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Locus Of Control: What It Is & Why You Should Care

Do you attribute occurrences in your personal or professional life to luck or fate? Are you set on the belief that you’re the master of your own destiny in every situation? Only one of these outlooks mark the path to the success you’re after.

Diana Albertyn

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Where you believe the locus (Latin for ‘place’) of control lies in your life, determines how much agency you think you have over its course. How you view the world, and consequently the actions you choose (or fail) to take are framed by either an internal or external locus of control.

What is locus of control and why should you care?

The extent to which you believe you have power over the events in your life is determined by whether you think you have the ability to influence situations and their outcomes (internal locus of control), or if you blame outside forces for everything that happens (external locus of control).

The effect of locus of control impacts multiple areas of your life. Experts from the Journal of Business Venturing believe that internal locus of control contributes to a more successful work life and affects the levels of entrepreneurship in different countries.

While the current perspectives you believe to be true aren’t always ‘real’, they’re not entirely false either. Where you believe in luck or creating your own, your view is not innate and can be changed.

“Beliefs represent the acceptance of something without any proof to back up what we accept as fact,” says Tom Corley, author of Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life. “They are unconscious programming and they’re usually inherited.”

How did enquiry into Locus of Control come about?

This concept of locus of control was discovered by Julian Rotter in the 1960s, who found that the underlying question regarding the locus of control is: ‘Do I control my life or does something else control it?’

He believed that an idea this simple could have profound significance in influencing peoples’ beliefs. Whether you believe in a higher power, luck or the Law of Attraction, affects how you make your decisions and live your life.  If you believe that making all the right decisions mean you can direct your life to be exactly how you envision it, you most likely possess an internal locus of control.

Related: 6 Mental Barriers You Must Tear Down To Succeed

What is an Internal Locus of Control?

confident-business-man

People who have an internal locus of control believe they’re in charge of their lives. Both their successes and failures are attributed to their direct choices and actions. However, having a super internal locus of control is advantageous to success, because when you think that your fate is in your hands you’re a go-getter and don’t rely on, or blame other factors for your triumph or failure.

Definition of Internal Locus of Control

If a person has an internal locus of control, that person credits success to his or her own efforts and abilities. Expecting to succeed leads you to be more motivated and more likely to learn.

Traits of Internal Locus of Control

If you tend to look at life through the internal locus of control lens, some traits include:

  • You think you’re solely responsible for your success and failure
  • You’re less prone to anxiety and depression
  • Your levels of independence are higher
  • You’re achievement-oriented
  • You tend to be more health-conscious.

Leadership and emotional intelligence expert Paul Nyamuda explains an internal locus of control as a simple decision: “I’m going to be joyful today; nothing in my external environment is going to affect my mood – that’s the internal locus of control,” he explains. “I determine whether I’m going to be a success in life or I’m going to be a failure.”

The benefits of an Internal Locus of Control

An internal locus of control enables you to believe that you shape and determine your own future and acknowledge that you’re a powerful person who doesn’t blame others for your behaviour. Having an internal locus of control means you don’t give your weaknesses the power to control your behaviour. “I take charge of my behavior, I choose to be happy today, I choose to be full of joy today and no one can take that from me,” says Nyamuda.

Related: (Infographic) How 9 Creative Minds Got Their Ideas

What is an External Locus of Control?

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On the contrary, if you have an external locus of control, you’re essentially at the mercy of your circumstances. Other people, your environment or a higher power controls what happens, not your own decision or actions.

Having an external locus of control makes it easier to hold everyone else accountable for your current situation, but yourself. If you have a very external locus of control, you believe that deities, fate, karma, randomness, luck or some other external source of power determines occurrences in your life.

Definition of External Locus of Control

A person with an external locus of control, who attributes his or her success to luck or fate, will be less likely to make the effort needed to learn. People with an external locus of control are also more likely to experience anxiety since they believe that they are not in control of their lives.

Traits of an External Locus of Control

Those with a primarily external locus of control, are more likely to:

  • Believe luck, chance and fate decides what happens to them
  • Be negative, pessimistic and give up more easily when faced with setbacks
  • Not feel the need to reach out and create new relationships or try to repair old ones
  • Feel more helpless when faced with stress or illness.

The pitfalls of an External Locus of Control

According to Nyamuda, there’s a place for external locus of control. For example, acknowledging that there are things in our lives that are outside of our control and are beyond us.

