Locus of Control

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Do you know what your Locus of Control is? Locus of control is a concept that was developed in the mid-1950s by Julian B. Rotter and referred to the extent a person believes they have internal control over events affecting them or external influences have the control.

Even before I was recently introduced to the concept, I have generally been following the internal philosophy for some time.

I try not to let things outside my control upset me, or affect me, why waste energy on things you cannot control.

I do think the locus of control line of thinking has merit in many areas of one’s life. It can have many benefits and drawbacks depending on the type of control you subscribe too. Let’s look at the different perspectives of internal and external locus of control has across some different situations.


Let’s say you achieve a promotion at work:

Internal Locus of Control – You might attribute the promotion to your hard work, extra hours, dedication to details, etc.

External Locus of Control – You might attribute to time, luck, other not performing well.

Let’s say you did not get a promotion at work:

Internal  – You might blame your lack of hard work, not putting in extra hours, or following directions.

External  – You might blame your boss, co-workers, or the company itself.

locus of control

Personal Finance

Let’s say you had a consistent positive return on your retirement investments year after year.

Internal  – You might consider this success to the research of your investments, dedication to checking your investments regularly, or not taking too much risk.

External  – You might consider this success all about the state of the economic, the timing of when you invested, or just pure fate.

Now let’s say you had a negative return on your retirement investments year after year.

Internal  – You might point the finger at the lack of attention you have given your investments, your overall knowledge of the market, or the fact that you did not dedicate enough time to research what you were investing in.

External  – You might blame the CEOs of companies, the president, the guy at work you gave you a stock tip.


You have a healthy and happy family life.

Internal  – You might attribute it to the time you dedicate to your spouse or children, the open communication style you use, or the focus and priority you apply to your family above anything else.

External  – You might attribute it to family history, the community in which you live, or your income.

Your family life is unhealthy and unhappy.

Internal  – You might attribute it to lack of communication with spouse or children, the time you spend away from the family, or

External  – You might attribute it to lack of income, the neighborhood you live in, or education.

As you can see those who identify with the internal locus of control are typically more responsible for their own actions no matter what the outcome. They could tend to be hard on themselves even to the point of over-analyzing one’s actions. On the other hand, someone who identifies with an external locus of control focuses on everything around them as part of their success or failures, typically not taking any responsibility for any of their action.

When I was let go from a job of over twenty years and began a job search, I believed I have an internal locus of control over the process. I have control over how well I prepare for an interview, how much research I do for a prospective company, how well I dress, what time I show up, etc. Sure external factors might and could affect my travel time to an interview, but if I plan ahead and leave early, I’m in control of it.

Often during the Holidays, when we are celebrating with family and friends, we think about the things we are grateful or thankful for. Consider how the locus of control fits into it all. We should celebrate success, learn from failures, and be mindful of the great things in our life each and every day.

Are you someone who makes things happen or someone who things happen to?

33 thoughts on “Locus of Control”

  1. I have a complicated relationship with locus of control. I believe that I have a strong (too strong) sense of internal locus of control, but as I look back on my life, I recognize that such a strong sense was developed largely through external factors.

    So my self-narrative involves quite a bit of external locus of control, but my decision making relies upon a strong internal locus of control.

  2. I definitely relate more to the internal locus of control. Things happen to all of us but it’s how we handle them that truly defines us and I own the good and bad that I do because I understand the power of my choices and their impact on others.

  3. I have not heard of it. But I’d say I’m more internal locus related. But to an extent it can seem a little too confident or cocky. I’m aware that hard work plays a role in achieving things in life, but I do acknowledge a luck helps. One of the podcasts I listen to interviews some business leaders that are millionaires and billionaires. When asked why they are successful they always say “well I got lucky”.

  4. I’ve never heard of that concept before, but I understand it. While I can’t control everything, I can certainly take 100% responsibility for it, and react accordingly. You can only control so much before you have to let go and let things flow.

  5. I have not heard of this before. It’s very interesting to me. I try to have an internal locus of control, but once in a while I get down and then I sway to the external locus of control instead.

    • I think we can all have the moments where we think the world is against us, but often find the only way to feel better is to take back control.

  6. I have never heard of this concept, but it sounds like a good way to focus primarily on things you can control. I’m not going to lie I do think luck comes into play quite a bit, but I also think that you have to put yourself IN positions to have luck work out in your favor. Definitely not a concept that I can do justice to in a comment section of a blog 😉

  7. Great post Brian we tend to at times focus the failures on other factors and not what we could have done to control things. I will always look to improve my mindset and stay in control of my life regardless of what is going on around me.

  8. I’ve never heard this concept called this before, but I do agree that its real. I forget where I heard it, but I was once told a great line that if you want things to change, you have to put something into the equation. Similar to your locus of control, you can’t wait around for things to happen to you. You have to be of the mindset that you’re going to make things happen.

  9. I love how you explain how this concepts applies to several specific areas, Brian.

    As someone prone to anxiety, the notion of not worrying about things that are out of my control, is challenging. However, it’s something I’m really starting to pay attention to and focus on, because, as you pointed out, it’s a waste of energy.

  10. I don’t think I’ve heard the concept “locus of control” before. Really interesting! I used to live with the understanding of an external locus of control. I was way too passive in directing my own life. Now, I would say I’m about 50-50. I think I live with an awareness of both my own power to impact my life and of the outside influences over which I have no control. But no matter what happens that’s out of my control, I have the power to respond to it – so is that “internal locus of control”? Great post, Brian!

  11. I’ve never heard of this concept before, but like you, I do live by an internal locus of control. Life is so much happier when we take responsibility for our actions and then do what we can to change them. Great stuff, Brian!

  12. I think one of the more difficult things to do is not get caught up in the external locus of control when things are going poorly. Not receive a large raise, car breaks down, overdraft charge, whatever the case is it’s hard to use that internal control focus. Having great people around you, smiling a little more, or reading an inspiring book certainly can be a start in the right direction.

  13. Hadn’t heard of it before. When you have two people with health problems, it’s hard to ignore the external locus. I think you just do the best you can to work on what you can control and just hope outside forces line up on your side.

  14. Wow Brian! I’ve never heard of the concept before but I love the idea of putting a name on it. I think it’s much easier to take a deep breath and ask yourself, ‘What is my locus of control?’ than to think ‘Oh well, here’s another thing I can’t control’. It’s a mere flip of the switch but can have a real impact on self-empowerment. I feel very fortunate to live in a free society where the actions I take shape my own destiny.

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