Locus of control

From Weekly I/O#72

Locus of control shapes our emotional well-being. Strong internal locus of control, the belief that we have control over the outcomes, can motivate us and extend our lifespan.

Book: Smarter Faster Better

Why do we feel the urge to exit during a highway traffic jam, even if we know that taking the exit might take longer to get home? It's because having the ability to make a choice gives us a sense of control, which makes us feel better.

This idea is supported by research examining brain activity, which shows that people feel more engaged and less bored when they have the power to make choices, even in mundane tasks like guessing if a number is higher or lower than five.

This need for control is related to a psychological concept known as locus of control, which measures the degree to which people believe they have control over events in their lives versus attributing outcomes to external factors. In other words, "Do you believe that your destiny is controlled by yourself or external forces?"

People with an internal locus of control believe they can control their fate. Therefore, they take credit for their successes and accept blame for their failures. They are more likely to attribute good grades to hard work rather than innate intelligence.

In contrast, those with an external locus of control attribute their life's events to luck or fate. They often feel helpless because they don't think their action can make a difference. Thus, they often feel more stressed and frustrated in tough situations.

Feedback plays a crucial role in nurturing an internal locus of control. For instance, when someone solves a difficult math problem, saying, "You must have worked very hard to solve this problem," stimulates their internal locus of control and increases their willingness to spend more time on upcoming complex problems.

On the other hand, saying, "You must be very smart to have solved this problem," fosters their external locus of control, leading to less motivation to address upcoming challenging problems. As a result, they give up on challenging problems quickly and move to easier ones.

Choice, an act of making a decision between options, shapes our emotional well-being. By developing a stronger internal locus of control, we can even extend our lifespan. For example, studies have shown that older people in nursing homes who have the freedom to arrange their own living spaces tend to live longer.

It's worth noting, however, that while attributing success or failure, one can fall into attribution traps like self-serving bias, where people tend to take credit for successes while blaming external factors for their failures.

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