Are You in Control of Your Life?

By Dr. Perry, PhD


“It is our attitude toward events, not events themselves, which we can control.” ~Epictetus

Every morning before I head to the office, I go online and check the traffic report. I mentally rehearse my drive, avoiding all congested roadways, and check my backup route just in case. I have a cup of coffee, check my watch, and briefcase in hand, dash through the front door. I try to control my exposure to traffic as much as I can but unfortunately, traffic in Los Angeles is uncontrollable and unavoidable. Upon arriving to work, I park in my designated parking spot and begin my day.

Every day we make decisions. To whom or what we attribute the results of these decisions has much to do with our locus of control. Locus of control of reinforcement referred to as locus of control was conceptualized by psychologist Julian B. Rotter. It refers to our perception of where control lies and how we account for the successes and failures we experience. It questions how much power one believes they have over events in their lives. Essentially asking, do you control your life or does some external factor such as an all-powerful deity, karma, luck or a person control it?

This concept can be applied to many different areas of your life and one can have an internal or external locus of control depending on the situation. I have an internal locus of control when it comes to traffic. That is, I believe I have some control over the amount of traffic I will experience in the morning by checking the traffic report and leaving at a certain time. Regrettably, traffic much like the weather is beyond my control and trying to control it often leaves me stressed as opposed to feeling in control. My wife, on the other hand, sees traffic like a coin toss. She leaves it up to chance and goes with the flow. When it comes to traffic she has an external locus of control and believes she cannot control the amount of traffic she will face. Many people exhibit both external and internal locus of control but will usually have one dominant belief system. The locus of control is not set in stone and one can learn to adjust it.

A person with an internal locus of control generally believes that they have influence over the outcome of events. You believe hard work pays off and if the right choices are made the desired outcome will result. You see your success and failures as personally derived from your efforts and abilities. One can learn this from parents or past experiences that reinforce the belief that if you take control of the situation you have control over the outcome. In essence, you believe that your actions make your life happen. For example, if you receive the top grade in your class you will conclude that it is a result of your hard work and intelligence and not because of God, luck, the teacher or any other external factor.

A person with an external locus of control blames outside forces that are beyond their control for everything that occurs in their life. They have learned from their parents or from events that things that happen to them are a result of an external power. This may be an all-powerful deity, good or bad, fate, luck, other people or environmental factors. They believe that life happens to them. For example, a person with an external locus of control will attribute their top grade in the class to prayer, karma, luck, or an easy grader. Individuals with an external locus of control have learned that taking control of a situation has little to do with the outcome and that things that happen to them are beyond their control.

The idea of control is essentially a self-imposed illusion reinforced by past events, family or culture. If I perceive my actions resulted in the desired result then I will adopt an internal locus of control in similar situations. I will attribute all failures and successes to my own efforts. Conversely, if my taking control has no effect on an event then I will form the belief that events that happen to me are beyond my control. Therefore, establishing an external locus of control.

In the work environment, research shows that individuals with an external locus of control are more team players. They do not rush to accept responsibility in a work environment and if there is not a positive outcome they are quick to blame others. Individuals with an internal locus of control are more driven but less of a team player. If there is a failure, they are quick to blame themselves. They are hard working but their take-charge attitude can lead to them stepping over others.

Further research on one’s perception of control shows that attempting to control an uncontrollable situation, such as the weather or traffic, tends to produce stress, whereas not attempting to control a controllable situation has been linked to anxiety and depression. These results can be applied to one’s life in a number of situations. For instance, by trying to control traffic I am more inclined to experience stress than if I just accept that this is uncontrollable. What is controllable is my performance at work. If I were to constantly neglect my preparation for work, which is within my control, I would eventually develop anxiety about beginning my work week.

Studies show that failure to take control when one is feeling helpless has been shown to lead to anxiety and depression. Perhaps you have a parent that is constantly asking you to borrow money. You have been raised to believe that family is of utmost importance and feel you are not able to say no. Arguably, this is within your control and you can put a stop to the behavior by saying no. If you give up control of this and go along with the behavior, eventually you may become anxious and depressed.

Whether real or an illusion, the perception of how much control you have in your life can have a large impact on your life. A well-known study has shown that people who believe they have more control over their lives tend to live longer. Low perceived control will result in an overall sense of helplessness, which may result in a suppressed immune system and impact one’s quality of life. If you feel that you are not in control of your life, it is important to start implementing changes and take charge of your existence. You have one life to live. Don’t be a passenger in your life journey. Take off the autopilot and take control.

