I took a trip to Cuba recently. A communist nation with an oppressive government. For many of the 12 million Cubans, the possibility of experiencing life outside of Cuba is just a dream. The majority believe the ability to achieve their dream is controlled by external factors, in this case, the government. But there are a few, like my friend Gabriel, that believe they themselves are in control of their destiny despite the dictatorship they were born into. There is a lesson to be learned from people like Gabriel, who now finds himself spending 3 months each year overseas in Germany (pictured below).
You may be familiar with the term ‘locus of control‘ which refers to an individual’s belief system with respect to how much control they feel they have over outcomes in their lives. A person with an internal locus of control links outcomes to their own actions whilst a person with an external locus of control links outcomes to luck, fate or circumstances. Someone, for example who misses out on a job and whose preference is to an internal locus of control might say – “I could have answered a couple of questions better” and someone with an external locus of control preference is more likely to say “the outcome was always going to favour the internal candidate, I never had a chance.”
Locus of control preferences have been shown to impact job satisfaction and job performance. People who take responsibility for achieving the goals they set for themselves are more likely to achieve those goals. Individuals with an external locus of control tend to make less effort towards achieving their goal and can also experience higher levels of anxiety as they feel less in control of their lives. Internal locus of control is linked to higher resilience, possibly higher self-esteem and those who possess it have a greater chance of successful outcomes as they work harder and believe it is up to them to achieve the outcome they want.
A study that followed 7,500 British adults since birth examined those whose behaviour demonstrated an internal locus of control were less likely to be overweight at 30, less likely to describe their health as poor and less likely to experience high levels of psychological stress.
There may be perfectly valid external factors that hinder you from achieving your goals or that leave you in a less than ideal position. However, when you start to accept responsibility, when you blame yourself for not being where you want to be, you train your brain to believe that you are in control of the outcome regardless of the situation. This is a powerful mindset to adopt in a world where we aren’t all equal, people let us down and life isn’t always fair. I took inspiration from my friend Gabriel, a man with the odds stacked against him, teaching himself English, studying and working 12 hour days to give himself the best chance he could to spend time outside of Cuba. We may not be where we want to be right now but we need to take ownership of that.