It was 1995 when Steve Jobs said: “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” 1
Steve Jobs went on to invent the iPhone, released it in 2007 and permanently changed the world. Today, life is unthinkable without smartphones. 2
Steve Jobs had an internal locus of control.
What Is the Locus of Control?
Locus of control is the degree to which people believe to have control over their lives. 3
It’s a scale where on the one end are the people who believe that they have full control over their lives (internal locus of control) and on the other end are the people who believe they have zero control over their lives (external locus of control).
It’s unlikely that anyone exists at either end of the scale. Most people lie somewhere in between the extremes. The more control you believe to have over your life, the more you have an internal locus of control. The less control you believe to have over your life, the more you have an external locus of control.
Internal Locus of Control
People with a high internal locus of control believe to have a great deal of control over the direction of their lives. They believe that the events in their lives are directly related to their own choices and actions.
Psychological research shows that people with an internal locus of control…
- Don’t waste their time waiting for luck to strike but rather prefer to create their own luck. They have a “growth mindset” because personal growth improves their power to change their lives for the better.
- Not only take credit for their achievements but they also take responsibility for their failures.
- Are not likely to be superstitious. They don’t believe in ghosts, spirits and the like.
- Solve their own problems. Since they believe to have full control over their lives, they don’t hope that someone else will come and save them.
- Are more likely to watch their diet, exercise and be physically healthier.
- Don’t take things personally, which grants them the ability to spot blessings in disguise.
- Don’t give up easily. They are more patient and able to delay gratification which makes them more likely to be high achievers in the long run.
- Have a victor mentality as opposed to a victim mentality.
- Are less likely to obey anyone except the law.
- Act rather than react.
- Are more rational than emotional which makes them emotionally more stable.
- Set goals for themselves because they believe they can achieve them provided that they put in the work.
- Are more dynamic and open to improvement.
- Are more likely to be self-reliant.
External Locus of Control
People with a high external locus of control believe to have no control over the direction of their lives. They believe that the events in their lives depend heavily on external forces such as God, chance, fate, other people, nature and luck.
Psychological research shows that people with an external locus of control…
- Wait (or pray to God) for luck to find them. They have a “fixed mindset” where they find personal growth pointless because they don’t believe to have control over their destiny.
- Not only attribute their achievements (which are few and far between) to luck but they also blame external forces for their failures.
- Are likely to be superstitious and believe in ghosts, spirits and the like.
- Are impotent at solving their own problems. They expect others to come and save them.
- Are more likely to be out of shape and unhealthy as a result of bad diet and poor exercise habits.
- Tend to take things personally which impairs their ability to spot blessings in disguise.
- Give up easily. They are less patient and less able to delay gratification which makes them less likely to be high achievers in the long run. Even at the rare times when they get lucky, they have a propensity to screw it up in the long run. This is the reason why most lottery winners end up broke within just a few years of winning the lottery.
- Have a victim mentality as opposed to a victor mentality.
- Are quick to obey anyone who appears to command power.
- React rather than act.
- Are more emotional than rational which makes them emotionally unstable.
- Don’t bother setting goals for themselves. Why set goals when you believe that you have no control over the turn of events anyway?
- Are more static and close to improvement.
- Are unlikely to be self-reliant.
Real-Life Examples of Internal vs External Locus of Control
Since locus of control is entirely dependent on how people interpret real-life events inside their own minds, the actions and reactions of people to the exact same events can be vastly different than one another.
Here are some examples of how people behave in real-life depending on their locus of control:
John vs Jack
John has no girlfriend or any sex life to speak of. He blames his genetics, the unfavorable female to male ratio in the city he lives in, and his parents for his social awkwardness. He quietly accepts that there’s no chance that any woman will be attracted to him so he gives up on finding a girlfriend or a sexual partner and goes on to watch porn. John has an external locus of control.
Jack has no girlfriend or any sex life to speak of. He isn’t the best looking man, the city he lives in also has an unfavorable female to male ratio. He grew up poor and his parents didn’t teach him how to get girls. Jack starts to work out and gets jacked (ha!). He also starts to dress better which makes him more attractive to the opposite sex. He finds a job in another city with a more favorable female to male ratio. He starts approaching girls, pushes through rejections until he develops competent pick-up skills. He soon finds a great girlfriend and resumes having a harmonious relationship with her. Jack has an internal locus of control.
