Are You Really In Control

John, a sophomore in college is about to take a chemistry test. He’s fairly comfortable with the information but worried that he won’t do well, (he went partying the night before and the professor has a reputation for being a somewhat difficult grader). The next day John finds out that he barely passed the test. Which of the following do you think is the reason for John’s success?

  1. The professor was lenient in grading
  2. He’s a good student and studied well

Did you answer 1 or 2?

The question has to do with helping to determine your locus of control. Locus of control is one of the four elements of core self-evaluation, which is used by psychologist as the foundation for understanding personality. It pertains to determining to what degree someone thinks they can control events that affect them. Someone with an internal locus of control would explain their success at something by saying they worked hard, studied hard, prepared, etc. Someone with an internal locus who failed at something would say that they didn’t prepare enough, or didn’t try hard enough.

As a whole these are the people we tend to admire, the ones we refer to as having ‘character’ or ‘drive.’ In stories those with an internal locus of control are our accomplished heroes, they are the ones we admire for going from an external to an internal locus.

But what is an external locus of control? Those of us with an external locus of control tend to attribute our successes and failures to as the name suggest external reasons. “I failed because such and such did x, I succeeded because I’m lucky, or Fran went easy on me.” These are all explanations that focus on outside influences and fall into the external locus space.

Despite what our very base locus of control may be, we go through both external and internal phases throughout the day. Consider when you are out shopping at the mall and see sale sign, or come across what seems to be a really good deal. In these instances of excitement and high stimulation our locus of control shifts to external. We are no longer aware of how much our budget is, or what we originally came to the mall for, we’re now focused on the external stimuli, such as that nice shirt or those new shoes.

Even when doing something as simple as watching a game, that feeling of being ‘involved’ in the game, when we feel as if we are actually there. Those are instances of external locus of control, we are no longer aware of our selves, but rather of the group that we are watching.

Think back to the last time you felt accomplished, tired, energetic, happy, sad, powerful, these are all instances of internal locus of control. Thinking back about what you’ve done today is another instance of internal, feeling sleepy, waking up, feeling invigorated after your cup(s) of coffee. Internal locus of control simply means we are paying more attention to our self, rather than to what is going on around us.

When going to make a major purchase, such as a car, we may go in thinking, “ok I want this car, with such and such feature,” or “I’m not looking at cars that cost more than $$$) these are all internal focuses. However, when we meet the car salesmen we are immediately shifted and most likely kept in an external focus. The smile, the warm handshake, the clear confident voice, allowing ourselves to be led by someone, the dazzle of the polished cars, the leather seats, the nice sound system, the chance to take the car for a spin.

All of this keeps our focus externally, which can be a dangerous thing when it comes to major expenses or purchases. Keeping the focus on the car, and how much it’ll supposedly improve your life is a great way to forget your internal focus and the things that matter in the long run such as costs.

While there are instances where it is good to have and maintain an internal focus, such as making life impacting decisions. There are also times when its good to have an external focus, ever have a good time at a party when you were preoccupied with thoughts of your ex? Or of the list of things you have to do the next day? That’s an instance where having an external focus works in your favor as it allows you to forget everything and just “go with the flow,” as they say.

Regardless of whether you are primarily external or internal, being aware of and utilizing both at the right times will only work in your favor. Also being mindful of yourself, will help you to become more mindful of others and lead a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

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How Not To Be An SSB

Have you ever noticed how easy and natural it is to associate your accomplishments in life to some internal factor about yourself, “yeah all that hard work I put in really paid off.” But when it comes to a failure the blame is suddenly switched to an external factor, “well if he/she hadn’t ______ this never would’ve happened.” While this may be true sometimes, it isn’t always, and those occasions when it isn’t is when your SSB truly shines.

Self-Serving Bias, What Is It?

It is, as the name suggest, the tendency to attribute success to our self (self-serving), and failure to anyone or anything else (bias), when in reality, that may not be the case.

Well that’s interesting, but what’s the point?

The point is, that this can be a cause for conflict between coworkers, couples, friends, and any other social combination you can imagine. If, for example, a group of friends get together to complete a project and fail, the members of that group will immediately shift the blame onto each other. They will also believe, that had they done the project alone, or with a different group, they would have succeeded.

SSB makes us blind to what the facts really are, it’s much more easier and appealing to believe that failure is due to someone or something else’s mistakes/presence rather than our own. The upside to this is that we maintain whatever self-esteem we have. The downside is that we avoid all opportunities to learn from our mistakes, grow, and develop stronger and healthier types of self-esteem.

So if it’s such an automatic process what can I do about it?

Plenty actually, while SSB is for the most part ingrained into the very way we interpret our surroundings and construct our version of reality it is hardly something that can’t be changed. The key is to remember that everyone, even you, can, and does make mistakes. Keeping this in mind will go a long way the next time failure or even success rears its head. Don’t immediately throw the blame onto everyone else, or attribute all of the success to yourself. Take a second to really look at the situation and decide if you really did play a part in the failure or success and if so how much.

After all no one wants to come off as an SSB (Stupid Son of a ****)right?