| Tool #3: Developing an Internal Locus of Control
Locus of Control means where people see their feelings as coming from, what they see as the cause of
them. Most people have an external locus of control. They wrongly believe that what others say and
do, and what happens, makes them feel the way they do. This makes how they feel depend on events
and people they can't control. It makes feeling better dependent on those events and people changing
for the better, and they may not. This causes them to feel worse than necessary, for longer than they
need to. It can also cause them to feel like a victim, like they are at the mercy of events and other
people, with no apparent way to feel better, and with no hope doing so. That's never a good place to
be. Most importantly, it can cause them to miss many opportunities to feel better.
However, it's our thoughts about what happens that really causes how we feel. The formula for
EVENT + THOUGHTS = FEELINGS
Thoughts cause feelings, not events. Remember one of the first algebraic formulas you were taught?
a + b = c Where a is a constant, and b is a variable. If a stays the same and you change b, c changes
too. Likewise, If an event stays the same, and you change your thoughts about it, your feelings
change, for the better or worse, depending on what your new thoughts are.
Dr. Ellis created the ABC Theory of Emotions, where A stood for an Activating Event, B stood for the
automatic and irrational Beliefs someone has about the event, and C stands for what someone feels
and does as a Consequence of their Beliefs about the Activating Event.
ACTIVATING EVENT + BELIEF = CONSEQUENCES (feel, do)
We all have a host of cognitive choices we make all the time, usually without realizing it, that determine
how we feel. Our choices include:
How we LOOK AT what happens
What MEANING we attach to what happens
What we FOCUS on about what happens
What we COMPARE things to
What we EXPECT of ourselves, others and lives
What we REMEMBER about the past
What we IMAGINE will happen next
How much IMPORTANCE we attach to what happens
What we spend our time THINKING about
We have a choice because there is always more than one way to look at anything, more than one thing
that something could mean, more than one thing to focus on or compare things to, more than one thing
we could expect or imagine ahead of time, and varying degrees of importance we could attach to what
happens. When we pick one of those many ways to the exclusion of others, we've technically made a
choice. The way we choose often tends to be automatic and the choice we make is one we've made
the same way many times before. That's why we tend to be relatively unaware that we've made a
choice. However, the way we make these choices is not "cast in stone". We can learn to make them
differently, and with practice and rehearsal, making them in different ways can become as automatic as
the old ways were.
Logically, if how we think or look at things really determines how we feel, and we have a choice as to
how we look at things, then it's also true that it's our choice how we want to FEEL
"Life is mind-made" Dr. Chris Eisenbarth
"Everything can be taken from us but the last of human freedoms
- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances -
to choose one's own way" Dr. Victor Frankl
What Dr. Frankl taught us is that people can get inside our heads unless we let them. And we can
evict people who have lived there much too long rent free. It's takes practice, but it's doable. For
example by telling ourselves:
They can think or say whatever they want, but it's my choice how I LOOK AT myself, and how I
FEEL about myself. And they don't get to make those choices for me, unless I let them.
The first time someone told me it was my choice how I wanted to feel, I was upset at the time, and
didn't take it very well. You and others might not either. It sounded like my friend was:
1) Saying, "It's your fault you feel the way you do"
2) Saying, "There's something wrong with you for feeling that way"
3) Discounting the importance of what had happened
4) Excusing the bad behavior of the other people involved
5) Telling me I was making a big deal out of nothing
It doesn't mean any of those things. It simply means:
1) There is always more than one way to look at anything
2) Whatever way we pick will be understandable given our unique life experiences
3) But some will make us feel better, others will make us feel worse
4) Some will make it easier to deal with things, others will make it harder
5) But we always have a choice as to how we want to look at things
Developing an Internal Locus of Control also means learning to not take unnecessary responsibility for
how others make themselves feel. The way they feel will be perfectly understandable given their life
experiences. However, like us, they have a host of cognitive choices to make, that they alone can
make, that determine how they end up feeling, and the frequency, intensity and duration of any
emotions they generate. We can't control how they make those choices any more than they can
control how we do. They could disturb themselves a great deal over what most people would consider
nothing, or they could choose to look at things in a way that causes them to not get upset about
something most others would. We're responsible for what we say and do, but not how they choose to
look at it, what they choose to think it means, what they choose to focus on or compare things to, and
so on. The way they do is understandable, but it's ultimately their choice and they, like us, will have to
suffer any emotional consequence there might be from making their cognitive choices that way.
We do little if anything in schools or anywhere else to teach or encourage young people to have an
Internal Locus of Control. If you listen to the way people talk, including teachers, you'll see that we
actually do quite the opposite. The same will be true if you listen to radio, TV, or popular music.
Teaching people to have an Internal Locus of Control is the single simplest and most important thing
we could teach people to do to reduce the frequency, intensity and duration (FID) of emotions like
anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame and loneliness in their lives.
People often talk about their feelings, and where they come from in semantically imprecise or incorrect
ways. Doing so often causes them to feel worse than they need to, for longer than they need to, and to
miss many opportunities to feel better. We are often quick to correct young people when they speak or
write in semantically and grammatically incorrect ways about other things, but rarely do so when they
do the same with their feelings, and how they come about.
For example, despite all the claims to the contrary, this is the way some things really are:
1) Others don't make us angry. We make ourselves angry by the way we choose to look at things.
2) Jobs don't stress us out. We stress ourselves out by the way we choose to look at things.
3) People can't hurt our feelings. Sometimes, we make ourselves feel hurt.
4) No one can put pressure on us. We put pressure on ourselves
5) No one can make us happy. They simply give us things we might choose to be happy about.
These are more semantically precise and correct ways to talk that remind us of the power we really do
have over our emotional destiny. For example:
It's my choice how I LOOK AT things
It's my choice what MEANING I attach to what happens
It's my choice what I FOCUS on
It's my choice what I COMPARE things to
It's my choice what I EXPECT of myself, others and life
It's my choice what I IMAGINE will happen next
It's my choice what I REMEMBER about the past
It's my choice how much IMPORTANCE I attach to what happens
It's my choice what I spend my time THINKING about
It's my choice how I want to FEEL
No one upsets me, I upset myself
I'm disturbing myself about that
Whatever someone else says or does is just an event
My thoughts cause my feelings, not events
I'm responsible for how I feel, not others
It's not their problem if I feel bad, it's mine
It's not their job to make me feel better, it's mine
To avoid taking unnecessary responsibility for how others make themselves feel, we can simply
change the pronouns. For example: It's THEIR choice how THEY want to LOOK AT things
Developing an Internal Locus of Control means:
1) Learning the real cause of our feelings
2) Learning and remembering what our cognitive choices are
3) Learning to use this new knowledge to our advantage
It also means:
4) Learning to recognize what we do or don't have control over in life
5) Focusing on and working with what we have control over instead of things we don't
We can't and don't control what others think, feel, say or do. A lot of people think they do, and talk and
act as if they do, but they really don't. We only control what we think, feel, say and do. And it's a big
enough job for most people to learn to do that.