Your life is controlled by your perception of it

Whenever I start to feel like life is out of control or going badly in some way, I am constantly (and thankfully) brought back to a realization that I have more power in the situation than I think. That my experience of ‘out of control’ or ‘going badly’ is mostly my perception and not generally objective truth, and perception is something that can be changed.

The ability to change your perception links in a large part to the idea of ‘locus of control’ – that is, in your sense of your ability to affect change in the environment around you. People sit somewhere on the spectrum between an ‘internal locus of control’ and an ‘external locus of control’.

People with a well developed internal locus of control believe that they can affect change in the environment around them; people with an external locus of control believe, ultimately, that they are the product of external forces rather than personal choice – they are the victims of others’ behaviour, the weather, genetics, God etc. You won’t believe that you can change your perception, or, indeed, that a situation could be perceived any way other than how you’re perceiving it, if you have an external locus of control.

So, how does one shift from an external locus of control to an internal locus of control? Through conscious, ongoing choice. You have to start seeing yourself as someone who:

  1. Can ask for what you want;
  2. Can choose to leave situations that don’t serve you; and
  3. Can make things happen.

That is, you have to start taking personal responsibility for yourself, your life, and your interactions with other people. Start seeing yourself as someone of power, and not as the victim of life, God, or others*.

Change is always a ‘shifting away from’ and a ‘shifting towards’, and there are things that we can do to make both ‘shifting away from an external locus of control’ and ‘shifting toward an internal locus of control’ more doable:

Shifting away from an external locus of control often requires a lot of reflection, and noticing your behaviours as they happen. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Where do I feel ‘stuck’ in my life?
  • Where am I passive-aggressive in my life?
  • Where, or with whom, do I feel like a victim?

And, then:

  • What would it take for me to get ‘unstuck’ in that area?
  • What would it take for me to be able to say what I really think, or ask for what I really need?
  • What would it take for me to stop feeling like a victim in that situation or with that person? What would be different? Could I ask for those changes to happen?

An idea to assist in shifting towards an internal locus of control is to create an alter-ego that you can slip into whenever you need to – the consummate ‘fake it until you make it’ technique.  Just like how Beyonce has her alter ego Sasha Fierce, you might like to spend some time:

  • Visualizing in great detail what a future-you with a very high internal locus of control looks like, does, behaves, thinks, lives etc;
  • Give that visualization a name; and
  • Choose to slip into that character when you need to channel some of that power and personal responsibility.

Unlearning victim-thinking can be hard. It isn’t fun to look at your life and say “I am, at least in part, responsible for the state of this”. But it is exciting to look at your life and say “because I am, at least in part, responsible for the state of this, I can also affect massive change and make it something that I really, really like.”


* This leads to another interesting thought – that your beliefs about death and utopia influence your locus of control in a profound way. If you subscribe to a more fatalistic religion where everything is predestined and ultimately the world is evil and there’s not too much we can do about it, then you’re unlikely to believe that you can affect change in the environment around you.