However, an external locus of control taken to the extreme could lead to complacency. “Let me give you an example: When it comes to prospering financially, do you leave it to something else completely outside yourself and become like a sluggard, the type of individual who’s lazy? These type of people become very mystical about these things and kind of think ‘success will just come to me, it’ll just happen’.” 

Do you want to understand your own Locus of Control? Test yourself

Since the concept of locus of control was first developed, several attempts have been made by psychologists, scientists, and researchers to develop an accurate and effective method to measure someone’s locus of control.

Today, multiple tests are available for you to take to determine where in the spectrum you fall. Some resources offered to determine your locus of control are:

It’s important to use a reputable test that is designed to match your circumstances, so ensure you venture beyond the three listed above and discover the wide range of locus of control tests available to determine your locus of control.

Related: 15 Traits Of Unstoppable People

How does your Locus of Control impact your life and your success?

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Adopting an internal locus of control has benefits that lead to improved performance, better wellbeing and enhanced stress management. Generally, an external locus of control can impact negatively on how you handle your outlook on life when circumstances aren’t in your favour. Your locus of control can have an impact on:

1. Personal confidence

Internal locus of control is supported by a sense of self-efficacy, capability and a realistic view of success and what it means for you as an individual.

“This sense of control provides them with clarity over their direction and confidence through achieving their desired outcomes,” according to Mental Toughness Partners, an experienced and licensed global network of coaches, HR advisers and mental toughness practitioners. “It’s a strong foundation for success as well as happiness and a less stressful life.”

2. Positivity

Internal locus of control is largely related to mental toughness, and these people are consistently successful because their focus is to make things happen and get things done. Positivity drives people with an internal locus of control to carry out tasks without distraction, diversion, fear or obstacles.

“One reason is that they almost always possess a strong internal locus of control, which is the extent to which they believe they can control events affecting them through their own personal decisions and actions,” Having an external locus of control enables you to better control your emotions when reacting to events around you.

3. Anxiety

“Because feeling in control over our jobs and lives reduces stress, it even affects our physical health,” says the author of New York Times bestseller The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor. “One sweeping study of 7,400 employees found that those who felt they had little control over deadlines imposed by other people had a 50% higher risk of coronary heart disease than their counterparts.”

4. Perception of luck vs self-agency and opportunities

People with an external locus of control are more likely to believe that what happens to them is the direct result of luck being on their side, fate dealing them with a certain hand, or being determined by people in authority. You may tend to give up when life doesn’t “go your way,” because you don’t feel that you have the power to change it.

5. Progression in career

“If you’ve got a strong internal locus control you will read books, you will study the market and you will be keen to develop yourself in terms of your credibility, integrity and competence,” says Nyamuda.

Basically, you’re more motivated to work on your skills and go out there to look for the business, reach those targets and seek those prospects. “Why? Because if I do that my behaviour will determine the outcomes. While there might be some extraneous factors that may affect it, I acknowledge that,” he says.

6. Progression as a business owner

An entrepreneur with an internal locus of control is strong on cause and effect, and therefore, if for example they’re recruiting for their company their mindset as a business owner is: ‘If I hire the right people and position them correctly, then I’ll be successful.’ however, an entrepreneur with an external locus of control could blame everything from ‘man it’s terrible, this country just doesn’t have enough talent, to ‘oh it’s really bad, the people that I’ve got in my company are incompetent.’

But, as Nyamuda points out, you hired them, so you should take responsibility. “You begin to say ‘hmm, I made a few bad choices here. I’ll need to tweak my technique; I’ll need to work on my hiring skills; I’ll need to be more thorough, or I’ll need to work with a reputable recruitment agency,” he suggests. The approach means you’re taking charge of your life, which is crucial if you want to be a success in life.

7.  Success, wealth, fulfillment

An internal locus control mobilises you into action, while and external locus of control makes you feel powerless to change your current situation – whether it’s financial, physical or personal. People with an internal locus of control tend to recognise their power in any situation.

Assuming the control over your success enables you to realise that ‘if I do this then this will happen and if I do that then that will happen; if I mess up in this area then these are the consequences’.

Having an internal locus of control is all about realising that you will reap whatever you have sown. You get out whatever you put in, and that’s the mindset of someone who’s strong with an internal locus of control. “And that’s one of the things successful people do differently,” says Nyamuda.

Related: 9 Reliable Ways To Cultivate Creative Thinking

How to shift from an External Locus of Control to an Internal Locus of Control

external-to-internal-control

“Developing an internal locus of control begins with the realisation that you always a have a choice and that whilst some important things in life may go against you, you do have control over the way you react to those situations,” according to Mental Toughness Partners.

