How you influence your health positively has a lot to do with how you use your personal power. And by personal power, I mean knowing your ‘locus of control’. Not that you are lording power over others so they are ‘less than’ or ‘lower than’ you.

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 Rotter (1966) said, your ‘locus of control’ is internal.

When your locus of control is mainly 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. 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.

The picture shows a cloud of stress resting on someone's shoulder. When the stress you experience is due to an external locus of control, that can make it hard for you to influence your health positively.

Sometimes stress can feel like a heavy thundercloud resting on your shoulders.

You don’t influence your health positively when an external locus of control masquerades as internal

There are times when we you are doing things, 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. We all get into this place from time to time.

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.

The picture shows a person wearing a cloak of internal locus of control and they are thinking, 'They'll see that I can make them happy!' This is when an external locus of control is in costume, masquerading as an internal locus of control.

External locus of control dons its internal locus of control costume. But this is the control fallacy in action. B Babcock 2015

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. You have a real caring side to 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 that is driving your behaviour and determine if it is still useful to you or not.

It can be harder to influence your health positively when your 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 locus of control. This happens when there is very little or no openness to others’ views, ideas or feedback, fault is found with them or the reasons why they do not apply and are quickly dismissed.

This picture shows a person knocking on a door wanting to speak to the person on the other side. She is saying, 'Hey, it's me! There's some feedback on how you did.' The person on the other side of the door is staying not facing it and is saying, 'No thanks. I know how I did.' They are also thinking, 'I know what's best for me.' The point here is that when your internal locus of control is very internal, i.e. you know everything and don't consider anything from anyone else. This can mean you don't influence your health positively or as positively as you could.

What a very internal locus of control can look like.

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 influence your health positively.

You have the power to influence your health positively

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’s 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.

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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This blog 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.

© 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).

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