Who’s in control of your life?

What determines whether you achieve your goals or not? Do you even have goals?

There are many questions you could ask, or be asked, in regard to your outlook of life. Your outlook of life determines a lot. It determines what you do and what you don’t do; what you say and what you don’t say.

It also determines your attitude towards people, situations and life itself.

One psychologist, Julian B. Rotter, sought to understand how people viewed life and the influences around it.

After conducting research, he concluded that people’s successes, failures and overall life experiences, are largely affected by their belief of who or what controls life.

It is from this realization that the locus of control became a psychological concept.

The term “locus” is a Latin word meaning location or place. Thus, locus of control is basically the location or place where your life is controlled from.

Just to be sure, it doesn’t mean that you are a robot. What this means is that there are forces which act upon your life and cause it to end up the way it does.

Where you believe the control of your life comes from determines your responses to your life experiences. It also influences your motivation to act accordingly.

The type of action you will take and to what degree, will be determined by your locus of control.

In the world of psychology, your locus of control is seen as a personality trait. It is believed to be shaped by your childhood experiences and general upbringing.


There are two types of locus of control. There is the internal and external locus of control.

These were labeled as such because of the factors which were identified as influences over people’s lives.

With the person being the point of reference, the locus of control is therefore either within, i.e. internal, or without, i.e. external.

Here’s a look at these two in more detail.

Internal Locus of Control

If you have an internal locus of control, then you believe that you’re largely in control of your life. You believe that most, if not all, of your life’s experiences are within your control.

This applies especially in the successes or failures you experience. With your belief that you have control over your life experiences, you interpret success and failure through the lens of your efforts.

If you succeed, it’s because of your efforts and abilities. If you fail, it’s because you didn’t do enough.

If you have an internal locus of control, you are the self-motivated type. You rarely need any external force to push you to do anything. You take full responsibility for your life.

You just need to realize that you need to do something. As long as you know what you’ll get from your efforts and you like it, you’ll do it to completion.

Whether the task is easy or not is not really an issue for you. If you need to learn a new skill, you will do it. If you need to work extra hard, you will do it.

Whatever the case, as long as you want it and know you can achieve it, you’ll go for it.

As someone with an internal locus of control, you have probably been labeled a go-getter. You might also have been said to be a person who keeps your word. You take the initiative, take responsibility and get things done. All in all, you’re very achievement-oriented.

Below are some statements which typically form part of your communication:

  • I can do it
  • I can achieve this if I learn the necessary skills
  • There must be a way out of this situation
  • I will sacrifice some sleep and finish this tonight

External Locus of Control

The external locus of control is just the opposite of the internal locus of control.

If you have an external locus of control, you normally consider your life experiences as being out of your control. External factors are the ones which affect the outcome of your life.

If you’re successful, it’s probably due to good luck. If you fail at something, it was decided by fate. If the whole of your life turns out negative, you were destined for just that.

Whatever happens, you are not in control of anything.

But is success determined by luck?

You probably have already felt the negativity in the above description.

That is the nature of the life of anyone who has an external locus of control.

Although not everything about it is bad, to a large extent, things don’t turn out very well for those with an external locus of control.

If this is you, then you know that you struggle achieving success.

Not necessarily because you have no desire for it, but because the external forces are just too powerful and they’re working hard against you—at least that’s what you believe.

You’re less likely to work hard towards achieving your dreams and goals. You probably don’t even set any goals because you believe that fate will carry the day.

If fate has it that you shouldn’t succeed, then that’s what will happen. If fate decides that you’ll succeed in a certain project, then thanks to it. You experienced some good luck.

The main characteristic of this belief system is putting blame on external factors.

Anything that doesn’t work out well happens because of other people, other circumstances and situations etc and they are all out of your control.

Due to your belief system, your communication goes something like this:

  • Life is too difficult
  • The competition is too much
  • It’s impossible to understand today’s customer trends
  • It’s impossible to succeed unless you know someone in the government


So, is the internal locus of control the “good” one and the external locus of control the “bad” one?

Technically speaking, there is no good or bad locus of control.

They both have their own merits and demerits. There are situations in which the internal locus of control is better while in others, the external locus of control is better.