One way to overcome any feelings of powerlessness in any situation is to pay attention to your self-talk. Listen when you speak and pick up on moments when you’re surrendering to your circumstances. If you catch yourself saying things like ‘I have no choice,’ or ‘there’s nothing I can do,’ you need to take a step back, remind yourself that you have the power to make your own choices, despite what is happening around you.

When you set goals for yourself, observe your progress and make notes on every single milestone you reach on your way to the achieving of your goal. Note how you are making positive changes in your life by working toward these goals to build your confidence in yourself and your abilities, despite what you have been faced with.

But don’t expect it to be as easy as a programme of a few steps. Your locus of control took time to develop to where it is, and it may require a little extra effort to change your mindset.

“Your existing beliefs were formed over many years. It takes time to reprogram your belief system. How long? According to my research, at least one year of dedicated effort,” says Corley. “But that one year investment will pay dividends for the rest of your life.”

So, how do you make the switch from having an External Locus of Control to an Internal Locus of Control? Corley suggests:

  • Associate with individuals who possess the success beliefs you want to adopt
  • Read books and articles on self-made millionaires
  • Read inspirational books and articles
  • Listen to inspirational podcasts
  • Watch and listen to inspirational TEDx talks
  • Create daily affirmations around the success beliefs you want to adopt
  • Meditate and focus on your new success beliefs (10-15 minutes a day is all it takes).

“Through development of an internal locus of control, not only does the individual benefit but the organisation as well. Organisational human capital increases through the behavioural values practiced by the employees,” advises Dr. Michael Kolacz, professor of Management and Associate Department Chair of Management for the Livonia and Warren campuses of Davenport University. “An empowered, proactive, positively focused workforce exhibits the characteristics necessary for competitive success in today’s dynamic environment.”

Diana completed a BA in Journalism in 2010 and has honed her skills as a newspaper reporter, senior communications specialist and most recently worked at a weekly magazine as a writer. She joined the EMTS Group in 2016 as a writer for Entrepreneur magazine and SmartCompany Networks. Passionate about honing her writing skills and delivering exceptional client results, Diana continues to keep a finger on the pulse of industry news and insights.

Self Development

A Future-proof You

Fostering a growth mindset is critical if you want to be irreplaceable in the future.

Rob Jardine

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Growth mindset

Our ability to succeed and grow is determined by how adaptive we are, and our ability to learn. The good news? You can foster a Growth Mindset.


Have you ever wondered why some people can view failure as the end of the world while others see it as an exciting opportunity? Psychologists and neuroscientists have focused on this phenomenon over the last decade to better understand how we approach challenges in our personal and business lives.

The phenomenon has been defined as a ‘Growth Mindset’ by Stanford Psychologist Dr Carol Dweck and has been linked to higher levels of collaboration, resilience, motivation, performance and innovation. Since publishing her book, Mindset (1.6 million in print already), the term Growth Mindset has begun to appear in many major leadership frameworks and school curriculums, both locally and internationally.

In fact, Growth Mindset has become a core strategy at many global companies, including Microsoft, Google and NASA. It’s also been put forward as one of the key skills for the future world of work, as it’s believed to have a significant impact on the ability to handle change in our environments.

Some believe that in order to future-proof ourselves in the new world of work, driven by rapid change, the question we should be asking ourselves is no longer “what skillset do we need to have?” To ultimately determine both personal and business success we need to rather ask “what mindset do we need to have?”

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

A mindset is the unconscious way that we view our world. It’s the lens that influences the way that we make sense of, and interpret, information. This ultimately guides our decision- making and our behaviour.

Our lens is largely determined by our experiences and interaction with the world.  A Growth Mindset is a lens by which you interpret the world based on a belief that you have about the ability to grow and learn. Specifically, it’s the belief that you can grow and learn throughout life and that your ability is not something that you are born with.

Sounds philosophical and soft, but it has since been underpinned by advances in neuroscience and psychological research and has proven to have a hard business impact. Research started with school children and the way that different children handle challenges and setbacks. Since its application to the business context, researchers have seen it linked to higher levels of performance, greater frequency of feedback and different ways that information is processed in the brain. Some of its biggest applications have been in goal-setting, performance and development conversations in the business context. It’s also believed to be a core principle underpinning an innovation mindset.

