Envision yourself as an author preparing to write your autobiography. Do you look at your life as a product of events that have happened to you or a series of decisions you have made? Or perhaps you find yourself navigating a path somewhere between the two. “Locus of Control” refers to the extent to which people believe the outcomes of their actions are contingent on what they do (internal locus of control) or on events outside their personal control (external locus of control). You can imagine how this belief might shape the way an author writes their autobiography. How we look at the world and our relationship to it effects how we cope and adapt. The internal narrative you tell yourself regarding the level of influence you have on your life shapes how you write your life story.
Collectively, we share a basic narrative: we are born, we live, and we die. The complex details that fill those spaces in between (and/or beyond) are what make us unique as individuals. Each plot point brings us closer or further from our goals. Sometimes we can see the conflict coming, and other times we’re completely blindsided. The way a character of any narrative responds is a reflection of their inner journey and sets the tone for the rest of the book. In the same way, the response we’ve had to the inestimable amount of conflict we have faced, both big and small, has shaped our life to what it is today.
However, some feel the external world is writing their narrative for them. They perceive having no influence on the direction of their life, feel helpless, and their mental state often reflects this with intense emotional and/or mental distress. This is having an external locus of control.
Clearly, some plot points take us by surprise, and the sudden rise in climax challenges us in ways we never expected. Regardless, each day is a blank page, and you decide how it is filled. Although we cannot control for the conflict we sometimes face, we have the capacity to accept the story-arc and decide how events contribute to our character diminishment or development. (Allow me to note that acceptance is not the same as endorsement.) We place power within ourselves when we recognize the choice we have to respond helplessly or intentionally. This is having an internal locus of control. With that recognition, we are more able to allow our personal values to guide our responses. When we live in accordance to our values, we are more apt to evaluate life as rich and meaningful.
We aren’t sure how long this chapter will last, but we do know chapters come to an end, conflict resolves (though we may not always like how), and the story goes on. The Covid19 Pandemic (or maybe simply the year 2020) is undoubtedly a chapter that collectively shook up the global narrative. It is time to begin writing your story with that in mind. We will be disappointed if we use each page to apply temporary solutions in hopes that we will pick up where the story “left off.” Behavioral intervention (i.e. daily coping skills such as deep breathing) is important but is not sufficient to adapt to the level this is demanding. We must practice true, radical acceptance while we practice that deep breathing. Yes, we can only take it a page at a time. Therefore, it is key that the day-to-day coping we choose is not just getting us through today, but contributing to continue living and pursuing the life we desire.
Here are a few practical thoughts to cultivating an internal locus of control:
- Open yourself up for difficult thoughts and feelings.
- Be aware that you have a choice in how you respond to life events.
- Reflect on your current satisfaction with life and consider what you can do to improve your life.
- Be compassionate with yourself as you navigate your options and give yourself permission to change your mind!
- Allow your values to serve as your compass. They inform you of what you want to stand for in this crisis and in life.
How you choose to respond to each event sets the tone of your life’s story. We can be in the midst of a pandemic, fight for social justice, be frustrated with the great amount of ambiguity this semester holds, AND have a rich and meaningful life.