Check out these pros and cons and see how the two compare.

Advantages of Having an Internal Locus of Control

The advantages of an internal locus of control are many. If you have this trait, then the below are some of the things which are evident in your life.

Alternatively, they are some of the things you can expect if you are to have an internal locus of control.

  • High self-esteem – this is one of the most obvious things you’ll notice about yourself if you possess this personality trait. It’s also possible that you’ve heard it mentioned that you have high self-esteem. Maybe you’re even admired by others for it.

This comes from the fact that you believe you have what it takes to make things better. You believe in your abilities and where you lack, you take the necessary steps to learn or make appropriate adjustments.

Simply believing that you cannot fail and that you’re fully or largely in control of your life will increase your high self-esteem. Others may also have benefited from it since you encouraged them in the past and helped them achieve their own goals.

  • More independence – believing in yourself automatically makes you self-reliant. You know you can take on any duty or assignment and complete it with little or no external help. This is not because you’re proud and arrogant but because you simply believe you can do it.

And having done it before makes it natural to want to do it again. You’re therefore not likely to easily seek help unless when completely stuck. Even then, you’ll still seek the kind of help that gives you considerable control over both the process and the outcome.

  • More success – with high self-esteem comes more success. This is just natural and you cannot separate these two. High self-esteem results in high self-confidence and if you believe in yourself, you increase your chances of success.
  • Less likely to fall for peer pressure – with an internal locus of control comes a strong desire to control the outcome. To control an outcome, you have to control the process.

Those who fall for peer pressure rarely know what exactly they want to achieve. They may think they do, but they really don’t. They’re just doing what someone else wants them to do. For you however, knowing what you want to achieve shields you from wrong influences.

You most likely have the right information pointing you in the direction you should take. Anything different from that sets off the alarm and you know better than to take that path.

  • Optimistic during challenging times – life has ups and downs and everyone experiences them. During challenging times, you always have a positive outlook and expectation. You analyze the situation as best as possible then pick the right choice from the available options.

Working towards the better outcome you have settled for and believing you will get there, keeps you optimistic. You will make adjustments as necessary and encourage those close to you e.g. family.

  • Generally healthier and happier – this is a direct result of your efforts which have been deliberately chosen for the results you hope for. Having defined your goals and understanding that you need to be in good health to achieve them, you will make the right health choices.

You will not be among those eating junk food, skipping meals, failing to exercise, taking little or no water etc.

These are bad health habits which from your research or other forms of learning, know they won’t yield the results you want.

With the right health choices, you’ll become healthier. Being healthier has the result of having few medical bills, a good-looking body, funds freed up for other things etc.

With “extra”money in your account, life will definitely be less stressful. A less stressful life is a happier one.

Disadvantages of Having an Internal Locus of Control

The above advantages do not imply that there are no disadvantages associated with the external locus of control. In any case, don’t all things which have advantages also have disadvantages?

Below are some disadvantages of having an internal locus of control.

  • Excess self-belief can lead to arrogance – with an internal locus of control, you are obviously a major player in any team you are a part of. This is because you have a positive mindset, are willing to work hard and work with minimum supervision.

All the same, your self-belief can easily make you prideful. You can believe in your abilities to the point of despising others. You can see them as lacking in skill, knowledge or judge them for their reliance on you.

  • Can cause strained relations – that arrogance can lead to strained relations with your colleagues, friends and family. Also, in your pursuit of success, you’ll likely walk over others. Your goals are simply above anyone including close friends.

Putting your goals before your relationships means that people are tools intended to facilitate results. You might seek to use people to achieve your goals.

  • Poor risk management – risk management is part of management. Whether you’re managing risks in the finance department or HR department, you need to ensure minimum losses and maximum profits.

Believing that you have control over your life’s experiences can make you miscalculate the risks involved in a project or task. The signs may be all over that things might turn out contrary to your expectations. But because you believe you can do it, you go ahead.

With such a decision, you may later on suffer loss which you could have avoided.

  • Perfectionism – perfectionism can be a big problem for you if you have too much self-confidence. Having a clear idea of what you seek to achieve, you may want it to turn out exactly as per your idea.