Related: 8 Mindsets That Will Set You On The Path To Success

Growth vs Fixed Mindset

A Growth Mindset is contrasted by a Fixed Mindset, which is a belief that you are the way you are and that you can’t get better. In truth, we possess both mindsets that vary related to certain tasks that trigger either a Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset response. Sometimes, having a Fixed Mindset is okay, but for important tasks it can hamper our performance.

For example, I can have a belief in my ability to improve my rugby skills, but if I’m not big enough to make the Springboks I still won’t make it. Although I can definitely improve my ability at rugby, I also have to be realistic and recognise what parts of the environment trigger which mindset to leverage the best parts of my thinking.

Where having a mindset does not serve us, and is easily triggered, is in learning something new, which normally prompts a Fixed Mindset reaction. In the new world of work there is an increased need to learn and adapt that will ultimately determine our ability to succeed and grow. However, our mindset is at the core of how we interpret the inevitable challenges thrown at us.

A Fixed Mindset response generally focuses on looking good at all times. This places an emphasis on proving oneself, demonstrating skill and performing better than others. Although this can be used to describe the current status quo of business, many companies and institutions are beginning to realise the negative side effects of this dated approach in the new world of work.

This mindset makes us focus on problems, get bogged down in details, be defensive or anxious and get derailed by negative emotions. However, if we change the focus to not ‘look good’ (Fixed) but ‘get better’ (Growth) we can change the way we interpret the same challenges or changes. We focus on improving ourselves, developing skills and performing better than before. When you apply this approach to work you seek out role models, take better risks, set better goals and ultimately become more effective — because it comes from a belief that you can get better.

Leverage your brain for better performance

A Growth Mindset can be nudged with language and changed over time. How you set goals, give feedback and have conversations can all influence whether you trigger a Fixed or Growth Mindset response.

Once you understand Fixed and Growth mindsets there are two strategies to make sure you elicit the best response to challenges in your business environment. One easy way is to simply add the word “yet” when communicating feedback.

Related: An Entrepreneurial Mindset – Why And How To Develop One

Instead of saying that someone “did not do a presentation well,” say that they “did not do the presentation well yet.” This places a focus and a belief on the ability to improve and not a focus on judging performance. This enables the brain to be at its best to process this information and see it as an opportunity to grow and not an opportunity to justify performance or get bogged down in details.

Another great way is to apply the Rule of Three when faced with a challenge that you find threatening. When faced with a challenge think about where you were six months ago, or how you had previously approached a different challenge, and reflect on your progress.

Once you acknowledge your progress, think about where you might be six months after this challenge. This reaffirms the belief that we can all get better and that challenges, although they may stretch us, make us better by the end of it.

By being aware of how our mindset affects us and taking active steps to reframe the same challenges that initially scared us, we can leverage our brains for better performance.

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Self Development

Trust, But Don’t Be Stupid. Get Agreements!

Everyone has been disappointed at some time in their lives, and often by the people you least expected it from. Trust is not given, it is earned. But even after being earned, don’t be naïve about it. Temper that trust with a splash of cynicism regarding the human race.

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There are many entrepreneurs who have lost everything because they placed all their trust in a certain individual or group of people. Accountants and financial directors have stolen millions from entrepreneurs who trusted them with their banking. Sales reps and account managers have made businesses go into liquidation after taking all the customers or key accounts. Business partners who you trusted with your life — the godparents of your children! — left with your business and hard-earned cash, laughing all the way.

Business is a funny thing and money makes people react in unpredictable ways. Business people are still just people. And not all of them are awesome. Agreements were invented for this very reason.

The smart entrepreneurs protect themselves against these possibilities. As a basic principle, draft and conclude proper agreements with everyone you do business with. Include restraint of trade clauses with employees, partners and suppliers. Set up internal controls in the company to ensure that no one individual is allowed to make payments or have access to cash.

Never rely on customers to fulfil their promises and don’t take risks that could sink you. Customers often over-promise and under-deliver, so be careful with their credit terms and ensure that there are proper agreements in place in case anything should go wrong.

These are all basic principles in business and most corporates will comply with them but the SME owner wants to hustle and conclude the deal. That’s a shaky tightrope to walk when you don’t have piles of cash to cushion the fall.

Related: Understanding Shareholder Agreements

Essential agreements

As a bare minimum, you need to ensure that you have the following agreements in place to help you run your business effectively and protect against any disputes that may arise as your company grows:

1. Ownership

Despite being sure that the relationship will last, it’s wise to prepare for the worst. A partnership or shareholder agreement sets out the responsibilities of each party and the procedures for settling conflicts. It also sets the terms and mitigates risks for all involved should one party wish to exit the agreement.

