January 9, 2016

Do You Control Your Life Circumstances or Do Your Circumstances Control You?

Many of us regularly make decisions about our health and well-being with zest, enthusiasm and the best of intentions.

I frequently resolve to live more healthfully by, for example, using my gym membership more regularly, eating better quality food, losing weight, or achieving more balance in my life as a busy mother, psychologist, author and friend.

Most of us usually do well when starting a new self-improvement endeavour, but before long we may find ourselves reverting back to our usual, not-so-healthy habits. Who we “blame” for our lapses has a lot to do with our core beliefs about who or what controls our lives.

The next time things don’t go exactly as you planned; ask yourself some of the following questions:

Is my lack of exercise due the limited hours of operation at the gym?

Did I gain weight because there is too much junk food in my workplace cafeteria?  

Did I get passed over for that promotion because my boss didn’t recognize my stellar work performance?

Did I fail that exam because the teacher was terrible and or the questions were unfair?

Do I believe that to achieve success I would have to be in the right place at the right time?

If you answer “Yes” to these types of questions, you probably have a tendency to having an external locus of control rather than an internal one.

Locus of Control

In 1966 a prominent American psychologist, Julian B. Rotter, published a paper in which he discussed the concept of internal versus external locus of control. His theory has been widely studied and applied in the field of psychology of personality.

When you face a challenging situation, do you feel that you have control over the outcome, or do you believe that you are at the mercy of outside forces over which you have no control? If you believe you control what happens, then you have an internal locus of control, and you take responsibility for your actions and their outcomes. If you believe, on the other hand, that outcomes in your life are controlled by external circumstances or other people, you have an external locus of control, and you feel relatively powerless to affect your circumstances.

Which belief system do you operate under?

As you have may have guessed, people with an internal locus of control tend to be happier, more confident, more successful, and even healthier.

Learned Helplessness

If you have an external locus of control, you likely feel learned helplessness, a term coined by Martin Seligman, an American psychologist and educator. Learned helplessness means that you’ve learned from past experience that what you do usually doesn’t lead to the positive outcome you wished for, so you stop taking action to change things. This type of negative internalized belief system leads to and often underlies depression.

Changing Your Mindset

You don’t have to live with learned helplessness. Even in the worst imaginable circumstances, people can find ways to change their outcome. Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and survivor of several Nazi concentration camps, is the supreme example. He explains in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

So when you plan to make positive life changes, even if you don’t stick to your plans perfectly, you are exhibiting optimism, the mindset that you can take action to change things for the better—whether it’s your sports team winning, your article getting published, your business growing, making new friends, earning more money, or your new year’s resolutions succeeding—you are utilizing an internal locus of control and keeping hope and optimism alive. You may fail many times before you succeed, but hopefully succeed you will. Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before he developed the light bulb!

Remember, as Henry Ford once quipped, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right!”



Relephant Read:

5 Spiritual Steps to Help you Recover when you’ve Lost Control.


Author: Lynne Woolfson

Editor: Travis May

Image: Greg Sinclair / Pixoto 


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