Mindset Matters: Locus of Control

Welcome to another Mindset Matters post! This is three of four. Check out my first post here.

There is one thing we have all been guilty of doing.

We’ve focused on things that are out of our control and forget what we do have control over.

Hi. It’s me. I’m “we”.

For a long time, I spent a lot of energy fixating on things that were out of my control and that made it hard for people to be around me. Nothing was ever my fault and I didn’t take accountability for anything.

Several years ago, I got into some legal trouble that led to me getting arrested and going on probation for a couple of months. When I went to see my probation officer, I had to sign a check in form. At the top of the form it said in bold letters “You are the reason why you are here”.

That was an “ah-ha” moment for me. It took that one run in with the law for me to finally realize I was the one responsible for my actions and why I was there. I blamed literally everyone else until that point. I also realized how miserable of a person I was.

In order to create a mindset that leads to positive well-being and a happier life, it is important that we differentiate between what is in our control and what isn’t and what that means for us. Fortunately, a psychologist named Julian Rotter took the initiative to look into this concept and developed the “Locus of Control” in the 1950’s.

Locus of Control refers to our own perception about the underlying main causes of events in our own life. There are two types of control that are on a continuum: Internal Locus of Control and External Locus of Control.


An Internal Locus of Control is a perception that you have control over what happens. It is the belief that your personal decisions and efforts guides your behavior and consequences . External Locus of Control is the perception that you have no control over what happens to you and that external variables. Those variables could be fate, luck, or something else.

It is important to remember that there is no “good” or “bad” for either style of control. Both serve a purpose. Fortunately, most of us are somewhere in the middle. As we get older, we tend to move toward Internal Locus of Control.

Here is an example:

You get promoted at work. If you have an Internal Locus of Control, you will believe that your hard work is why you were promoted. If you have an External Locus of Control, you may consider your promotion as a result of luck or chance like the person who was in the role quit.

Here are some characteristics of both:

You would look at that image and think “Obviously an Internal Locus of Control is better!” In many ways, it is. Research also supports that idea. You have agency in your life and self-determination. That is empowering and allows you to take control of aspects of your life. This contributes to positive mental health and well-being outcomes.

However, too much of anything is never good. Trying to control everything is also stressful. Too much Internal Locus of Control can lead to shame or guilt. There are times when it is beneficial and/or appropriate to leverage External Locus of Control because shit happens and it is worth acknowledging that instead of trying to find responsibility for it.

Overusing External Locus of Control leads to avoiding accountability and giving away your power over situations and people. “Things happen for a reason” is a prime example of abusing External Locus of Control. It’s not “fate”.

Things don’t happen for a reason. They happen because of a reason. Actions have consequences and a series of past decisions lead to the cause of current situations.

Choosing an effective mindset means focusing on what you can control and letting go of what is not in your control. Only then can you really identity your power (ability to influence the outcome of something).

Check in with yourself and take this Locus of Control assessment to see where you fall on the continuum.

We get to choose how we experience life.

Mindset Matters series:

  1. Growth versus Fixed Mindset
  2. Positivity
  3. Locus of Control (you are here!)
  4. Storytelling and Emotions


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