Perceptions of Control & Motivation
Who or what would you say has shaped your life? When thinking about all the good and bad that has come your way, would you put it to fate, blind luck, or your own doing?
Where you conceptually place the responsibility, choice, and control for what you achieve and what occurs in your life is called the "locus of control". Individuals with an internal locus of control believe that their own choices are largely responsible for the good and bad things that happen to them, whereas those with an external locus believe that forces outside themselves determine what happens.
Both are extremes, but most fall towards one end or the other, and the way we think about the good and bad that happens to us can have a profound impact on our lives both in and out of work.
Much research has been done into locus of control and how it relates to our lives, most notably in my mind is its relationship to self efficacy and motivation.
Self-efficacy is an individual's belief that they can succeed at a certain task. This is different from self esteem, in that it is rooted in a specific goal or requirement. An individual with high self-efficacy believes they can follow steps to achieve the desired result, and this can play a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges.
Individuals with an internal locus of control have been found to have higher self-efficacy. This is likely because an internal locus of control promotes optimism and determination to move forward even in the face of set backs.
In fact, your brain craves control, and giving it that (or even just the illusion of control) can be a huge motivator. Charles Duhigg, in his new book Smarter Faster Better, explains: "If you think you are doing something stupid and meaningless, over time you're not going to care. So you need to figure out why that task matters. Sometimes it is just a mater of taking a few seconds and asking yourself 'why am I doing this?' and answering the question. The point is, simply asserting control over the task can allow you to complete it."
So the next time you feel powerless or unmotivated at work, evaluate the task as well as how it fits into your role, and your professional goals. Give it meaning and take control. After all, in the end we are all responsible for the success (or failures) of our own careers.
- Generalized Self Efficacy As a Mediator and Moderator Between Control and Complexity at Work and Personal Initiative: A Longitudinal Field Study in East Germany Christa Speier , MIchael Frese, Human Performance Vol. 10, Iss. 2, 1997
Testing the Relationship of Locus of Control to Different Performance Dimensions. Gary Blau. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology66(2):125-138 · May 1993