Jason vs Michael
Jason has no money saved for the rainy day. He is having a hard time making ends meet. He not only lives paycheck to paycheck, but he also has no plan B in case he gets fired. He blames the economy, politicians, and his parents for his lack of money. He hopes that the economy is good and he doesn’t get fired from his job. He also hopes that his favorite leader gets elected in the next election. Jason has an external locus of control.
Michael has no money saved for the rainy day. He is having a hard time making ends meet. He lives paycheck to paycheck too but he understands the risks of depending on someone else for his livelihood so he starts working on a side business in his spare time. He quits his job when his side income exceeds the salary he earns from his job. Michael has an internal locus of control.
Paul vs Jeff
Paul is fat and grossly out of shape due to a bad diet and a severe lack of exercise. He blames his genetics for being fat and his job taking too much of his time for his lack of exercise. He curses his luck and continues to live fat and unhappy. Paul has an external locus of control.
Jeff is fat and out of shape due to a bad diet and a severe lack of exercise. He decides to take control of the situation and conducts a search on google to find a solution. He finds LaneGoodwin.com and devours the articles on diet and exercise. He decides to change his diet and starts bodyweight training since he learned that it’s the most effective type of training which takes the least amount of time. He gets in great shape within just a few months. Jeff has an internal locus of control.
Which Is Better, an Internal or an External Locus of Control?
Scientific research on locus of control consistently shows that people with an internal locus of control tend to be happier4, less depressed5, less stressed 6, and more successful (both in school7 and at work8).
Since most people have an external locus of control, you’ll read wimpy articles on the internet telling you that both internal and external locus of control have their advantages and disadvantages, in an attempt to avoid offending the majority of the population, which of course is bullshit.
I’ve even seen articles claiming that it’s better to not take responsibility for your failures because it makes it easier to deal with failure. Fuck that. Taking responsibility for your failures is NOT a disadvantage at all. It allows you to learn from your failures, avoid repeating your mistakes, get up on your feet and persevere until you succeed. Success is impossible without failure. If you avoid failure you avoid success.
People with an internal locus of control do objectively better in life. An external locus of control has no advantages whatsoever.
An internal locus of control is a strength. An external locus of control is a weakness. Strength is always better than weakness. Period.
How to Cultivate an Internal Locus of Control
Fret not if you don’t have an internal locus of control. Locus of control is a belief system. It’s about how you view the world. Since it’s a belief system, it’s completely up to you to change it. (Provided that you live in a free country, that is. It’s harder, if not impossible, for people living in countries with oppressive regimes to develop an internal locus of control since it requires a great deal of free will.)
Obviously, you can’t control everything but you can control your attitude and how you respond to your circumstances. If you change how you view the world, you change your world.
1. Let Go of What You Can’t Control
The first step in cultivating an internal locus of control is to let go of what you can’t control because doing so frees up time and resources to focus on what you can control.
You can’t control your height, age, the weather, the economy, financial markets, natural disasters, wars, how other people live their lives, the traffic, and so on. It’s pointless to waste time fretting or complaining about them.
2. Focus on What You Can Control
You can’t control your height but you can control your weight. You can’t control the economy but you can control your spending (and your earning power for that matter). You can’t control the stock market but you can control how you invest your money.
You can’t control what other people do but you can set boundaries to control how behaviors and attitudes of others affect your life. You can’t control other people’s personal attributes but you can control who you allow into your life as friends or partners.
You can control how you eat, exercise, learn and invest your free time. You can control where you live, work, or eat.
If you stop worrying and wasting time about what you can’t control and focus your mental and physical energy on what you can control, you will live a much better life.
The more you focus on what you can control, the sooner you will develop complete self-mastery.
3. Don’t Blindly Trust Your Feelings
Most people live on autopilot guided by their feelings. They go where the wind blows. These people often find themselves in deep shit since feelings are often unreliable indicators of reality.
Make it a habit to distrust your emotions. Learn how to set aside your emotions and think rationally. It’s not easy but it’s better than to rely on your emotions.
Bonus: It’s perfectly possible to feel bad when something good happens to you. If you rely on your emotions to evaluate the developments in your life, you’ll completely miss blessings in disguise.
4. Stop Blaming Your Parents or Your Genetics for Your Fuckups in Life
Blaming your parents (or your genetics for that matter) is a cop-out that finds a lot of supporters in our time and age.
