How to Develop an Internal Locus of Control

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Research has shown that those with an internal locus of control—that is, they feel that they control their own destiny, rather than their fate being largely determined by external forces—tend to be happier, less depressed, and less stressed.

It is true that many of the stressors we face in life are largely beyond our control, though we can still cope with these things by adjusting how we think about things, working on our personal resilience, and focusing on the things we can control. Other times, we either do have control over what we face, or we have more control than we realize.

When we recognize what we can control, we feel more empowered, so having a realistic view of life and an internal locus of control can help us feel less stressed and more empowered in many situations in life. Fortunately, while some factors are inborn, if your locus of control isn't as 'internal' as you'd like it to be, there are things you can do to change your locus of control and empower yourself. Here's a process to practice:

Be Aware That You Have a Choice

When you realize that you always have the choice to change your situation (even if this change isn't your first choice, or is merely a change in how you look at things), it can be liberating and empowering.

It is true that when you are experiencing extreme stress or mental health issues, you may not be able to simply choose to have your challenges evaporate, but you can choose the ways in which you find helpful, and you can choose what you do to cope. Even if you don’t like the choices available at the moment, even if the only change you can make is in your attitude, you always have some choices.

Phase out phrases like, ‘I have no choice’, and, ‘I can’t…” You can replace them with, ‘I choose not to,’ or, ‘I don’t like my choices, but I will…’ Realizing and acknowledging that you always have a choice (even if the choices aren’t ideal) can help you to change your situation, or accept it more easily if it really is the best of all available options.

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Review Your Options

When you feel trapped, make a list of all possible courses of action. Just brainstorm and write things down without evaluating them first, so you become more able to tap your creativity. This list can be a growing document, not something that you have to come up with within seconds, but it can be helpful in reminding you of your choices and keeping you from feeling trapped. It can remind you of what you can control, even when there are many things that are set.

Ask for Ideas

You may want to also brainstorm with a friend to get more ideas for action that you may not have initially considered. Don’t shoot down these ideas right away, either; just write them down. 

Sometimes our loved ones have great ideas or can see options that we can't see when we are coming from a stressed or trapped mindset.

Choose What's Best for You

When you have a list, evaluate each one and decide on the best course of action for you, and keep the others in the back of your mind as alternative options. You may end up with the same answer you had before the brainstorming session, but this exercise can open your eyes to the amount of choices you have in a given situation. Seeing new possibilities will become more of a habit.

Remember Your Choices

Repeat this practice when you feel trapped in frustrating situations in your life. In more casual, everyday situations, you can still expand your mind to new possibilities by doing this quickly and mentally.

Watch Your Language and Self-Talk

Notice your language and self-talk. If you tend to speak in absolutes, stop. If your self-talk is generally negative, work to make your self talk more positive.

Your attitude affects your stress level more than you may realize. You can learn how to help yourself with mental and personality factors that influence your stress level, so you can make changes to keep stress down.

Cognitive behavior therapy, which is based on the idea that psychological problems arise as a result of the way in which we interpret or evaluate situations, thoughts, and feelings, as well as our behaviors, can also help you challenge and change negative self-talk.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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