Locus of Control

Are You in Charge of Your Destiny?

Do you feel someone else is pulling your strings?

© iStockphoto/Revenant_hm

As the environment around you changes, you can either attribute success and failure to things you have control over, or to forces outside your influence.

Which orientation you choose has a bearing on your long-term success.

This orientation is known as your "locus of control." Its study dates back to the 1960s, with Julian Rotter's investigation into how people's behaviors and attitudes affected the outcomes of their lives.

Locus of control describes the degree to which individuals perceive that outcomes result from their own behaviors, or from forces that are external to themselves. This produces a continuum (see figure 1, below) with external control at one end and internal control at the other.

Locus of Control

People who develop an internal locus of control believe that they are responsible for their own success. Those with an external locus of control believe that external forces, like luck, determine their outcomes.

Use the interactive quiz below to determine your current locus of control:

Understanding Your Own Locus of Control

Instructions:

For each pair of statements, choose the one that you believe to be the most accurate, not the one you wish was most true. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. Click the "Calculate My Total" button to add up your score and check your result using the scoring table underneath.

# Statement Select the statement you feel is more accurate

1a

Bad luck is what leads to many of the disappointments in life.

1b

Disappointments are usually the result of mistakes you make.

2a

Political unrest and war normally occur in countries where people don't get involved, or assert their political rights.

2b

No matter how much people get involved, war and political unrest will occur.

3a

You "reap what you sow." In the end, your rewards will be directly related to what you accomplish.

3b

Despite your effort and hard work, what you accomplish will probably go unnoticed.

4a

Teachers treat students fairly and evaluate their performance as objectively as possible.

4b

The grades you earn in school have more to do with factors like how much the teacher likes you, or your mood on the day of a test.

5a

To become a leader, you must be in the right place at the right time.

5b

Those who are capable of leadership but don't lead, have failed to capitalize on the opportunities afforded to them.

6a

There are some people in this world that will not like you, no matter what you do.

6b

If you have good interpersonal skills and know how to get along with others, then getting people to like you is not difficult at all.

7a

If something is meant to happen, it will; there is little you can do to change it.

7b

You decide what will happen to you. You don't believe in fate.

8a

If you are prepared for an interview, you increase your likelihood of doing well.

8b

There is no point preparing for an interview because the questions they ask are completely random and determined by whim.

9a

To be successful in your career takes a lot of hard work and dedication, because effort is what makes the difference.

9b

It's who you know, not what you know, that determines how good a job you get.

10a

One person can have an impact on government policy and decisions.

10b

Normal people can't do much to change the world; the elite and powerful make all the decisions.

11a

If you set a reasonable goal, you can achieve it with hard work and commitment.

11b

You don't plan ahead or set goals because too much can happen that you can't control.

12a

Luck doesn't play a large role in getting what you want out of life.

12b

Life is like a game of chance. What you get or what happens to you is mostly a matter of fate.

13a

Managers and supervisors got those positions by being in the right place and knowing the right people.

13b

To be a manager or supervisor you have to demonstrate that you know how to get things done through, and with, people.

14a

Accidents or twists of fate are what really determine the course of a person's life. 

14b

The notion that luck largely determines your life is a fallacy.

15a

People have so many ulterior motives; it's impossible to determine who actually likes you and who doesn't.

15b

How you treat people is what determines whether they like you.

16a

After all is said and done; the positives and negatives of life are basically half and half.

16b

When something negative happens it is usually a result of apathy, lack of knowledge, inability, or a combination of these.

17a

Corruption in politics can be eliminated if we all put in enough effort.

17b

Once a politician is elected, there is little anyone can do to control him or her.

18a

"The assessments I get at work are completely at the whim of my supervisor; I don't understand them at all half the time."

18b

"How hard I work and how much pride I take in my job largely determines the results of my performance assessment."

19a

You often feel that you have little control over your life, and what happens to you.

19b

You don't believe that luck or chance play a large role in determining what happens in your life.

20a

If you're lonely, it's because you don't try to hard enough to get along with people and be friendly.

20b

Despite being friendly and pleasant, if someone doesn't like you, there's not much you can do to change his or her opinion. 

21a

The things that happen in your life are of your own doing. 

21b

You don't have much control over what happens in life, or in the direction your life is headed.

22a

Why politicians make the decisions they do is anybody's guess!

22b

The people are as much responsible for government decisions as the politicians themselves.
 Total = 
0

 

Total of weighted scores
(see instructions):

 

Score Interpretation

Score Comment
22-25 Internal Locus of Control (Strong)
26-33 Internal Locus of Control (Moderate)
34-44 External Locus of Control

Note:

This assessment has not been validated and is intended for illustrative purposes only. It is patterned after the Locus of Control Scale developed and presented in Rotter, JB (1966), "Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement", Psychological Monographs, 80 (Whole No. 609).

Benefits of an Internal Locus of Control

In general, people with an internal locus of control:

  • Engage in activities that will improve their situation.
  • Emphasize striving for achievement.
  • Work hard to develop their knowledge, skills and abilities.
  • Are inquisitive, and try to figure out why things turned out the way they did.
  • Take note of information that they can use to create positive outcomes in the future.
  • Have a more participative management style.

Managing the Drawbacks of a Strong Internal Locus of Control

People with an internal locus of control are generally more successful, for very good reasons.

However there can be times when having an external locus of control can be an advantage, particularly in situations where people need to be considerate and more easy-going. People with a strong internal locus of control tend to be very achievement-oriented, and this can leave people around them feeling "trampled" or "bruised." And with a very strong internal locus of control, there is also a tendency to want to control everything, and this can lead to difficulties in taking direction.

If you have a strong internal locus of control, make sure you pay attention to the feelings of people around you – otherwise you'll seem arrogant, and people may not want to work with you.

Also, make sure that you manage risks   properly. Random events do occur for all sorts of reasons. While you can manage many of these with enough determination and hard work, some you can't.

Note:

As people grow older they tend towards a more internal locus of control. This comes from the increased ability to influence things going on in their lives and the realization that much of what happens to them is a result of what they do.

Tips for Developing an Internal Locus of Control

Recognize the basic fact that you always have a choice. Making no choice is actually a choice in and of itself, and it's your choice to allow other people or events decide for you.

Set goals   for yourself and note how, by working towards these and achieving these, you are controlling what happens in your life. As you do this, you'll find that your self-confidence   quickly builds.

Develop your decision making and problem solving skills so that you can feel more confident, and in control of what happens. With these tools, you'll find that you can understand and navigate through situations that would otherwise damage you.

Pay attention to your self-talk  . When you hear yourself saying things like, "I have no choice" or "There's nothing I can do," step back and remind yourself that you do, in fact, have some degree of control. It's your choice whether you exercise it or not.

Key Points

You locus of control says a lot about how you view the world and your role in determining the course of your life.

When you believe you have the power to control your own destiny and determine your own direction, you have a strong internal locus of control. In most cases, this is an important attitude to have if you want to be successful.

People with an internal locus of control tend to work harder and persevere longer in order to get what they want. This is not to say that having an external locus of control is always bad: there are some situations where this approach can work well. The key for your own personal development is to understanding your natural tendency and then adapting it to the situations you are faced with.

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