This is the fourth blog in a series which focuses on the subtle psychological processes involved in taking control of yourself, your health and wellness, and your life. You can read the previous three blogs on the illusion of control regarding our bodies, what to do when life starts feeling like a vicious circle, and using your power well to manage your health and wellness.
As this blog continues on the theme of using your personal power well to manage your health and wellness, which was introduced in the last blog, I’ll do a quick recap.
When you are using your personal power well, you know your needs and are taking action to get them met. You are in control, or as our friend Rotter (1966) said, your ‘locus of control’ is internal. (By ‘personal power’, I do not mean you are lording power over others, being powerful over them so they are ‘less than’ or ‘lower than’ you.)
When your locus of control is external, events and situations happen to you, others have the control and determine how you feel, or everything rests with fate, luck or chance. In these cases, you often feel a sense of having no control, and you may hear yourself saying ‘why me’, ‘if only they would’, ‘nothing changes, etc. A cloud of stress seems to follow you around wherever you go. Not a fun place to be.
The language we use when talking to ourselves often signals to us where our locus of control is at any given point in time.
External locus of control likes to masquerade as internal
But there are times when we you are doing things, sometimes for others, sometimes for yourself, you feel are doing the right thing, and are even achieving good things. You feel more or less in control. Yet you feel tired, even worn out, and possibly under appreciated. Again, this is normal and all part of the learning process.
What could be going on is the external locus of control has put on a costume and is masquerading as an internal locus of control.
Here’s an example which I’ve come across many times in coaching. Maybe you’re a mother with children to look after. Or you look after people regularly because that is you being you. The children or other people aren’t happy with something, you see how you can help, offer the help, it is accepted, and you help them. When all is said and done, the children or other people are still not happy, or they keep coming back for more help. You feel you have done all you can within your control and are tired of others never being happy no matter how much you try to help. But there is something you can do.
Check out your beliefs
What can be an underlying motivator is a belief that other people’s happiness depends on us and what we do for them. In psychological terms, this is known as a ‘control fallacy’, and this concept comes from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Peltier, pg. 124, 2010). We believe that we are in control of other people’s happiness and so we do things for them to ensure they are happy, which in turn helps to ensure our happiness.
So when you feel you are taking control, but do not feel good about the situation, check what beliefs you may be holding by asking yourself: I believe that if I do/say this, the benefit to me will be…? What am I assuming about me in this situation? What am I assuming about others? Am I actually helping this person, doing XYZ to make them happy so I can be happy?
You can then uncover the belief fueling your behaviour and determine if it is still useful to you or not.
When internal locus of control is very internal
Like you can have too much of an external locus of control, you can also have the case of too much internal. This happens when there is very little or no openness to others’ views, ideas or feedback, fault is found with them or reasons why they do not apply and are quickly dismissed.
As with so much in life, it’s about maintaining a balance. Knowing your needs and taking action to get them met is demonstrative of an internal locus of control. Balancing it with an openness to considering others’™ thoughts and feedback and a willingness to ask for help when you need it, can help you get further than doing it all yourself.
You have the power
Your locus of control can differ based on the context you are in. In some areas of your life you may take control readily, in others you may not and give away your personal power. When you give away your power, it can be due to not knowing how to hang on to it because you haven’t had the experience before. In these cases, look at where you do stand in your power and take control, dissect in detail how you do that, and migrate the learning to the new area of your life where you wish to take control.
What is it like for you?
Do you suspect an external locus of control may sometimes masquerade as an internal locus of control in your life? In which areas of your life have you successfully taken control, got a great outcome and migrated that learning to another part of your life? Feel free to share your experiences below by leaving a comment.
P.S. Pass it on
If you like what you’ve read, follow my blog and share this post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or email using the icons below. In the next blog, I will continue sharing my expertise around taking control so you can live more easily with the impact of a serious illness, injury or long-term condition (whether you are the one affected or are the carer). Look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2015
Peltier, B. (2010) The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application, 2nd edition. New York, NY, USA: Routledge.
Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80 (Whole No. 609).