I hope you found this post helpful and interesting. I would love to hear your insight on this topic. This is not meant to be used as a tool for self-diagnosis and is solely meant for educational purposes. If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation to work with me on your mental health please click here.

Kindly,
Dr. Perry


www.MakeItUltraPsychology.com
“We specialize in a solution-focused approach to psychotherapy, specifically treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues and narcissistic abuse.”
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104 responses to Are You in Control of Your Life?

  1. S. T. says:

    Wonderful post. I believe I mostly have an internal locus of control. Everything I have accomplished is because of my hard work! Thank you for posting! Super interesting

    Liked by 8 people

  2. In the past I was a huge control freak and, in many ways it served me well as I was successful in my chosen career, I had a nice home, a perfect marriage, financial security, a loving family and great friends. I believed that all of this was down to the work that I had put in. I’d spent many many hours listening to Tony Robbins, read books by Dale Carnegie and Napolean Hill and all of it had paid off.
    Then I lost my husband to cancer. I had no control of the situation, my emotions, nothing and it almost destroyed me.
    Now, more than 4 years on, I am learning to accept life as it comes. Whilst I am not as happy as I was before my husband died, I am no longer broken and I believe it’s because I have stopped trying to fight the things that I can’t control.
    Thank you for another thought provoking post Dr Perry :O) x

    Liked by 15 people

  3. Glenda Herdman says:

    An interesting view on the subject of control. For me I believe we have a certain amount of control in what happens to us but there is also a certain amount of luck in it as well. What I do believe we have control over are our thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions. We can’t control the weather or how another person behaves or reacts, or thinks or what they believe. I suppose having a contingency plan is always a good idea, plan for every scenario that way we are not surprised and know exactly what to do if things don’t go as we had planned or hoped. If we want something badly enough we will make every endeavour to make it happen.
    Sometimes we come across situations where one person controls another, but I believe based on my own experiences, that on some level, be it subconscious or consciously, chooses to be controlled, based on their own self beliefs and thoughts. Thank you again Dr Perry for your insight.

    Liked by 9 people

  4. M. P. says:

    I believe that for much of my life I have blamed others for how my life has turned out. I guess this would mean I have an external locus of control. Since my divorce I am learning that I am responsible for my life. Thank you Dr. Perry❤️

    Liked by 8 people

  5. syncwithdeep says:

    Neither we control life nor does any karma, luck or deity. It is life that controls us.. I have seen this in many cases personally as well as externally. I say this from my experience. A thoughtful post..

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Yet another pertinent post, Dr. Perry! Control, or lack of it, is such a big part of our mainstream lives. I believe I am in control of myself, my choices, and my behaviours, but I can’t say I’m in control of my environment, or situation, or what happens external to me. I’ve learned (the hard way) that I can’t “fix everything” that happens outside of me; that is, trying to fix something is also a way of attempting to control the situation in some way. Now, I know that I can’t control what happens outside of me, but I can always control how I take it in, how I perceive it, and how I choose to react to it. And that’s about it. I leave the rest of it to chance, and do the best I can with my sense of self-control. 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

  7. Nancy Fijan says:

    Thanks for sharing your insights, Dr. Perry – just realized that I need to take off the autopilot. As for traffic, singing out loud to my favourite tracks keeps me chill 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

  8. meaning2work says:

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post! In my opinion, both locusts of control can be desirable. I believe Epictetus meant that you control only your own attitude and interpretation of outside events. Therefore, sometimes you are simply unlucky. Sometimes, others ARE to blame for bad events. How you feel in response, that’s your choice. That’s the part you can’t blame on others.

    Thanks,
    Meaning2work

    Liked by 6 people

  9. Create Space says:

    Thank you for a thought provoking post…
    I have found that the best way to help children recover from bullying is to give them back what has been taken from them by bullies, namely control over their own lives!

    Liked by 7 people

  10. floatinggold says:

    Interesting perspective. I do have an internal compass for the most part, but because I am very aware of the potential stress of things I cannot change (traffic, weather, etc.), I have developed an accepting mechanism.

    Liked by 7 people

  11. I trust in axe to keep me out of traffic – but I trust in me for everything I can. I trust my hubby for other things – I’m a firm believer in facilitating all resources!

    Liked by 7 people

  12. Joe says:

    Awesome article. I don’t blame God for the good in my life nor for the bad. I believe I create my own way in life. There for I have an internal locus of control.

    Liked by 7 people

  13. Mary H. says:

    Well written and Very interesting article! Thank you for taking the time to explain! Every time I read on of your post I either learn something about my self or about the mind. I didn’t know about control adding to longevity. I have to admit I tend to be on autopilot. I am going to start disengaging and having more control over my daily reactions!

