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Internal Locus of Control: Good or Bad?

January 29, 2017
Jaap Hollander

Look at the picture, isn’t Superman a prime example of internal locus of control? You don’t see Superman throwing his hands in the air and sighing ‘I sure wish I could save the world, but hey, it’s a pretty complex task’. A colleague who works with criminals as a therapist, had a difficult week last week. One of his clients murdered someone. And this, understandably, upset him very badly. He felt he should have seen it coming. In the last conversation he had with this client, who appeared to be a very meek person, he had sensed that something was wrong. But he could not put his finger on it…. For more than a week our colleague could not sleep and he generally felt tense and depressed.

Then somebody asked him: “You are thinking about all the things that you could have done. But if you had actually done any of those things, could you have prevented what happened?” Our colleague had to admit that –  within in his professional limitations – nothing he could have done would have actually prevented this death. Probably. And this thought gave him peace.

This started me thinking once more about the Meta Program ‘Internal Locus of Control‘. When you have an internal locus of control in a given situation, you believe that you have power over your circumstances. You can influence the world. You are in control. When you have the opposite, an external locus of control, you believe that the situation has power over you. You have to accept things as they are, there is nothing you can do. You throw your hands in the air; often literally. So, naturally, somebody who has an internal locus of control, tends to take responsibility. They are thinking: ‘I can change this’, and therefore they are responsible. Often, this is a good thing. People like other people to take responsibility. And having an internal locus of control also goes together with a focus on goals, with trusting in your own values and with looking at the bright side of things. So it is not surprising that this Meta Program has a good reputation.

There is, however, a dark site to it. As the famous soccer coach Johan Cruijf puts it: ‘Every advantage has its disadvantage‘. People with a strong internal locus of control will often feel responsible for things that are actually outside of their control. My colleague might be an example. He couldn’t sleep because he felt responsible. For something that he could not have prevented…. There’s a connection between a strong internal locus of control and being stressed out.

Bottom line? It all depends on how you handle ‘failure’. If you are responsible and bad things happen, how do you respond? What does that mean to you? If it means (to you) that you are doing everything wrong as a person, you are in trouble (everything = meta program general and you as a person = meta program people). It would be better to understand that this is just this one thing that did not turn out right, which had a lot to do with the world we live in today (just this one thin= meta program specific and the world we live in today as a cause = meta program external locus of control).

So at the end of the day, I am reminded of the famous prayer: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference”. In other words: help me be flexible in my locus of control! Even a hero cannot control everything.


About the author 

Jaap Hollander

Psychologist, living in the Netherlands. Founded MindSonar in 1995. Directs MindSonar Global, which manages the ICT development, applications and the curriculum of the MS Certification Trainings. Working part time as a trainer, writer and coach as well as being an expressionist painter (artist name JAAPH, see jaaph.com). Has written 10 books on NLP and Provocative Coaching.

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  1. This article reminds me of Stephen Covey´s Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern, a great and simple way of distinguishing between the stuff you CAN influence (where you can make use of your internal locus of control) and the stuff you CANNOT (where you´d better not try to use it, unless you first reach a new level of influence, i.e. get promoted.or something). Check out http://www.breakoutofthebox.com/circle.htm or one of many other internet sources.

  2. De vraag is of mensen consequent met hertzelfde metaprogramma reageren. Met name wanneer de context hetzelfde is maar de effecten anders zijn.
    Wanneer je optimistisch ingestelde personen vergelijkt met pessimistisch ingestelde demonstreert dat het inconsequente gebruik van de metaprogramma’s interne en externe controle. Een optimist schrijft successen aan zichzelf toe en tegenvallers aan externe factoren. Een pessimist schrijft successen toe aan toeval en tegenvallers aan interne factoren. Wordt hiermee in de test rekening gehouden?

