We often wonder about the degree of control we have over events that unfold in our lives. Some of us believe we are responsible for what happens to us and some believe it’s fate or the call of a higher power. Studied extensively in psychology it has been given the name Locus of Control. The LOC of an individual refers to his or her perception of what causes good or bad events in his or her life. Those who attribute whatever happens to them to luck have an external LOC. And those who think that their success or failure depends solely on the efforts they put in demonstrate an internal LOC. Some people lie along the continuum between these two extremes.
Julian Rotter, a research psychologist, developed a questionnaire to measure LOC and contributed greatly to the understanding of this concept. The score that you get on completion of the questionnaire indicates whether you have how internal or external LOC is.
Good or bad
A simple example will demonstrate how LOC affects us. Think for a moment. If you believe that the results of an office project depend on your luck [thereby showing an external LOC] will you work as hard as you would if you believed that your results reflect your efforts [thus showing an internal LOC]? Hence, people with an internal LOC would generally expect their efforts to show results and consequently work harder too. Our LOC has a pervasive influence over our lives.
Would this mean that internal LOC is good? Generally speaking, it would be more desirable to believe that we have control over what happens to us in life. It is seen as a healthy way of functioning. Those with an internal LOC are more likely to take responsibility for their actions. They are also more likely to seek help and try and improve upon their skills and habits. Those with external LOC may be reluctant to seek help for problems as they think they anyways have no control over them. This can lead to more problems for them.
However, you must be cautious of overdoing it. A person has to be realistic too. You cannot get away with thinking that everything depends solely on your efforts. If you do, you tend to become anxious and neurotic.
LOC has a far-reaching impact on different areas of our life. For example, Findley & Cooper  found that students with internal LOC had higher academic achievement. It makes good sense, because if a student believes that the marks she gets are a result of the effort she puts in, she is more likely to study harder and thereby get better results.
Perhaps, the most extensive research on the impact of LOC on our lives has been in the field of health. The Health Locus of Control [HLC] a term formed by Wallston and group in 1970s describes the degree to which people believe their health to be controlled by internal or external factors. Those with an internal HLC believe that their health condition is a result of their efforts and actions. Those with an external HLC believe that the condition of their health depends on luck and destiny or on others like medical professionals.
How would our HLC influence our wellbeing? It’s quite simple really. Let us take the case of a heart patient. If she has an internal HLC, she will believe that she can influence her health. Thus, she will make changes in diet, lifestyle and exercise to improve her health in every way. On the other hand, if she has an external HLC, she will think nothing really makes a difference and so will be less likely to do her bit towards improving her health. Even in a simple area of weight loss, researchers Balch and Ross  found that those with internal beliefs were more likely to complete an overweight treatment programme than those with an external LOC.
The LOC of a person develops as he grows. It is mostly learnt depending on the parents, family and the environment. When children’s efforts are met with rewards and a sense of responsibility for their actions is instilled into them, they develop an internal LOC. Researchers Schultz & Schultz found  that the LOC depends largely on our parents. Children who have an internal LOC generally come from supportive families and children with less control come from a very low socio-economic background, [where basic necessities of life are not predictably available], show an external LOC. If a person faces persistent failure in life, she becomes more external in her LOC. Hence, it is important for us to provide opportunities for success for our children.
We are all too familiar with the phrase, ‘It’s all in the mind’. Our LOC scores are changeable. By changing our attitudes and thinking patterns, we can shift from an external to an internal LOC. Acknowledge that one always has a choice in situations and not all things are beyond our control. Those who are serious about wanting to change often go in for ‘attribution training’ which involves teaching the person to say positive affirmations [such as ‘It’s tough, but hard work will pay off’] repeatedly till they get internalised and she starts believing in them. It trains you to beware of negative self-talk and habituate yourself to thinking and talking positively. It also helps develop good habits such as setting goals, working in an organised way to reach them and evaluating efforts. This increases your confidence in your abilities. After all, it’s all really in the mind!
- Different people, in identical conditions learn different things
- Some people respond as expected to reinforcement, others less so, and some respond unexpectedly
- Some people see a direct and strong connection between their behaviour and rewards and punishments received.
Here are a few LOC trends observed:
- Males tend to be more internal than females
- Older people they tend to become more internal
- People higher up in hierarchy in organisations tend to be more internal [Mamlin, Harris, & Case, 2001]
- Internals can be psychologically unhealthy and unstable. An internal orientation needs to be matched with competence, self-efficacy and opportunity so the person experiences a sense of personal control and responsibility. Overly internal people lack competence, efficacy and opportunity and can become neurotic, anxious and depressed. In other words, internals need to have a realistic sense of their circle of influence in order to experience ‘success’.
- Externals can lead an easy-going, relaxed, and happy life.
— Team CW