    Liked by 7 people

  14. L.B. says:

    Thank you for another great post Dr. Perry! The human mind is fascinating and you do a great job explaining the different nuances of psychology in a simple and straight word way. I appreciate it!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Hello L.B., I agree with you about the human mind! I love my profession. Thank you so much for your kind words✨

      Liked by 3 people

  15. Great post, as always Dr. Perry. I’ve been working on a post for one of my Wellness Wednesday posts that includes talking about locus of control. I’d love to quote your explanation of internal and external locus of control, linking to your post, of course, if you don’t mind.

    Liked by 6 people

  16. Ms. Jynx says:

    Dr. Perry,

    You do a fantastic job of taking difficult experiences and terms and making them relatable and easy to understand! All while encouraging us to reflect on our own experiences and behaviors. It’s interesting how our minds work! Thank you for sharing!

    I empathize with you on traffic. I try to plan out my trips as well, but also have always used my dad’s philosophy of “We get there when we get there”. I find myself less stressed about traffic when I have planned and accepted that stuff happens.

    Liked by 8 people

  17. So interesting….. I like to be in control but I know my limits , I believe you can but yes life has its way as well of doing what it may . Thank you for another great post .

    Liked by 7 people

  18. Sri Taris says:

    This was a very interesting post that really got the wheels turning for me. In this life I believe there’s a need for balance, acceptance, and responsibility, a understanding of oneself is key to navigating through life. I appreciated how you touched base on internal and external locust. Reason being, in order for ourselves to grow we must acceptance responsibility for our actions

    Liked by 8 people

  19. Sri Taris says:

    Accidentally posted that last one without finishing 😊. I feel that also for us to grow we must accept that some things are totally out of our control. In the accepting that some things are not in our control we can then move deeper into ourselves to bare witness to ourselves, and our inner world. To deepen our power of controlling, establishing, and maintain a positive perspective. Deepening our control over our response, and our mental and emotional state in situations that are beyond us. Without a balance and understanding of personal responsibility and the accepting and letting go of life, I believe life becomes filled with stress and one cannot live in harmony with life itself. If there’s no balance then peace inevitable will be lost and out of reach. This is a great post and a great subject. Much gratitude to you for posting. Much Love, Peace, and Harmony to you brother.

    Liked by 6 people

  20. Kristin says:

    Wow interesting point about living longer if one has control over their lives. I believe that I am control of my life. While I don’t try to control the uncontrollable I do control what I can. For instance I control where I work, where I live and who I choose to interact with. There is nothing sweeter than freedom! I do not believe there is a god who is interested in what I do on a daily basis. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  21. I enjoyed reading your post and it did make me stop and think about control in my life. I have always been the type to try to control everything so I used to get frustrated with traffic, other people’s behavior, etc…..But when I stopped trying to control those things that Cannot be controlled, I had more energy to pay attention to the things I could control. I think your article just made me realize that. Thanks!

    Liked by 8 people

  22. Great topic! I feel like I’m in control of most of the situations in my life, because to get to where I am today I had to take control from some point years before. I would have never relocated cities if I didn’t decide to do it. Now living in Vegas I can’t control the heat during the summer but I can take control to cool off by turning on the AC. 🙂

    Liked by 8 people

  23. Bindu says:

    What a lovely way of putting things. ‘Control’ the word itself takes away from the automation mode that the world is set to currently. One can’t really have everything under one’s belt, can one? And that’s what makes life interesting!

    Liked by 6 people

  24. Amy your admirer! says:

    Great post and even better blog. Have you considered writing a book? I have been following your blog since the beginning and I have to say your writing has improved tremendously. I look forward to your future endeavors.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Hi Amy, thank you for such a lovely comment. Perhaps one day but for now I’m content writing on the blog. I find much joy in sharing on this platform for now✨

      Liked by 3 people

  25. driftyness says:

    I really liked this post, I felt like I learned something about myself! I think I’m starting to shift from feeling like I don’t have much control over my life to feeling like I do. I suppose that’s part of growing up, though I’m not sure which locus is dominant. It seems like the challenge is learning which situations require us to take controlling action and which ones require us to simply respond.

    Liked by 7 people

  26. Ilka says:

    Yes, we are the bosses about our life. We just don’t know sometimes. Or don’t want to believe it. Sometimes we make – apparently unconscious – decisions. But our inner counselor knows exactly what he’s doing.

    Liked by 6 people

  27. delsenboisen says:

    Well written and straight to the point. Thank you so much for your thought to share this and your time. I am inspired to take control and live my life as per internal locus of control system.

