Some thoughts on the ‘locus of control’

‘Locus of control’ is an aspect of personality psychology. It essentially relates to how much control you feel you have over your life. ‘Locus’ just means ‘place where something happens,’ especially if that something is an abstract concept (for example, a particular committee could be identified as the ‘locus of power’ within a business).

Your locus of control can be internal or it can be external. If you have a highly internal locus of control then you feel that you are in control of your own life: your actions are the primary reason why things happen to you as they do. If you have a highly external locus of control then you believe the opposite: that something outside of you has more influence and control over your life than you do. The something might be luck, or God, or it might simply be an understanding that your circumstances are too complicated, or influenced by too many other people, for you to have much impact.

I’ll use the Wikipedia example to elucidate because it’s just really simple and helpful. Let’s say you take a formal exam. If you have an internal locus of control, you would feel that how well you did in the exam is all down to you: if you aced it then you obviously studied hard and well, if you sucked then you didn’t study enough. If you have a highly external locus and you did well, you might assume that you fluked it or that the examiner took pity on you. If you did poorly, you’d think that the questions were too hard.

Can you use Lumina Spark to assess your locus of control? And if you already have an idea about your locus of control, can you use it together with your portrait to gain further insight? One thing I’m really interested in here is trying to use the locus of control idea but with the Lumina ideals of flexibility, contradiction and non-judgemental terms.

Julian B. Rotter (great name), who was the first person to really explain the concept of control loci, cautioned that internality and externality represent two ends of a continuum, not an either/or typology. Sound familiar? Seeing external/internal loci as a continuum makes it much more useful for our purposes, as we can more readily apply it to the Lumina Spark model.

Researching this concept online I kept coming across a particular view: that the internal locus of control is much more positive and desirable than the external. Even Rotter subscribed to this, and stated that people with an internal locus of control were more likely to succeed, less likely to be smokers, even less likely to have heart attacks. It seems that most of the thinking states that an external locus of control is a bad thing. It makes some sense: after all, everyone wants to be in charge of their own destiny. Everybody wants to have a direct effect on the world.

It’s a bit predicable in terms of corporate learning, however. To be successful in business you need to take control! You need to be the leader! You need to believe your decisions matter! There’s also the idea that if you have a more external locus of control you are somehow passive, apathetic, even gloomy. Why bother? There’s nothing I can do about my future. People with external loci of control are also stated to be more satisfied with their lives and their levels of success.

I would like to use a diagram to illustrate the model, but I can’t find one online that doesn’t directly state that internal is better than external. This view is limiting in a variety of ways, firstly because it fails to use the terms on a continuum. You can’t believe that you and you alone are responsible for what happens to you. You just can’t. It isn’t logical. You can assume that you are the guiding force in your life, sure, but what if you step outside and someone drops a piano on you? I’d say that having a piano fall on you is a pretty significant life event, and one you had zero control over!

All right, I’m being a bit facetious, but to assume that you are the absolute master of everything that happens to you is at best illogical and at worst pure solipsism. The universe and its inhabitants – especially other people – are unpredictable.
On the other hand, it’s also a little illogical (and over-dramatic) to assume that you have no control over your life. You have the very basic aspects of control (you can pick things up etc), so why not just extend those further?

I think simply striving for an internal locus of control is an over-simplification, and doesn’t get the most out of the concept, at least from a business perspective. Perhaps in individual psychology it’s worth focusing only on self-actualisation. But in your professional life (unless you’re the absolute boss), you aren’t always in total control of your own destiny. It’s a fact of life.

Using Lumina to identify your locus

It’s not hugely difficult to attribute Lumina aspects and qualities to internal and external loci. Green qualities like accommodating and collaborative obviously could be applied to an external locus – your life is, in part, controlled by other people: you have to react to what they do. Similarly, it’s necessary to be flexible if you think that circumstances will often be beyond your control.

Red aspects have more obvious internal connotations: you’re can only be competitive if you think your actions have an impact. Similarly being purposeful and structured rely on feeling like you have a tangible effect on your existence.

Some qualities could arguably have elements of both. A good example would be the blue quality, cautious. I would argue that this quality could have elements of both an internal locus of control (my actions have real effects, so I must proceed slowly to make sure everything remains under control) and an external locus of control (I must be cautious, because the circumstances could change at any time).

So the locus of control is a continuum, and I think a fluid one. It can change in reaction to different situations and circumstances. It’s also seriously affected by the 3 personas aspect of Lumina Spark. Your locus of control changes depending on your level of stress. Sometimes you might feel entirely in control of your existence, sometimes you might feel helpless. Sometimes you think it’s more practical to react to the world, to go with the flow. This might be a positive attribute for you – one you lose when you’re under stress. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two terms Lumina Spark use to describe over-extended red and green aspects, controlling and acquiescing, could be used to describe a binary approach to control loci.

So the locus of control concept and Lumina Spark compliment each other rather well. I think that if you subscribe to the idea that an strongly internal locus of control is a desirable thing, you can use Lumina Spark to assess where your locus of control is, and then take steps to address or change it’s positioning. However, I actually think that you can use the Lumina portrait to expand the concept of control loci in a more productive way than simply internal = good, external = bad. It could provide an interesting little addendum to a Lumina portrait, especially if we try and keep the terminology neutral and treat it as a continuum. I’m excited to start thinking of scenarios where I can use them together.

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