Are You In Charge of Your Life?

How do you attribute success?  Do you put your success down to things that you have control over or down to forces outside of your influence, like luck or fate?

In my last blog I looked at the topic of choice – how we always have a choice in life, it may not be an easy choice but a choice we do have.  So I thought I’d continue the theme in this months blog too, but look at how we attribute success and failure.

Do you believe that success and failure are a product of things within your control or are they determined by ‘fate’ or ‘luck’, and independent of the work you put into it or the decisions you make? This way of looking at how much control we believe we have over events that influence our lives is referred to as our ‘locus of control’.

What is Locus of Control?

The principle behind an individuals ‘locus of control’ was developed by Julian Rotter back in 1954 and it refers to our belief of how much control we have over our lives and the events affecting us.  An individuals ‘locus’, which is latin for ‘place’ or ‘location’, is conceptualised as:

Internal: meaning control lies within us and we control our life.


External: meaning control lies outside of us.

Internal Locus of Control (ILOC)

Man holding life word in palm

Those with a strong internal locus of control believe they have control over what happens.  So if you believe that your future lies in your hands and the choices you make lead you to success or failure, and that fate and destiny have nothing to do with it (or even if they exist at all). Then your locus of control would be described as internal.

Rotter (1990) describes internal locus of control as:

‘the degree to which persons expect that a reinforcement or an outcome of their behavior is contingent on their own behavior or personal characteristics’

People with an Internal locus of control tend to be:

  • influenced less by the opinions of others.
  • engage in activities that improve their situation.
  • take responsibility for their actions.
  • tend to have a stronger sense of self-efficacy.
  • when allowed to work at their own pace, they often do better at tasks.
  • work hard to get and achieve the things they want.
  • inquisitive, and try and work out why things turned out the way they did.
  • feel confident when faced with a challenge.
  • often achieve greater success in the workplace.
  • have a tendency to be physically healthier.
  • report being more independent and happier.

External Locus of Control (ELOC)

Those with a strong external locus of control believe they have no control over what happens, that what happens to them is down to external factors like luck or fate.

Rotter (1990) describes external locus of control as:

‘the degree to which persons expect that the reinforcement or outcome is a function of chance, luck, or fate, is under the control of powerful others, or is simply unpredictable.’  

 Those with more of external locus of control tend to:

  • blame their circumstance on outside forces.
  • believe any successes are down to luck or chance.
  • regularly feel powerless or hopeless when faced with difficult situations.
  • don’t believe their situation can be changed through their own efforts.
  • are more likely to experience learned helplessness.

Do you have an Internal or External Locus of Control?

What do you think you have? Are you more ELOC or ILOC? Do you believe that success and failure, or your life, is down to fate or luck (ELOC).  Or do you believe you make your own luck in this world?  That you influence what happens to you and that luck and fate have nothing to do with it (ILOC).

Its worth remembering that ‘Locus of Control’ is a scale.  No one has 100% internal or external locus of control.  We all lie on the scale somewhere between the two extremes.  Some people can even change depending on their environment for example, being more ILOC at work but ELOC at home.  So sometimes it’s not as simple as being more one than the other.  As creatures go, we are quite complex.

So What Does All This Mean?

In general, experts have found those with a more internal locus of control, tend to be better off and more successful.  There are many benefits of having an internal locus of control and it’s not surprising that those in ILOC on the whole are more successful.   But, having a strong internal locus of control isn’t always a good thing, for example, in situations where people need to be considerate and more easy going.  ILOC people tend to be very achievement orientated and it can leave the people around them feeling a bit ‘bruised’ or ‘trampled’.  So in these circumstances, those with a strong external locus of control would benefit from paying a little more attention to the feelings of those around you, if you don’t, you could come across as arrogant.  It’s worth mentioning to those with a strong ILOC, to mange risk properly, random events do occur and no matter how much effort and determination you put in, some things are beyond our control.

Would You Like to be More ILOC?

If you would like to be more ILOC, then you can – it’s simply a matter of choice.  Your locus of control is a belief, a perception of where control lies, and like all beliefs, it’s a choice you make.  Which is a choice in itself!

So the first tip to developing a more internal locus of control is simple choose to be.  In any given situation, ask yourself, “am I in ELOC or ILOC?”.  Work on developing your decision making and problem solving skills by realising you have a choice.  Set goals for yourself and through accomplishing and working towards these goals, you will discover just how much control you have over your own life and that it is YOUR life, which is in YOUR hands.

The final tip I’m going to give you is this – Language!  I hear a lot of my clients say “I have to” or “I need to” or “I don’t have a choice”  So I’m going to share with you what I say to them.  I ask them to keep an eye on there language and if they hear themselves saying those things, I ask them to repeat it using the words “I choose..”.  By doing this it reminds them they do have a choice and they are in control.  My previous blog was about choice and how empowering it can be, so I wont go into that now.  Have a read! See what you think if you haven’t already read it.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Carl Gustav Jung because it jumped out at me when I saw it and thought I’d share it with you.


Carl Gustav Jung