Who's in charge?
Do you believe that you make your own luck?
Or is luck is something that happens to you?
Your answer will reveal a lot about your “locus of control”, a term coined by psychologist Julian Rotter in 1954 that describes the degree to which people believe they have control over their lives.
If you have an internal locus of control, you believe that you are in charge. You take the credit when things go well and you blame yourself when things go poorly. If you get a promotion, it’s because you earned it. If you get overlooked for a promotion, you believe you should have worked harder.
If you have an external locus of control, you believe that other factors like your environment or a higher power decide what happens to you. You got the promotion because someone was looking out for you. Or you didn’t get it because of political factors outside of your control.
This difference in mindset can even have life-or-death consequences.
In a 1972 study, psychologists used Rotter’s Theory to explain why tornado death rates were strikingly higher in Alabama than Illinois. The study analyzed responses to tornado warnings in both states and found that Alabama residents were more likely to take an external view of events in their lives, whereas Illinois residents held a more internal view.
As a result of their predominantly external locus of control, Alabama residents took fewer precautions to protect themselves from tornadoes. They figured there was little point in trying to change the inevitable. Illinois residents on the other hand, believed they had control over the outcome of the storm and so they took more proactive measures such as building storm shelters and securing their homes.
The repercussions were tragic—Alabama averaged five times more tornado deaths than Illinois, even though the storms were equally severe and frequent.
Your locus of control is more than a personality trait. It’s a lens through which you see the world and make decisions. It affects how you cope with uncertainty, adversity, and opportunity. It shapes your expectations, motivations, and actions.
But here’s the dilemma: neither an internal nor an external locus of control is always right or wrong.
Having an internal locus of control can be a powerful motivator, but it can also lead to excessive self-blame when things go wrong. You might struggle to accept what you can’t control or change. You could ignore valuable advice from others. These are all traps that can limit your potential and happiness.
Sometimes you are in charge of your own fate. Sometimes you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Sometimes you can influence those forces with your actions. Sometimes you can’t.
The challenge is to recognize what type of situation you are in and adjust accordingly.
One way to do this is to cultivate what psychologists call a “flexible locus of control”. To be humble when things go well and resilient when things go poorly. To be proactive when you can make a difference and accepting when you can’t.
If this sounds hard, it’s because it is.
A flexible locus of control requires self-awareness, resilience, and balance. It also requires courage to face reality and take responsibility for your choices. If you’re anything like me you will want to do the exact opposite—I much prefer taking credit for my successes and blaming fate for my failures.
In the end, it's a combination of both luck and effort that shape the course of our lives.
And while we may not have complete control over the twists and turns of fate, we can always choose how we react to it.
Thanks for reading! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.