Locus of Control: An Introspective Glimpse Into Your Own Psyche

How does your locus of control affect the things that make you happy and the love in your life? Is it internal or external?

Whether or not you have a background or even an interest in psychology, there is an idea in the realm of personal psychology that directly connects with everyone. It’s a concept that brings up the ideology of the extent to which people believe that they can control events affecting them. This idea is locus of control.

So that being said, what really is locus of control and how is applicable? How is it measurable?

Locus of control is the idea that people have direct power over events in their lives and how these events impact, motivate, or empower them on a multitude of levels. There is a measurable means of pinpointing where a person’s locus of control falls in the grand scheme of it all. This idea is internal versus external locus of control.

Julian B. Rotter was a psychologist who pioneered the term locus of control. In a groundbreaking writing titled Generalized Expectancies for Internal Versus External Control of Reinforcement, Rotter states the following about external vs. internal influences:

“The role of reinforcement, reward, or gratification is universally recognized by students of human nature as a crucial one in the acquisition and performance of skills and knowledge…When a reinforcement is perceived by the subject as following some action of his own but not being entirely contingent upon his action, then, in our culture, it is typically perceived as the result of luck, chance, fate, as under the control of powerful others, or as unpredictable because of the great complexity of the forces surrounding him. When the event is interpreted in this way by an individual, we have labeled this a belief in external control. If the person perceives that the event is contingent upon his own behavior or his own relatively permanent characteristics, we have termed this a belief in internal control.”

Basically, Rotter is saying that there are different ways we perceive motivators and life events through internal and external means. Externally we focus on the phenomenon of luck, fate, and our place in the world under superiors and others in charge. Internally we focus on characteristics of locus of control that are more geared toward the personal choices we make and how we perceive and validate our own choices.

Locus is Latin for place or location. The concept of one’s ‘place’ within their locus of control is measured by how internal or externally swayed they are.

An example of this is how a student who fails an exam views the situation. If the student has a heavy internal locus of control they will recognize that they could have studied more adamantly in order to pass the test. They recognize that they could made more personal attempts at understanding the exam material. If the student is more external with their locus of control they will look at other factors. Maybe the teacher doesn’t like them, or the classroom was too noisy during the test, or they had something else on their mind that was distracting them from the task at hand.

Another more extreme example of this idea deals with a catastrophic event that happened in Bangladesh two years ago. When a clothing factory collapsed, 1,127 factory workers were killed due to poor working conditions and a unstably constructed building. There are a multitude of reasons why this disaster happened but on terms of locus of control and those injured in the process; it can be viewed in an internal or external manner. Those with an internal focus would argue that they could have noticed the conditions that were unsafe themselves and made attempts to ensure that their workplace was up to basic building codes. Someone that is externally driven would argue that it was bigger than them, i.e. fate or karma that controlled the collapse. Either way it was an unfortunate circumstance, but interestingly enough even something to this caliber can be processed with locus of control in mind.

Also an important factor to keep in mind is stability. Stability has a large impact on locus of control. Depending on how mentally stable a person is directly impacts how internally or externally driven they are. Generally the more stable a person is, the more internal they seem. Just as the issues of mental health stigmas are relevant and important to understand, it’s important to not have stigmas associated with someone that is very externally driven. There are reasons why a person falls into either category and a lack of internal locus of control isn’t always a bad thing.

Personally, I believe that I have a strong internal locus of control. I tend to be more focused on how my own actions affect my life and am less hung up on outside motivators such as luck, fate, and peoples influences on the environments I am surrounded by. While internal locus of control is associated with stability within oneself it’s important to understand that in matters of love and relationships, external locus of control is something that can sway and impact a person more than they might realize.

If there isn’t alignment between internal and external motivators in any relationship then many problems can occur. Balance is important. Stability is a must. You must have a strong sense of your own desires and what personally makes you feel good in order to achieve long term happiness. That being said, there are always outside, peculiar experiences that impact this. Fate plays a role and it’s important to recognize that, but don’t let it overshadow your internal locus of control.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

6 Responses to Locus of Control: An Introspective Glimpse Into Your Own Psyche

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