The term ‘locus of control’ refers to whether you feel your life is controlled by you or by forces outside yourself. Those with an internal locus of control feel that they have choice in their lives and control over their circumstances; conversely, those with an external locus of control feel more at the mercy of external events. As you may have guessed, those with a more internal locus of control tend to feel happier, more free, and less stress. They also enjoy better health (likely because they experience less of the damaging chronic stress that can come from feeling powerless), and are more satisfied with life in general. Perhaps not surprisingly, those with an external locus of control are more susceptible to depression as well as other health problems, and tend to keep themselves in situations where they will experience additional stress, feeling powerless to change their own circumstances, which just adds to their stress load. Your locus of control can be shaped by events in your childhood or adulthood (whether you were able to have a strong impact on your environment can lead to a sense of empowerment or of learned helplessness) and perpetuated by habitual thinking patterns. If you feel your locus of control could use a shift, these techniques can help.
Research has shown that those with an internal locus of control–that is, they feel that they control their own destiny, rather than their fate being largely determined by external forces–tend to be happier, less depressed, and less stressed. Fortunately, if your locus of control isn’t as ‘internal’ as you’d like it to be, there are things you can do to change your locus of control and empower yourself. Here’s a process to practice:
Realise that you always have choice to change your situation. Even if you don’t like the choices available at the moment, even if the only change you can make is in your attitude, you always have some choices.
When you feel trapped, make a list of all possible courses of action. Just brainstorm and write things down without evaluating them first.
You may want to also brainstorm with a friend to get more ideas that you may not have initially considered. Don’t shoot down these ideas right away, either; just write them down.
When you have a list, evaluate each one and decide on the best course of action for you, and keep the others in the back of your mind as alternative options. You may end up with the same answer you had before the brainstorming session, but this exercise can open your eyes to the amount of choices you have in a given situation. Seeing new possibilities will become more of a habit.
Repeat this practice when you feel trapped in frustrating situations in your life. In more casual, everyday situations, you can still expand your mind to new possibilities by doing this quickly and mentally.
Notice your language and self talk. If you tend to speak in absolutes, stop. If your self talk is generally negative, read this article on the effects of negative self talk and how to make your self talk more positive.
Phase out phrases like, ‘I have no choice’, and, ‘I can’t…” You can replace them with, ‘I choose not to,’ or, ‘I don’t like my choices, but I will…’ Realising and acknowledging that you always have choice (even if the choices aren’t ideal) can help you to change your situation, or accept it more easily if it really is the best of all available options.
Your attitude affects your stress level more than you may realise. This article can help you to learn more about mental and personality factors that influence your stress level, so you can make changes to keep stress down.