The research indicates that it’s probably not as stable as other personality traits like introversion or extroversion and can change based on your experiences.
The good news is, it’s possible to learn that you have agency in your life — one meta-analysis showed that going on adventures is a great way to get that education in self-efficacy.
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