For a future article, I’ve been cataloging the differences between successful people and unsuccessful people. As I browse books and blogs, I’m compiling lists of characteristics that define what it takes to become wealthy and accomplished. (By the way, if you know of any such list, please point me to it in the comments!)
During this project, I’ve been struck by one critical difference that I’ve noticed before. Generally speaking: Successful people belive they control their destiny and unsuccessful people do not.
Rich people believe: “I create my life.” Poor people believe: “Life happens to me.”
This message comes up time and again when discussing the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t. Successful people are proactive, they take responsibility for their future, they have an internal locus of control. Unsuccessful people believe they are victims of fate or circumstance.
Permission and Control
As children, we’re conditioned to ask permission whenever we want to do something. You need permission from your parents to leave the dinner table or to go outside and play. You need permission from your teacher to use the bathroom.
Even as adults, we feel compelled to request permission. You need permission from your boss to leave work early. You need permission from your spouse to grab drinks with your friends instead of weeding the garden. You need permission from the city to build a shed in the backyard.
As a result, most of us have developed an external locus of control.
In personality psychology, the term locus of control describes how people view the world around them, and where they place responsibility for the things that happen in their lives. Though this might sound complicated, the concept is actually rather simple.
- If you have an internal locus of control, you believe that the quality of your life is largely determined by your own choices and actions. You believe that you are responsible for who you are and what you are.
- If you have an external locus of control, you believe that the quality of your life is largely determined by your environment, by luck, by fate. You believe that others are responsible for who you are and what you are.
This isn’t an either-or proposition, obviously. Locus of control exists on a continuum. But many people tend to favor one side of the continuum over the other.
Julian B. Rotter developed the locus of control concept in 1954 as part of his social-learning theory of personality. Stephen R. Covey popularized the idea in 1989 with his best-selling The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He urged readers to become proactive. [Read more…]