    Liked by 7 people

  28. I found this very interesting. I am of both worlds. I control when necessary and don’t bother when it’s not within my power. Traffic – go with the flow while “life events” you may or may not have control over. Your attitude and response to them, definitely.

    Liked by 6 people

  29. I find the more I take the path of least resistance, the better my life becomes! ❤ I focus on my current blessings, visualize my wants as IS in my physical realm with gratitude, and I surrender into the Universe's "how" and its "timing". I go with the flow in gratitude, and the Universe continues to give me even MORE things to feel blessed about in life. THANK YOU, Universe! ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 6 people

  30. I like the phrase you used “Don’t be a passenger” 🙂 My late father, one of the “worker era, post WWII men would have said something similar, and he was a good example of making the most out of every situation in life–good, bad, or somewhere in between using humor and hard work as his favorite companions. I put friends in my tool bag, too and faith..and boy all that stuff about locus of control. It matters.

    Liked by 5 people

  31. theoutspokenintrovet says:

    This is a very interesting piece! Ultimately whether or not we are in control of the situations around us we are definitely in control of how we feel and doing things which help us be the best versions of ourselves! Very insightful!

    Liked by 5 people

  32. notdonner says:

    really helpful! We have internal and external forces upon us but we have total freedom of individual will. Our biology, choices, environment, and preparation – socially, physically, and emotionally help or hinder us in life. I believe that there is a subsequent existence, the eternal, which is deterministic – core beliefs and actions made during our lifetime that follow into the hereafter. Perhaps that makes me have an internal locus?

    Liked by 6 people

  33. I find your posts very intriguing and helpful. Thank you. I have always thought if you don’t take charge of your life, you will be steamrolled by those who do. I see why you check the traffic, there seems to be a high amount of internal locus drivers on the road 😊

    Liked by 5 people

  34. Such a great post Dr. Perry.
    I thought I was in control of my life till an ex played mind games and made me feel guilty of everything. When he’s been living a secret life for more than 8yrs. I’m slowly getting my life in order again and taking control. Its my own journey to take and be in control of.

    Liked by 4 people

  35. Miss Steer says:

    Awesome article! Really confirmed what I’ve been thinking lately about control, and added some new layers. Really interested in what you said about this in the work environment as well. I can see this external/internal locus of control within every person I’ve ever worked with!

    The further I tread into my own fears and anxieties, the further I’ve come to see that wanting to control/fearing the loss of control is at the root of pretty much all of my fears in some way. When I work with children and young adults, I find it’s the same again. I think that becoming aware of how you perceive control has to be a huge step forward – even if you’re still prone to worrying about things that are outside of your control, for example, being aware that this is what you’re doing, and how useful/useless that is, has to be a good thing.

    Thank you!!! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  36. Shelby Boyde says:

    Great post. It really made me think about the control I hold in my own life. I feel I hold control most of the time, but in my weak/upsetting moments I toss blame on other circumstances. It’s interesting to think about.

    Liked by 4 people

  37. In pure coincidence I’ve been focusing on perception lately too. Specifically, that while we often can’t control externally circumstances we often have the power to shape that narrative. Epictetus had a good chunk of it right. Had he traced his steps just a tad farther he might have said, “and our attitude stems from the stories we tell ourselves”. Right on!!

    Liked by 4 people

  38. Droosa4real says:

    hmmm…. not taking control of things you can control when you feel helpless leads to anxiety… very interesting indeed. Thanks for the seed of thought there…

    Liked by 4 people

  39. Great information as always Dr. Perry. I have certainly accepted both mindsets at some point in my life. Lol. You highlight and explain both well. Helpful information that should answer any cloudy thoughts on the topic one may be encountering.

    Liked by 3 people

  40. Miriam says:

    This really spoke to me. Especially “ You have one life to live. Don’t be a passenger in your life journey. Take off the autopilot and take control.” SO very true. Thank you for a wonderful post.

    Liked by 3 people

  41. Sam Freeze says:

    Excellent article. This is a concept I’m familiar with, but never really known how to, or thought to put into words. I guess it’s like most things, balance is key.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. I think once we learn that we can’t control everything in our lives we will be much happier. I used to be a control freak with myself, but I finally realized to let the things go that I have no control over, and change the things in my life that I do–if that’s what I want to do.

    Liked by 3 people

  43. nluxcy says:

    In short, self confidence and hardwork goes parallel with our gut feelings.If our aims are well focused,then achieving is not that hard 🏹

    Liked by 2 people

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