Deviations from your idea would be interpreted as a result of the process not being well controlled. Since you don’t acknowledge influence and control from external forces, you may try too hard to stop external influences.

But just as perfectionism can never be attained, you also can’t avoid all external forces. In some cases, you can’t even work around them.

  • Inability to accept failure – this is a big one and it greatly affects all with an internal locus of control. Failure is part of the life journey you are on. No matter how good you are, you will definitely experience it in one way or another at some point.

When you experience failure, you’re likely to get very stressed.

This is because you believed you could avoid it and even worked towards avoiding it.

With no other thoughts apart from those of success, you never had any psychological preparation for not succeeding.

Advantages of Having an External Locus of Control

That’s the internal locus of control. What options does the external locus of control provide?

If a belief in internal controls has both positive and negative effects, so does the belief in external influences. Here are some advantages of the external locus of control.

Let’s see how you benefit from it.

  • Reduced likelihood of stress – one of the things that is typical in your life if you have an external locus of control is your reduced stress levels. Although this can be contributed to by various things like a good diet and exercises, you attribute it to fate.

In fact, you may even believe that the good diet and exercises are things facilitated by fate. In the event that exercising is difficult, it could be because it’s beyond your control.

Therefore, illnesses due to bad health cannot stress you up. Lack of promotions at work cannot stress you up. Challenges in marriage or raising children cannot stress you.

Why? It’s beyond your control.

  • Quick to accept situations – whereas an internal locus of control focuses on changing situations, you rarely do this. You may not even think much about it. Any situation showing up is quickly accepted and little effort is made to change it.

This can be of great benefit when you’re faced with truly challenging situations which are absolutely out of your control. An example of such a situation is the death of a loved one.

  • You make a good follower – it’s very difficult to have two go-getters in the same team. If none of them is the leader, then the leader will face numerous challenges because they have strong opinions of how to achieve the team’s objectives.

If one of them is the leader, then there is likely to be conflicts with the other. But since you are comfortable with control coming from the outside, you can never be the source of such conflict.

You’ll be a loyal follower doing what is right and expected of you.

Disadvantages of Having an External Locus of Control

Working with the belief that you have no control, or very little control of your life, can deny you much joy.

Here is how that can happen.

  • You become an underachiever – if the guys with an internal locus of control enjoy more success, then it’s quite obvious what happens to you if you believe in external forces running your life.

Ask any successful entrepreneur and they’ll tell you that circumstances are rarely perfect. That means, if you wait for external forces to favor you, you might wait for ever.

And while you wait, someone else is taking the necessary action to overcome the obstacles.

It’s obvious who comes out as the achiever.

  • High likelihood to suffer anxiety – although attributing negative experiences to external forces can reduce your stress levels, that won’t hold in the long term. If situations keep throwing you into confusion since you have no control, then you can’t have security.

Your future is not secure. Your plans are not guaranteed to come to pass. The constant failures have caused you low self-esteem and you don’t even know what to do.

Your desires can only be wishes and the problems you face can only get worse.

Life in general is getting more expensive. The government can’t give any assurances since the global economy isn’t growing fast enough. Such news are just perfect to make you have a negative outlook of life. In due time, stress will increase and anxiety will likely follow.

  • Feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness – the biggest problem with the external locus of control is that you believe you have no power to make a difference. Everything depends on fate. This puts you in a position of powerlessness. You can’t do anything.

If you can’t do what you want, then you can’t achieve your goals. Soon enough, you won’t even be setting goals because you know you have no way of achieving them. In any case, if fate is the one in absolute control, why try fighting a losing battle?

Not sure about your future denies you any hope for better days ahead. You can’t escape feelings of hopelessness when you resign to fate.


When you talk to psychologists, they will tell you that neither an internal or external locus of control is bad. They are both neither good nor bad, it just depends on the situation.

However, as pointed out, research has shown that people with an internal locus of control fair better in life.

An external locus of control seems to promote a negative attitude toward your own abilities and life itself.

To have a better life and train up your kids accordingly, build a more confident you.

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will help you see the abilities you have.

This will help you realize how much control you actually have over situations.

Locus of Control

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