2. Employees

Employment agreements regulate the relationship with your employees and help to avoid misunderstandings and disputes. They regulate leave, working hours, deductions, termination, etc. The last thing you ever want, is to end up at the CCMA without an employment agreement in place.

3. Customers

A sales agreement sets the framework for delivery (inclusions and exclusions) and payment expectations. It creates a shared understanding between you and your client. When everything is working, no one ever refers to a contract. When there’s a problem, you can have endless disputes or simply refer to an agreement both parties signed.

Related: Supplier Agreements – Do I Need A Written Agreement?

4. Suppliers or subcontractors

When you depend on suppliers or subcontractors to fulfil your service obligations, you should definitely mitigate risks and protect your intellectual property. Have an agreement that stipulates delivery or performance requirements, includes a confidentiality and restraint of trade clause, and specifies how and when payments will be made. Most importantly, include provisions for rights and the action you can take if any part of this agreement fails.

The point of having agreements in place is to protect your business interests. There is little use in a contract that can’t be legally enforced. Having an attorney draw up your agreements may seem expensive, possibly over the top, but it will go a long way to ensuring that you can avoid legal proceedings in the long run.

Don’t be pennywise, pound foolish. Get the right agreements in place and protect yourself! Trust, but don’t be stupid about it.

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Self Development

Will You Make The Right Decision?

Our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make, both big and small. Improve your decision-making process, and you’ll improve every aspect of your life and business.

Erik Kruger

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“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.” — Paulo Coelho

Much of what I do in coaching is to help my clients gain clarity around the decisions they make. Every day we must make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions. Some of them are big and will have a dramatic impact on our personal and business lives. Others are small and made automatically without us paying much attention to them.

No matter how big or small a decision is, it pays to have a clear intention for why you are choosing a specific course of action.

After all, our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make. The small and the big ones.

1. The Values Link

Society has conditioned us to think of success mostly in terms of achievement. This means that when faced with a decision about your future, you should take the option that would potentially deliver more money, more certainty, and more stuff.

I have often spoken to clients who think they want something, but it turns out to be a temporary infatuation. Once the emotional high wears off they realise that the shiny object was merely a distraction.

Related: 6 Common Decision-Making Blunders That Could Kill Your Business

So, one of the best things you can do is to first create some distance from the decision you have to make. However, this is not always possible. In such cases I talk to my clients about the Values Link.

Essentially, we are trying to see which decision will link best to your values (current and future). I recently met with a great business coach to discuss potential collaborations. Our coaching differs in many ways. One of the key ways is that he has an awesome office where clients come to meet him and I do all my coaching digitally.

Leaving the meeting I had some office envy. I immediately started looking at To Let signs and googling office spaces to rent. I could see in my mind how my office space would look. Leather chairs. A wall filled with books. A tray with crystal glasses and premium whisky.

When the emotional high died down I realised it was not what I wanted at all. Conducting all my work digitally is exactly what I want because I value my freedom and mobility. This is not to say he doesn’t value these things, it just means that we prioritise and action our values differently. Be aware though that making decisions in this manner requires you to know what your values are.

2. Visualise the future

Visualisation is a great tool with many applications. Something I often ask my clients to do is to spend time visualising the possible outcomes of the decision they have to make.

I am not talking about a quick glimpse of what it may look like. I mean immersing yourself in it and feeling it.

What does it feel like when you have unhinged yourself from a certain commitment? What does it feel like when you have a new opportunity in front of you?

Try and visualise yourself into a day in the future and feel what it feels like. Sounds weird but you should try it!

3. Binary is boring

Many of us think that a decision is choosing between X or Y. In reality it could mean choosing between X, Y, Z, A, or B.

There is a paradox here. Research has shown that we make better decisions when we limit the amount of options we must choose between. However, do not limit yourself unnecessarily.

Use this paradox to your advantage. Take the time to be creative before making a decision and create as many different scenarios as you can. Create extreme versions of the decision, look for the middle ground, look at it from above and below. Generate possibilities.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Make Good Decisions Quickly

Once you have done that, eliminate as many options until only the most useful ones remain. You do this by linking it back to your values and by checking the decisions against other criteria that you have determined.

Decisions that count

Decision-making is your most powerful tool for creating a bright future.

So, take care of the decisions you make, and they will take care of you. Remember above all to bring intention to every action and decision and watch the magic happen.

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