Reclaim Your Locus of Control to Get the Results You Want

We cover the topic of Locus of Control in our Leadership programs, so it is 2nd nature for me to take full ownership for whatever outcomes I am creating in my life. After all why teach it if I am not living it?

The past few weeks have seen some events seemingly “happen to me” which rocked my belief in my own control over the results I get. Before I get on with that part of the story a short discussion on what exactly is Locus of Control and how can we use it…

Julian Potter, a psychologist, developed the theory of Locus of Control in the 1950’s. Simply put: people with an internal Locus of Control tend to see themselves as being responsible for the outcomes of their actions and hence are responsible for their destiny. Whereas, at the other end of the continuum, people with an external Locus of Control see environmental factors (or luck) as being more responsible for the outcomes in their lives and for their ultimate destiny. (Where would the Lotteries be in a world full of people with an internal Locus of Control?)

The theory was provided with a basis in research, and became enshrined in modern psychology following the research by Martin Seligman in 1965 leading to the Learned Helplessness model.

Back in the days when animals were the subject of Lab experiments, Seligman and his team found that research subjects (dogs) behaviour changed dramatically and unexpectedly when subjected to random feedback (pain). Some of the dogs learned to become helpless when their behaviours made no difference to the feedback they got – and they gave up!

The outcomes of this research and its ramifications changed the face of psychology, and showed that the Locus of Control is largely learned, and importantly can be re-learned.

That’s the end of the history and psychology lesson. What does this have to do with your leadership, your career and my recent series of unfortunate events? Plenty in fact…..

Given that I generally sit at the internal Locus of Control end of the continuum, (as do many people who run their own businesses) having external happenings dare to impact on my results came as an unpleasant shock.

The events seemed random, and my actions did not appear to make a difference to the results.

Sound familiar? Some of you reading this are saying “Welcome to my world, Liz”

Looking at Seligman’s research – I would be a classic case for Learned Helplessness, had things continued unabated. I confess to retreating into my shell for a short period “turtle like”, and peeping out only to see if the storm had passed.

However, I know enough about the human mind and it’s workings to know that when an unhelpful pattern is settling in, then creating a break in the cycle can cause huge differences in attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and outcomes. Again, so what?

Separately, I had another pattern of lack of exercise in my life which has recently been affecting both my weight and shape. To break this cycle, I recently started weight-training with a multiple times Australian Body Building and Weightlifting champion Damon Hayhow.

If you are going to break a cycle – break it in a big way.

In the midst of retreating into my shell, I had a weights training session. During this particularly brutal session, where I freely admit to having a lousy attitude, I stood looking at a deadlift bar, the weights on either end being beyond my previous experience or ability. I focussed completely on lifting the bar, visioned myself lifting it, felt the pain of it and had total certainty that I was going to lift it. (The rather loud positive reinforcement in my right ear helped too).

I stepped forward and did a set of repetitions which I could not have attempted the week before. The only change was my mental approach – I was in total mental control and felt hugely elated and powerful as a person immediately afterwards. The actual weight on the bar was irrelevant (and frankly insignificant too) – what was important was the fact that I did it. I had taken my Locus of Control back internally and achieved what I set out to. Sharing my “discovery” with Damon that this Weight Training sport is not about muscles, it is about mental attitude, he agreed. When people come into the Gym with the attitude that they cannot lift the weights – they don’t!

Facing a difficult situation, when you take mental control back, you immediately make a difference to the outcome.

Needless to say, having taken mental control back through breaking this cycle the next period has seen me in a different frame of mind. Action and outcome focussed with startlingly different – though not surprising – results, in the gymn as well as all other areas.

Knowing about LoC theory and living it so dramatically in 2 different areas of my life at the same time has been a powerful experience for me.

Use a shift in one area of your life to create and apply changes in another.

This was my recent journey of inadvertently exploring the Locus of Control in a particular set of events. How can you use it and apply it?

The first step is to find out where your personal Locus of Control is – try this online test.

It’s important to note that internal vs. external is not good vs. bad. Each is useful in different ways at different times. What is important is to look at how your Locus of Control is serving you. Are you getting the results you want – or not?

If you are indeed getting the results you want then this article has been simply an interesting diversion. Read it and pass it on.

However, if you are not getting the results you want in your; life, career, business, relationship, team environment or health then re-evaluate where your Locus of Control is and if this is a factor affecting your results in an unhelpful way – it may be time for you to do some major cycle breaking!

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