Thursday, May 10, 2012

The power lies within you

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
The internal locus of control concept is so important and can have such a powerful influence on people’s lives, that I spent one entire lecture in my basic speech-communication class discussing it.  I would give students a “test” in lecture without them having a clue about what its subject or nature was, I would “grade” it for them orally (again, without them having any idea of what it was all about), I would ask for a show of hands only (and without the results of the “test” having been interpreted — in other words, only with their “test” numbers in hand) I would ask them how they performed, and, finally, with their results in front of them, I would interpret their results for them.  Never did they have to reveal their results once the interpretation of their results was provided.   
I always received positive responses to this exercise, and often, on the open-ended responses to the lectures at the end of the term, this lecture was mentioned as one students not just appreciated but enjoyed as well.  (I think the “enjoyment” factor was due, in part, to the fact that students did not have to take notes nor were responsible for remembering a great deal of content!)
The important question, however, is why is this concept so important in a basic speech-communication class that I would spend a full lecture covering it?  Good question.  The concept was developed by Julian Rotter in the 1950s. (Rotter, J. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcements. Psychological Monographs, 80, Whole No. 609.  Retrieved January 25, 2001.)  “Locus of Control refers to an individual's perception about the underlying main causes of events in his/her life.  Or, more simply: Do you believe that your destiny is controlled by yourself or by external forces (such as fate, god, or powerful others)?”
Psychological research has found that people with a stronger internal locus of control are better off.  What I was trying to show in my lectures was simply that adopting and using an internal-locus-of-control-perspective could have immediate and demonstrable results in revealing their (students’) competence and self-efficacy, as well as their ability to make use of opportunity (their willingness to take advantage of the opportunity provided in class for giving public speeches).  By doing so, students would be able to successfully experience a sense of personal control and responsibility.  This perspective of mine fit into an overall point of view that embraced getting students to take charge of their lives!
I was reminded of all of this when I was reading a book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (Crown Business, 2010), by Shawn Achor.  Achor writes, “Research has shown that people who believe that the power lies within their circle have higher academic achievement, greater career achievement, and are much happier at work. [The footnote for these findings is 1/3rd of a page long and includes 7 different sources.] An internal locus lowers job stress and turnover, and leads to higher motivation, organizational commitment, and task performance. ‘Internals,’ as they are sometimes called, have even stronger relationships—which makes sense given that studies show how much better they are at communicating, problem-solving, and working to achieve mutual goals.  They are also more attentive listeners and more adept at social interactions—all qualities, incidentally, that predict success at work as well as at home” (pp. 131-132).
In the very next paragraph Achor says that believing that you are in control over your job and your life also reduces stress and improves physical health. (p. 132)
From Achor’s comments, you can easily see why it is worthwhile to, at the very least, point all of this out to students.  The fact is, research has shown that people can choose; they have control over which one they believe in, and if they have learned one response pattern over another, they can unlearn it and switch.
The key that I taught my undergraduate students was choice.  The important thing they needed to realize was simply that it was up to them.  Thus, with the information I gave them — including the long-range benefits of possessing internal locus of control — they could still do something about it.  Although their decision was likely a result of previous learning, all they needed was some new information to help them change.
How does changing to an internal locus of control relate to speech communication?   Actually, the link is much closer and much tighter than one might at first imagine.  The basic speech-communication course first examines intrapersonal communication — the talk that goes on within us.  
One of the problems with an external locus of control occurs when people say to themselves, “I have no choice,” “I have no control,” or “There’s nothing I can do.”  To make the switch to an internal locus of control requires that those using such excuses (making such comments) step back and remind themselves that they do have control; it is their choice.  They can exercise their control if they choose to do so.
Another way to make the switch from external to internal is by developing effective decision-making and problem-solving skills.  When people set clear, achievable goals, work toward and achieve them, they control what happens in their lives. As they do this, too, they'll find that their self-confidence builds, and they become more persistent and determined — all signs of internal locus of control.  
With the achievement of goals and increased confidence — that you can control what happens in your life — decision-making and problem-solving skills improve dramatically.  You discover that you not only can better understand situations that impinge on your life, but you can navigate through them successfully.
How much people believe they have control over their lives makes a significant difference now and for their future.  There are a number of sources online where tests can be taken to determine internal versus external belief systems.  The biggest discovery — and the point of this essay — is that it all depends on choice.  And moving from an external to an internal belief system can be accomplished.  Sure, it takes patience and perseverance, but what in life that is worth achieving does not require time and effort?
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At this web site, under the heading, “Locus of Control,” you get a fairly complete discussion of Rotter’s 1954 discovery: his observations as well as the core of his approach.

At the web site Shine from Yahoo, there is a wonderful, thorough, and interesting essay by CBT, “Developing an Internal Locus of Control - a key to better health,” (June 19, 2011), which ends saying: “Developing an Internal Locus of Control is just one of four important life skills I believe we should be teaching people of all ages, especially our young people while we have them in schools and families.  Acquiring these skills is what I call having Mental and Emotional Fitness.”
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Copyright May, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing, L.L.C.


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