    1. Iedere context heeft sub-contexten (contexten binnen contexten) en die hebben ook weer sub-contexten, enzovoort. Het is een soort Russisch poppetje. Je stelling over optimisten en pessimisten klopt helemaal. Als een optimist wint met kaarten denkt hij dat hij goed speelt, als hij verliest denkt hij dat hij slechte kaarten heeft. En de pessimist andersom: als hij goed speelt denkt hij dat hij goede kaarten heeft getrokken en als hij verliest denkt hij dat hij slecht speelt. In dit voorbeeld zijn winnen en verliezen verschillende sub-contexten van de hoofdcontext ‘kaarten’. Zo gezien reageren mensen dus weer wel consistent in een gegeven context. Theoretisch is dat mooi, alleen ontstaat dan in de praktijk het probleem dat je twee profielen zou moeten maken voor de context van ´kaarten´ een voor winnen en een voor verliezen. En als je zo doorredeneert, dan moet je misschien wel 100 profielen maken voor allerlei steeds verder gespecificeerde sub-contexten: ‘winnen met kaarten op een goede dag’, ‘winnen met kaarten op een slechte dag’ enzovoort. Dat is in de praktijk onwerkbaar. Dus kies je voor MindSonar de meest specifieke context die je kunt bedenken die toch nog het gebied dekt dat je wilt meten. Je maakt de context zo specifiek mogelijk maar niet specifieker. En dan ga je er van uit dat je een combinatie meet van verschillende momenten. In de score wordt ook zelden 100% gescoord. Het is bijna altijd een combinatie, bijvoorbeeld 7,3 interne controle en 3,7 externe controle, of 5,3 proactief en 4,7 reactief, etc. P.S. Wil je de volgende keer s.v.p. in het Engels posten?

  3. It would also be interesting to look at what differs in each person to make certain scenarios give certain people the feeling of control while in others there might be a feeling of lack of control. This would be difficult to test, I’m sure, considering the differences in the people and also the differences in the situation. But it’s very curious when you can put two people in the same situation and some come out fine and others don’t deal with it as well.

  4. Good read Jaap, it’s interesting to see how life changing events such as a murder can affect thinking.

  5. While reading this article, I could only stop and think about how these set of circumstances could apply to sports. When you’re playing sports, you can only only think about what you should have done to make the team win, while there’s about 10 other guys on the team that need to back you up to justify the results. In all, I feel that the only way you could leave a game with a loss and feel justified about it is if you know that you truly left it all out on the field, and that the game just worked in favor of the other team. Anyways, great read as always and I look forward to more!

    1. Good comment. I think this applies anywhere where you want to achieve anything. How do you handle when you do not achieve what you wanted? Is it you or is it the world? As usual, wisdom is in the middle.

  6. Nice article, Interesting the point of view… I think that everything related to the mind experience is subjective, don’t you?

  7. Internal locus control or external locus control is something that determines a lot of how people process information about experiences, how much is on your hands and how much is not in your hands and it is not for you to control, I can see this related to anxiety issues I have seen in patients.

  8. Not good, not bad, depends on the situation and over all what makes more sense in terms of responsibility, not carrying guilt or excess responsibility over situations that cannot be changed by the person, on the other side not blaming everything around and not taking any responsibility over things.

  9. I’m really anxious to assess the different between my employees. Cheer to success and cheers to Mindsonar!!!

  10. This case is a great example of internal locus of control, this meta program can differ very much from one person to another. The impact on this case at the beginning, for the therapist must have been very hard, but with the proper re orientation, made by the question asked to him he had a totally different view of the situation.

  11. The prayer at the bottom of the article is one of my favorite quotes. In fact, I have it framed on my living room wall! Interesting read, Jaap. I feel like it helped me to put some personal things in perspective.

  12. Same here! I was thinking of the same exact reference while I was reading this wonderfully written article. Sometimes focus is all you need.

  13. Alexis,

    No way! The prayer at the end really is inspiring and this articles as a whole was inspiring for the most part. I still can’t believe you have that prayer framed. Good for you!

  14. As with everyone, the equation changes each time. We are all made differently and uniquely. That’s what makes this program so unique. It has the ability to adapt and help us unlock barriers we never thought were possible.

  15. I was on the same boat as Gregory, I thought it came from that source too. Who would’ve thought there was so much more to the story. Once again, thanks for the info Jaap.

  16. Yes, totally! Sports teams are always looking for that next key piece to put them over the top and bring success. This would be the perfect fit. The advancements in modern tech have brought changes never seen before.

  17. Yes, definitely. You have to know how to separate what responsibility was yours to take, just like you separate right from wrong. You can’t put to much pressure on yourself if it wasn’t your fault.

  18. Belinda,

    Definitely! As an entrepreneur myself, I’d love to see the differences between my employees too. It takes all kinds to succeed!

  19. There’s always going to be different results with different people, but I’m with you on this one. Sounds like a very interesting cause to test. I’d love to see the results.

  20. John,

    It’s always interesting to see how any events affect the human brain. There’s so much to unlock, this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to read more!

  21. Wow. Your description of your therapist friend’s dilemma really hit home for me. He IS me, at least in our locuses. I definitely have an internal locus of control, and I often find myself in similar situations as your friend. Sometimes my guilt causes me to lose sleep and snap at my family. I need to be more flexible as far as my locus of control. Thank you so much for enlightening me!

  22. It really is about a team effort, no matter what you’re doing in life, though. The more people you support and that support you, the stronger you can be. Behold the power of grassroot campaigns and marketing. It really can make your stuff shine.

