It’s Monday morning. Despite your best judgment last night, you stayed up too late again, and snooze your alarm five times before getting out of bed. You’re running late now and when you make it to your kitchen in a frenzied state, your spouse reminds you that you’re both having dinner with the in-laws. You don’t have the time for this conversation and after a snippy comment, you run out the door to the subway. Because you’re in a hurry, you’re still stuffing your keys and papers into your bag as you rush down the street. As you approach the subway turnstile a train is coming but before you make it through, one of your important papers falls to the ground. You frantically pick it up and by the time you make it to the platform the train is gone.
Who do you blame? Was it your fault for staying up too late last night or is it your phone’s fault for having such an easy to press snooze button? Did you react rudely to your spouse because you were so frantic that you weren’t thinking of their feelings or was it because they were just trying to make your bad situation worse and they’re always like this?! Did you miss your train because the universe just hates you or did you have something to do with it?
What is the locus of control? Where we tend to place blame in our lives is where our locus of control lies. Someone with an internal locus of control would likely take the blame for this hectic morning and consider not staying up late in the future. Someone with an external locus of control might blame the universe itself for their morning and is less likely to make a behavioral change in the future. In other words, one with an internal locus of control believes they make things happen to themselves while one with an external locus believes things happen to them.
Does my locus of control matter? Well, research generally suggests that those with a more internal locus of control are more successful, healthier, and happier than those with a more external locus. Why? Again, researchers have noted that an internal locus of control may be a predictor of optimism which has been closely linked with increased problem-solving efforts and positive coping strategies - essential skills needed to lead a happy and healthy life.
With all that said, as many other things in life, a purely internal locus of control can actually be a bad thing. Someone like this might have the tendency to be too hard on themselves unnecessarily and even irrationally blame themselves for things that were truly out of their control. As with most things in life, you want to find a balance and try not to move into an extreme mode of internal or external locus of control.
How can I balance my locus of control? The first practice you can take to balance your locus of control is to notice when you do blame others or external factors for your negative feelings or hardships in life. When you are thinking about one of these hardships, try focusing on the parts of the problem that are within your control and let go of the rest, including the reactions of other people. This kind of focus, or mindfulness, is one of the major aspects of DBT and CBT, and these therapeutic interventions, especially with the help of a therapist, can get you well on your way to noticing your own locus of control and working on its development.