It’s one of the most important concepts for anyone interested in mental health and wellness to understand, yet it’s one of the least discussed: Locus Of Control.
Summed up, locus of control describes how an individual views the world in two broad categories: internal and external. Let’s discuss each category and why they’re so important when it comes to mental health.
First, someone with an internal locus of control views themselves as being in control of their life and mental health, but also accepting that certain things are out of their control (and subsequently not wasting time or energy brooding about these things).
They will process life events as being due to their actions – if a relationship is going well, for example, someone with an internal LOC will read this as being down to their efforts and being a good partner. They put the effort in to the relationship and they’re rewarded with a positive outcome.
The same could apply for lots of situations that we find ourselves in life; doing well at work, sporting achievement, academic performance, maintaining good mental health and finding a partner.
Someone with an internal LOC will look at success in these areas as being down to them, and not due to external factors such as luck, someone taking pity on them or someone else letting them succeed.
Most of the time, we’re not referring to winning Wimbledon or a Noble Prize when it comes to achievement – one of the keys to good mental health is to recognise your daily ‘wins’ no matter how small.
So going to the gym or being a solid member of your team at work would all be things that someone with an internal LOC recognises as being a positive result of their effort, skill and personality. In turn, processing events such as these in a positive fashion will add to an individual’s self-esteem, confidence and positive view of themselves, and life in general. These are all important foundations for good mental health.
By contrast, a person with an external locus of control views the situations and life events mentioned above in subtly different way; they will perceive them as happening to them. They will think that they have little control over these events; they might think that finding a partner or job – or overcoming depression – is down to luck, for example.
They may have a spiritual or fatalistic view of the world that instructs them to view events as outside of their control; getting that job you always wanted is a gift from their deity or is just pure luck, for example. That’s not to say that having spiritual beliefs is incompatible with developing an internal LOC, but some beliefs promote the idea that life events are outside of our control, when actually the opposite is usually the case.
The problem with having an external locus of control is this: if you believe events and things that happen to you are out of your control, then you will do little to change them. You won’t put in effort to seek out treatment for anxiety that really works, or you won’t put maximum effort into meeting a partner or new friends that make you feel fulfilled and happy.
People with an external LOC often feel stuck with their lot in life; things have happened to them and that’s just the way it is. Hard luck, fate, god’s will, bad karma. S***t happens and that’s just the way it is. This is a deeply unhelpful view for anyone struggling with their mental health.
As Rob Kelly describes so well in his main The Thrive Programme book, people with an internal LOC will almost always find it easier to deal with mental health issues, and overcome hurdles in life.
For example, an episode of potential situational depression – losing your job because the company went bust due to sales of widgets collapsing (rather than your poor performance) – would be far more easily overcome by someone with an internal LOC.
They would process the event as being outside of their control, and recognise that the company failing doesn’t change the skills, thought, talent and hard work they put in to being good at their job in the first place. They would view it as an opportunity to find a new, even better job and put lots of effort into doing so.
Someone with an external LOC would take this event to be a reflection of their own skills and consequently brood, analyse and catastrophize the company’s failings as their own. They would let this event dramatically impact on their mental health and view of themselves as a valuable employee and good co-worker. It’s fairly obvious what mental health issues this would cause.
Yes, LOC is partly about perspective – another key factor in good mental health – but it goes much deeper than that. Developing an internal LOC is about believing in your ability to be fit, healthy, happy and productive without the help or permission of others. It means that you will do everything in your power to overcome hurdles in life – or learn the tools to do so – because you feel powerful and in control of events.
In The Thrive Programme, this concept is also taught in the form of SPACE – Sense of Power And Control over Experiences – and Locus of Control feeds into the concept of SPACE. Your sense of power and control over your mental health is a direct result of your Locus of Control.
If you’d like to know more about developing great mental health and an internal Locus of Control, why not contact your local Thrive Consultant for a free first consultation or buy a copy of Rob Kelly’s book?