Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Control. Something we all like to have or be in. Control over our futures, our relationships, our bodies, our careers. But then something big happens – like COVID-19 – and we suddenly feel the exact opposite of control, sending us into an anxious frenzy.
The funny thing about control is, we spend all our time trying to force control over the things we will never, ever have control over – yet so little time exercising control over the things we CAN control.
People will spend days, months, years trying to control their partners so that they don’t leave them, or control what their boss thinks of them, or how their child behaves.
We think if we can somehow control how THEY think and act, we will feel happier. But by doing this, we underestimate our ability to control our own thoughts and feelings - and create happiness for ourselves.
I often used to, and sometimes still do, feel at war with my mind. I was frantically trying to control how people perceived me. I thought if I could just get people to like me, and think highly of me, then I could finally be happy.
My brain tired itself out trying to predict possible rejections and over analyse how other people were thinking and acting, and then of course - not having the power of mind control - I was often floored when events didn't go the way I had planned.
We focus so much energy on trying to shape the world around us to reflect the way WE think it should be because we believe that would make us happy. And then when things don't go 100% our way or perhaps don't make us as happy as we imagined, we're back to a zero on the happiness metre.
The Locus of Control
I started reading self-help books written by people who, just like me, were through being at the mercy of their thinking habits and dependent on other people or circumstances to feel good.
One thing I came across while reading was a theory called the Locus of Control.
The Locus of Control refers to whether people believe their lives are the results of their own actions (internal locus) or believe that life is dictated by events outside of our control (external locus).
If you have an internal locus of control you believe you’re the one sat in the driver’s seat. You will:
· Think your success is down to your own efforts and abilities
· Takes responsibility for your own thoughts, actions, and outcomes
· Know that you are responsible for your own feelings
· Owns your failures and mistakes
· Say ‘I am in control of my life!’ or ‘I determine my future’
If you have an external locus of control you will believe life is something that just happens to you, not something you have power over. You will:
· Attribute your success to luck or fate
· Take no responsibility over your own thoughts, actions, or outcomes
· Blame other people for the way you feel
· Blame failures and mistakes on external factors
· Experience more anxiety, as you believe external events have power over your happiness
· Say ‘Why do bad things always happen to me?’ or ‘They’re making me feel bad’
People tend to lean more one way or the other but can react differently in different situations. Some research suggests our locus of control can be an inborn personality trait, however some studies show childhood experiences can shape our mind-sets in one direction or the other.
So where does this fit in with us managing our minds?
The best way to exercise control in your life is to become internally locused. That means focusing on your OWN thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, and taking responsibility for the outcomes THEY create.
Trying to control other people or situations so that you can get to feel a certain way won’t only not work, but will mean your happiness, success, and results in life will depend solely on external circumstances.
If we can shift our mindset and take responsibility for that which we can control – ourselves - we become more empowered and in turn, more successful.
I’m not suggesting it’s easy. Our brains have lived our whole lives off the leash, and it’s going to take months, even years, of training to slowly get them back under our command and teach ourselves to look inside, instead of out.
But isn’t changing yourself and your mindset an easier feat then trying to control and manipulate the world around you?