1 Step to a Better You! The Science Behind Self-Help: Locus of Control

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Self-help books, motivational talks and society as a whole tell us that changing the way we think is important in improving our lives. We are taught to be more positive, have persistence, work hard and have confidence. So if we change how we think and act then we will see improvements in our lives. Scientifically, is there any evidence to these claims? Yes!

Locus of control referrers to the degree to which one believes that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives. How much you think you personally control your life. LOC is commonly used as an abbreviation.

So, those who believe that they personally have a lot of control over the outcome of their lives are internals. Those who believe that outside forces do, like other people or luck, are externals. However, it is important to remember that LOC is measured on a continuum, and scoring exclusively internal or external is very rare.

For example, if an internal student failed an exam they would justify this by saying that they didn’t pay attention in class and didn’t study. Thus, they believed they had control over the outcome. An external would say the didn’t like their professors teaching style or that they weren’t wearing their lucky shirt. So they believed outside forces controlled their outcome.

We would expect the internal student, who believed they didn’t study enough, to study more for their next exam while the external student would wear their lucky shirt. Consequently, the internal student who studied more would score higher than the more external student.

There are a few situations were being external is beneficial, and that’s why the spectrum exist. By changing one’s LOC we can adapt to the situations we face. When grieving it’s more beneficial to have a more external LOC. Accepting that you are terminally ill, dealing with guilty, or even recouping after loosing a competition, having a more external LOC can prevent you from blaming yourself. It will help you move on. But still, overall being internal is more beneficial in day to day life, and being external is only handy in very few situations.

Since the 50’s hundreds of thousands of experiments have been conducted about this concept. Studies confirm having a more internal Locus of Control is favorable in hundreds of areas of life.

  • Elite gymnasts were found to be significantly internal (Kerr & Goss, 1997).
  • Internal students have higher academic achievement (Miller, 2007).
  • Alcohol addiction is less common among internals (Nowicki & Hopper, 1974).
  • Children with more internal LOC are less likely to face bullying and they have higher self-esteem (Caravita, 2007).
  • Patients are more likely to comply to treatment regimens if they are internal (Hall, 1974) (Wichers, Bunch & Barnett, 1977).
  • Surgery patient researcher found that internal patients had better recoveries (LaMontagne et al., 2004)

It’s very simple, believe that you have a great deal of control over your life!

Here are some specific goals to make to start believing you have more control.

1. Have persistence, and believe that your hard work directly impacts your success.

2. Be the “captain of your ship”. Don’t let the wind steer, you steer.

3. Never victimize yourself or blame others for the problems you face.

4. Be more positive and less cynical/sarcastic.

5. Trust yourself. Trust that because you work hard and are determined, your life will keep improving.

6. Surround yourself with more internal people.

7. Motivate and encourage others.

8. Always work to better yourself, because you can do anything you set your mind to.


Caravita, S., C. S. (2007). Locus of control and self-esteem in Italian primary school chidren involved in bullying. Rassegna di Psicologia, 24(2), 77-94 (CNSIE).

Hall, K. (1974). Adherence to renal dialysis treatment procedures as a function of locus of control orientation. Masters thesis, Emory University. (ANSIE).

Kerr, G. A., & Goss, J. D. (1997). Personal control in elite gymnasts: The relationships between locus of control, self-esteem, and trait anxiety. Journal of Sport Behavior, 20(1), 69-82. (CNSIE).

LaMontagne, L.L., Hepworth, J.T., Cohen, F., & Salisbury, M.H. (2004, August). Adolescents’ coping with surgery for scoliosis: Effects on recovery outcomes over time. Research in Nursing & Health, 27(4), 237-253. (CNSIE)

Miller, J. R.(2007). Locus of control and academic achievement on high stakes standardized tests. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 68(4-A), 1430 (CNSIE).

Nowicki, S. Jr., & Hopper, (1974). A. Locus of control correlates in an alcoholic population. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42, 735-739. (ANSIE)

Wichers, F.C., Bunch, W.H. & Barnett, P.M. (1977). Psychological factors in failure to wear Milwaukee brace for treatment of idiopathic scoliosis. Clinical Orthopedics, 126, 62-66. (CNSIE)