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  • Resilient Practice

Calling the Shots - You Have the Power

“You may not control all the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them”

Maya Angelou

Our locus of control describes to what degree we believe we are in control over what happens to us, how autonomous we are, do we call the shots or not? This is a spectrum from internal to external.

When we have an external locus of control, we have decided that we have no control over what happens and that we are a victim of our circumstances. We do not accept responsibility for anything that transpires which can be very comfortable. If it is not our responsibility, then it is not our fault if things go wrong and therefore there is no need for us to examine our own thoughts feelings and behaviours. We can fall into the trap of letting others make decisions for us and in doing so lose our power. We can also tend to see adverse events as traumas.

We may say and indeed believe things like:

“There is nothing I can do about it”

“It’s not what you know it’s who you know”

“Life is down to luck it doesn’t matter what I do”

To have an external locus of control is to tell yourself that you are powerless; you have no control over what happens in your life. Giving away responsibility for our thoughts and feelings disempowers us and leaves us vulnerable and less resilient.

When we have a strong internal locus of control, we accept responsibility for what happens to us. We know that we can influence events via our own responses to the external environment. We see adverse events as opportunities rather than as trauma, expressing gratitude for the lessons learned.

We say and believe:

“It’s up to me”

“I control my own destiny”

“If I work hard I will achieve”

To have an internal locus of control encourages us to think in an optimistic way, to actively look for solutions to problems. When we do this, we are happier and more resilient.

Researchers of the 1970 British Cohort Study, found those who had shown an internal locus of control at the age of ten were less likely to be overweight at age thirty, less likely to describe their health as poor, and less likely to show high levels of psychological stress[1].

Where we are on the locus of control spectrum is influenced by our genetic make-up, our parental role models and our early experiences. Parents with a strong internal locus of control themselves who give the rewards they promised and consistent, supportive boundaries, foster an internal locus in their children.

What is happening in our lives also influences our position on that spectrum.

Studies have shown that our locus of control internalises with age.

We can move along the spectrum towards the internal, if we choose to.

Try this:

To move your locus of control towards the internal end of the spectrum

1. Be aware of what you can and cannot control. Factors you cannot control are your limitations and energy spent trying to change them is wasted.

2. Recognise that you are fully in control of all of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. No one has the power to affect your emotions unless you choose to let them.

If someone is rude, they are rude.

You decide how to respond.

You can even choose whether it affects you or not.

No one has the power to make you angry, upset or confrontational unless you give it to them.

Take responsibility for all your responses.

3. Reframe negative responses. When you notice a negative response in yourself; this may be physical – a sick feeling in your stomach a tight chest or palpitations; or a thought - I’m not good enough, I have failed. Stop and take a moment to examine that response. Ask yourself:

Why has this response been triggered?

Is my response appropriate?

Is my response helpful?

Is there a different response that would be more appropriate, more useful?

4. Be grateful for everything that happens. Even in adversity there are lessons and when we can be grateful for these we are better protected from the adverse event.


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