First, A Pop Quiz

There are facts and then there are beliefs.  They define reality about the world, relationships, and these lives we lead. That’s a good place to start. Sorting through this tangle might bring us some clarity. Let’s start with a simple quiz on locus of control.

Now you’ve got a score and an idea of whether you have a stronger internal or external locus of control. We’ll talk more about what this means in a minute.  My first question to you is: does this quiz measure facts or beliefs?  How do you figure this out? Did you rely on the fact that the quiz was administered by a researcher? Do you believe or agree with the results? Were there some answers you picked that didn’t quite fit?

At first, I would have said the quiz asked facts about my beliefs but now I’m not so sure. Psychologists don’t have the market cornered on facts and reality.  The reason I’ve lead you down this rabbit hole is to get you thinking about Control: Reality, Relationships and You – Part 1. I wouldn’t trick you into taking a bogus quiz but what if I told you my neighbor’s kid wrote it and it means nothing?  It’s human nature to trust others and not exactly something we want to stop as it has benefits in other parts of life (The Core of Everyone’s Struggles: The Big Four) but it’s something to monitor.

Internal versus External Locus of Control

In his book, Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, acclaimed speaker, author, and Cambridge professor, Dr. Brian Little fantastically describes the aspects of personality and temperament that form us into social individuals. His research on personality and “free traits” is fascinating and liberating.  (Go for a nerdy deep dive here).  Locus of control refers to the belief of the extent a person has power over the events of their lives versus being at the mercy of fate or luck.

Internal Locus of Control

Those who scored lower on the quiz might feel as though they make their own destiny, take responsibility for their lives, and get things done. Seems great, right? If this person is also resilient, he or she may also take setbacks in stride. If this person is prone to depression or codependency, they may think they they have brought their troubles on themselves.

External Locus of Control

Those who scored higher on the quiz might feel as though a plan is already set for them, the world is bigger than they can control or influence, and they must go with the winds of fate. Seems carefree. If life is running smoothly, this person often doesn’t mind life’s changes as they still have everything they need. If troubles mount, this person is likely to feel overwhelmed and powerless to get out from under burdens.

Can you change your locus of control beliefs? What is the most accurate way of looking something?

Let’s use an example. I want you to take a shot at solving this one. Paul and Sarah have the same fight about money. They are both generally responsible, have money in the bank, save for retirement, and make enough to have some extra. The fight starts when Paul buys something for $500 without consulting Sarah.

Paul: “Look what I got today! It’s going to be so useful. I’ve got so many ideas for how to use it.”

Sarah: “That’s great, honey. Um, how much was it? Do we really need it?”

Paul: [Points, says excitedly], “It was on sale for $500 – a steal!”

Sarah: [Looks down, says irritably], “No one ever listens to me. My boss and my mother just steamroll me and you do it too!”

What just happened here? Paul was excited for his new purchase and the project he planned to do. Sarah’s response is startling and disappointing to him. From Sarah’s point of view, she tries to be open to Paul’s enthusiasm but feels frustrated that she wasn’t consulted again and doesn’t know how to change the conversation.

What are Paul and Sarah’s individual locus of control perspectives? What are your clues? What suggestions do you have for this couple?

Also published on Medium.