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Locus of control

Locus of control

At the heart of the discussion for locus of control, lies the concept of who and what has responsibility for the outcomes in our lives.

If people feel responsible for the outcome of their behaviors, then they have an internal locus of control, and they believe that they control the events in their life.

If, however, they believe that the outcome of their behaviours is mostly due to external factors, such as luck, and the environment, they have an external locus of control.

"A locus of control orientation is a belief about whether the outcomes of our actions are contingent on what we do (internal control orientation) or on events outside our personal control (external control orientation)." (Zimbardo, 1985)

Differences between internal and external loci of control


  • are more likely to raise their goals after succeeding a task, and are more likely to lower their goals after failing a task.
  • use terms such as want to, choose to and love to.
  • are more likely to attempt to influence other people.
  • pay attention to the content of the opinion regardless of who holds it.
  • are more likely to use repression to forget about their disappointments.
  • responds to word meaning
  • define events and make things happen, by focusing their time and energy on things they can control.


  • are more likely to lower their goals after succeeding a task, and are more likely to raise their goals after failing a task.
  • use words such as can't, must, have to, ought and should.
  • are more likely to be influenced by other people.
  • pay attention to the status of the opinion-holder.
  • are less likely to experience anxiety and guilt with their failures.
  • react to events, and rely on what others tell them.

Ways to increase locus of control

  • If you believe that your actions have little, if any, effect on events in your life, it could be helpful to talk to friends or colleagues, and discuss whether these beliefs, are irrationally low.
  • Think about past events and try to figure out instances where a different approach would have guaranteed a more favorable outcome.

  • Start substituting the words 'you' and 'we', with the word 'I'. This is empowering, because it helps you own what you say. For example, say, "I should learn from this", instead of, "we should all learn from this".
  • If you have abandoned some behaviours because of previous failures, then try! try again! Many famous scientists and inventors failed many times before hitting the jackpot. Success is just around the corner!
  • Be mindful of the cause and effect mechanism behind events. Start with little things; notice for example, how more time spent preparing for homework, leads to better grades, or how meticulously following instructions for a recipe, will lead to a tastier meal. If you are perpetually late for the gym, you can start much earlier, to be sure to be on time. Anything you can think of, that will help you to succeed in everyday tasks, will initiate a reinforcement mechanism, that will lead to a more success, and self-confidence.
  • If you are impatient and want results, try breaking tasks into smaller chunks. For example, if you wish to learn the guitar, start mastering a few chords every day, and track your progress. You will soon develop a sense of mastery and control that will become apparent in other areas of your life as well.
  • Rationalize events in terms of cause and effect, instead of luck. Luck, if there is such a thing, always favors those who are well prepared, and good at what they do.
  • Set aside more time for rest. You will be aware of more opportunities, if you are relaxed and alert.
  • Remember that regardless of whether you feel responsible for a certain outcome, you still control, and are responsible for, your reaction to that outcome.