I often talk about the importance of people becoming scientists of their own behavior. If you missed it earlier, what I mean is taking a serious step back and examining yourself in the same way a scientist would: without emotion or judgement. Not because emotions don’t matter or because how you feel is irrelevant; quite the opposite, actually. Emotions drive a lot of our behavior and they’re incredibly influential in our lives. But they’re not particularly useful when objectivity is required, and lots of objectivity is required when analyzing behaviors. Especially when those behaviors and behavioral patterns are your own.
So, since we already have our lab coats on anyway, let’s start with a little science. I did my masters thesis on something called locus of control. Simply put, this psychological term describes how a person sees themselves in relation to the world around them. People with an internal locus of control tend to see themselves as actors and directors. They see themselves in control, and believe that the events in their lives are unfolding because of decisions and actions they make. People with an external locus of control see life as happening to them. They are constantly blindsided by obstacles and see themselves as victims of happenstance. They are acting out scenes that someone else is directing.
You can probably guess which type of person I am, and which type of person I am drawn to.
There is an incredible amount of upside and, I think, a minimal amount of downside to having an internal locus of control. I can’t think of a single great leader I’ve worked with who didn’t have an internal locus of control. Happy people, I think, are far more likely to have an internal locus of control, because they do things actively to make their happiness more likely. When they are unhappy—and they definitely experience unhappiness, just as everyone does\n—they see themselves as the first and most important resource in addressing what’s wrong.
Simply put, people with an internal locus of control see themselves as players in the great game of life. People with an external locus of control see themselves as passive subjects and, often, victims of it.
This is not to say that people with an internal locus of control see themselves as the only player in their destiny. Certainly, there are millions of ways you have been fortunate (or unfortunate) in life. You have had lucky and unlucky breaks along the way. Having an internal locus, or seeing yourself as a player and not a subject/victim, is not the same as seeing yourself as some sort of godlike superhuman. You’re not.
So why do we do this? Why do people who are generally smart and capable fall into the bad habits of seeing themselves as victims and sabotaging their own careers and relationships?
Because while it can feel amazing to be the person who solves all the problems, has all the answers, and sees their role in everything that happens to them, it can also be deeply satisfying for everything else to be someone else’s fault! Things being the fault of someone else makes it easier for us to feel good about not doing anything to solve our problems. I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of problems in the world today that I don’t want to own or accept any responsibility for creating or perpetuating.