We live in the age of entitlement where people are keen on blaming their parents for their fuckups in life. I understand that some people have shitty parents but I also believe that shitty parents who deliberately sabotage their kids are a rarity.
There’s no consensus on the right way to raise a child so your parents probably did their best when they were raising you. If you genuinely had malevolent parents and had insurmountable childhood traumas then therapy could help but for most people, all that it takes is to just forgive their parents for whatever mistakes they unwillingly made and move on with their lives.
You can’t choose your genetics or parents or you can’t go back in time and change how your parents raised you. Try to make the most out of the hand you’re dealt.
5. Never Generalize
People with an internal locus of control tend to generalize less.
For example, if you are not good at your job, don’t say “I’m stupid” but be more specific. “I’m not good at marketing (yet)” is a more constructive approach that promotes improvement. This attitude allows you to stop unfairly and incorrectly disparaging yourself and focus your efforts on improving your marketing skills.
If you stop generalizing then you’ll be better at diagnosing your shortcomings without losing your self-esteem which allows you to improve yourself and do better next time.
6. Stop Taking Everything Personally
People who assume themselves to be a static entity (which is a strong sign of an external locus of control) are more inclined to take things personally.
For example, let’s take rejection. If you get rejected by a member of the opposite sex or by a prospective employer, it’s usually not about you.
Even when it’s about you, it’s probably about the attributes that are within your circle of control to change or ignore. You are not static. Most of your attributes aren’t set in stone. Tomorrow’s you can be better than today’s you if you put in the effort to be a better you.
Jobs, women, and opportunities in life are dime a dozen. If you give up on one of them, you can always find another. But if you give up on yourself, you can’t find another you.
7. Be Humble and Improve Yourself
Most people have a hard time coming to terms with their shortcomings. It hurts their ego to acknowledge their flaws so they look the other way and ignore their imperfections lest they lose their self-esteem and confidence.
Rational people with an internal locus of control know that they are not perfect and they are fine with it.
Only delusional people with low-self esteem want to believe that they are perfect. These people are bound to live with constant disappointment because real-life feedback will always keep contradicting reality which will compel them to go great lengths to keep deluding themselves in order to maintain their self-image.
There’s no need to do this. Many people believe that self-improvement is vain since it involves “the self”. Nothing can be further than the truth. What’s vain is to believe that you are perfect just the way you are and you don’t need to improve yourself at all.
Be humble, don’t reject your imperfections and keep improving yourself to improve your lot in life. The more you improve yourself, the better you will do in life.
Which is easier? To change the world or to change how you view the world?
Changing how you view the world also means changing your world.
The more you are able to shift your locus of control internally, the more you change your world.
Maybe you’ll change the entire world too, just like Steve Jobs did. Who knows?
Be sure to read:
- How to Be a Superior Man, Chapter 2: Take Control of the Direction of Your Life
- How to Be a Superior Man, Chapter 7: Develop Rock-Solid Self-Control
- Do You Really Take Responsibility For Your Life?
- 10 Ways to Keep Going When You Feel Like Giving Up
- 24 Ways to Get Rid of the Victim Mentality and Adopt a Victor Mentality
- 3 Unusual Ways to Stop Being Lazy and Start Getting Things Done
- Video: An interview with Steve Jobs, NeXT Computer, Redwood City, California 1995.
- According to the site statistics, more than 70% of the people are reading this post on their smartphones. The remaining 30% of the people are reading it either on tablets or PCs, devices that owe a great deal of their prevalence also to Steve Jobs.
- The concept of locus of control was first introduced by psychologist Julian Rotter in 1954.
- Seyede Golafrouz Ramezani, Abbas Gholtash (2015). The relationship between happiness, self-control and locus of control. Volume:1, Issue:2, Page:100-104.
- Benassi, V. A., Sweeney, P. D., & Dufour, C. L. (1988). Is there a relation between locus of control orientation and depression? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97(3), 357–367
- Anderson, C. R. (1977). Locus of control, coping behaviors, and performance in a stress setting: A longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 62(4), 446–451.
- Juan D. Barón, Deborah Cobb-Clark (2010). Are Young People’s Educational Outcomes Linked to their Sense of Control?. IZA DP No. 4907.
- Lakshman Vijayashreea, Mali Vishalkumar Jagdischchandra (2010).LOCUS OF CONTROL AND JOB SATISFACTION: PSU EMPLOYEES. Serbian Journal of Management 6 (2) (2011) 193 – 203.