A friend of mine will regularly take credit for one or two winning lottery numbers, a sunny day or any other ordinary stroke of luck. “I do have good taste in movies” she’ll tell me when a film she chose purely by accident turns out to be good.
But if it rains, if her toast falls butter side down on the floor or if she catches a cold on Friday afternoon she says, “God works in mysterious ways.”
Locus of control is a personality construct that states that different people have different styles of explaining what they experience in the world around them. It varies around how much control we think we have over the events of our lives and informs our entire worldview.
External locus of control – the philosophy of powerlessness
People with an external locus of control will attribute whatever happens to them, bad or good, to the external world. If they get a promotion, they’re inclined to think it was “luck” and if they get fired, they’re inclined to blame the fact that their boss is an idiot.
Such a person doesn’t see much point in bettering themselves and their resignation may actually take the form of a calm, accepting stance to life. At the extreme end, believing that life is more or less out of anyone’s control means going along with superstition, the idea of fate or even conspiracy theories.
Signs your locus of control is too external:
- You often feel wronged by others or occasionally favored by powerful people
- You feel the world is so big and complex that it’s impossible to have any real impact
- You believe people are what they are and meaningful change is not really possible
Internal locus of control – the philosophy of independence
On the other end of the continuum is the mindset that only you are responsible for what happens, bad or good. Fail a test? It’s not the teacher’s fault, it’s yours. Pass with flying colors? Well, you studied hard. You must be pretty good.
With this life philosophy guiding you, the world becomes manageable, and striving to be better starts to make sense. There is no fate, no excuse and nobody to blame but yourself. Here is the realm of achievement, personal agency… and depression.
Naturally, some things simply aren’t about us, so taking personal responsibility for something like the death of a family member is likely to be a bit hard on the spirit.
Signs your locus of control is too internal:
- You often feel alone, isolated and left to fend for yourself
- You believe life is what you make of it – and this depresses you at times because you don’t live up to your own standards
- You believe that if you were only skilled, intelligent and powerful enough, you could reduce all suffering and chaos in life
The Combat Mindset philosophy: A bit of both
People with a solid combat mindset are, above all, curious. She wants to know what, why and how much. Looking for life’s meaning externally dulls the instinct to search, to shape the future as you’d like. But looking too deeply inward means you’ll depress yourself over all the things in life that are random and completely, utterly unfair.
The middle ground? Get into the habit of asking which mindset will make you the happiest and most productive when faced with a big life choice.
Here’s an example. There’s an extra tax you have to pay on your property that you haven’t budgeted for and that will seriously mess up cash flow for the month. Think externally and you get stuck bitching about how unfair it is, shaking your fist at “the government” or the shittiness of life in general or whatever. Alternatively, blame yourself for not foreseeing the extra expense and you just feel bad about yourself.
In this case, tease out what is really in your control and what really isn’t. The internal portion of your thinking: you messed up, a little, in not planning ahead, but it’s no biggie, because you can now control the way you research these things in the future, and you’ve updated your budget without too much damage.
The external part kicks in after this: you’ve done what you can do, now let it go. Is there a way to change the fact you have to pay the extra fee? No? Then shrug your shoulders and forget about it.
A balanced, rational mindset lets you take advantage of both states of mind, keeping you in the most productive and happy sweet spot in the middle. When looking at choices and events in your life, ask yourself – what part of this can I control? And what part can’t I control? Take all the energy you would've wasted on the latter and pour it into the former.
What totally random things in life are you incorrectly taking credit/blame for? What things do you need to own up to or take credit for that you’re currently just writing off as “luck”?
Do you have any more tips that might be helpful? If you liked this article, feel free to share it on social media so someone you know might benefit from it.
What You Can Do
The founder of Combat Mindset, Michael Saad, is a straight-forward and easy to follow Results Coach that helps athletes, fighters and tactical operators get mentally and physically stronger.