  23. I never thought about applying Covey’s concept to this page, but boy is it fascinating. I love reading everyone’s comments on here. It’s like a tiny little support community. Cheers to all the L-O-V-E!

  24. Hi, I enjoyed your article. Do you have any specific mental exercises that could help me switch between locuses of control? The transition can be very difficult for me. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Susan, The simplest exercise is self talk. There are many more – much more involved – techniques, but self talk is a good place to start. Ask yourself “What can I do, right now, to change things, either immediately or in the long run?” What are my options to influence things?” “How can I improve the chance of things going my way?” “How can I start today on my path to evolve from en effect to a cause?”and so on, for internal locus of control. For external locus of control ask yourself things like “What is out of my hands?” “What are things that are definitely beyond my powers and outside of my control?”, “How can I let go of things that I cannot influence anyway?” “Don’t push the river!”and so on, for external locus of control. Of course you can sue your own favorite formulations.

  25. I didn’t know that I handled problem solving situations better than high-stress scenarios… but now that i know, It’s a great chance for me to apply those skills and be able to ask for help when I need it. USEFUL info!

  26. You have an interesting take on your friend’s situation. Many people do feel as if they have a certain level of control over situations outside their realm. This is how many people with OCD feel, especially those with the rituals.

  27. That was my first thought also. I had to actually go through and re-read the article just so I could get that out of my head and concentrate solely on what was printed.

  28. I think it would boil down to how a person was raised also. Many people are raised with a much greater sense of responsibility and that makes them tend to want to assume control over events around them.

  29. Not to pick apart your psyche or anything, but it would be interesting to find out where that guilt originally came from.

  30. I agree with you 100%! It does come down to how you are raised and how you approach life. We see cases of this in society all the time.

  31. Good reflection makes this article the Internal Control Locus. I know a prestigious surgeon throwing very high rates in the “Laboral” context in meta programs: procedures, specific and mainly internal Locus Control. When surgery had a problem with a patient, he felt much guilt because he believes that it was responsible for what happened. However in its “Family” context, this doctor is very relaxed and seldom he was seen under stress

  32. Excellent article! I agree that we must find a balance. There are things that are in our hands and others not. In differentiate and learn to flow is wisdom.

  33. When I have awareness of how to handle metaprogrammes I will get results much more effective.
    A person with internal locus of control are aware, has the ability to know when to pause and review what happens as we can not always be heroes and recognize our weaknesses makes us take a step forward in any situation .

  34. What an article! It makes you reflect on how sometimes we think that we can control things and therefore we end in burned out, elevated stress, and even with remorse. Sometimes even heroes need to understand that their powers may not control the outcome of certain problems. A good idea is to consider the power and strength of other super heroes as support.
    By understanding from where our ILC comes from, we can bring it down to a more analytical level, without compromising our health.

  35. Thank You for this article. It is so close to me. I used to work as an advisor. With my strong Internal Locus of Control pattern, I often felt responsible for other’s actions. So I tried to steer them “in the right direction”. Even, if they didn’t want to go “in the right direction” of mine.
    Now, as a coach, I’ve learned to let my clients take the responsibility for what they are doing and what they are not doing. It is such a relief!
    For me, it is the nicest thing in being coach – do your best, and give your client the freedom to choose, how he decides to act like. And let him take the consequences of his decisions.
    To me, it is the matter of respect for the client.

  36. When I started my certification process and I did my first MS test with the context ” In my best moment “, I saw myself working with a Turquoise Project in which I could help lots of people to be happy in their lifes !! One of my results was that I had 10 in Internal Locus Reference…. then I understood that I wanted to save the planet by myself and I thought it was my responsability. Now I understand this better, I relax myself and I’m starting to take my own responsability, consider and trust other people. This was a very illustrative experience for myself !!

  37. A marriage also shares the work and the fight between both to gain control has given them serious problems, was until we talked about the ICL and the ECL that could peek into your interior as marriage and as entrepreneurs and began to know each other better and to negotiate what call the dance of power

  38. whenever I remember this famous prayer, I just try to block out thoughts that are bothering me and try to smile at life. Seriously, we can’t control all situations so no point sulking over the ones we can’t control.

  39. True, even superheroes can’t control everything. We can try to make sure things we can control are handled with our brains and things we can’t change or control should just be accepted that way and maybe pray for a better situation.

  40. You know, a lot of people would be less stressed out if they don’t always go about acting like the world and all its problems rest on their shoulders. I’ve got friends who can be all depressed when a situation they can’t clearly help weighs them down. I always try to let them know that they can actually let these things go instead of dwelling on it.

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