Control has been described as knowing how to change or affect any given condition
so that the outcome is that which is desired. For example, a therapist could
teach a person that suffers from anxiety attacks how to gain control over them to
lessen their effects.
George Bernard Shaw wrote: "Hell is to drift, heaven is to steer."
Those who feel in control of their lives tend to agree with him. People
who are happy and in control, usually have a full schedule, are on time, and
efficient. However, people who don't feel in control are usually unhappy,
tend to have less planning and commitment, and procrastinate in their daily
In order for you to control whatever situation it is that you are dealing with,
you must be optimistic about how you can control the outcome of the situation.
This has been called the internal locus of control. People who possess this
optimism usually believe that they are in control of their fate. However,
those who lack this optimism tend to believe that their fate is controlled by other entities such as luck, people, or spiritual leaders. This is what is called
the external locus of control.
There is a test that has been named the "Internal/External Scale", where people
are given several questions with two answers to each question. Which answer they
choose for each question determines whether they have an internal or external locus of control. An example of these questions are:
While admitted to the psychiatric ward of one of the various hospitals I've been
in, I was given a test exactly like this. Although my therapist did
not discuss the outcome of this test with me personally, I did notice a slight
change in his methods of getting me to control the situation that I was facing
at that time. I have since learned to try to control the situation that I
am in at the time and can now sometimes gather my mind into a state that I can
control the stress that I am feeling, thanks to this therapy.
There have been over two thousand studies conducted on this theory using a
wide group of test subjects such as children, different ethnic groups, different religions, and people of all age
groups. One thing that remains constant
throughout all the different studies is that those people who have the internal
locus of control have shown this trait at an early age in their life, and that
they use this internal control in many different areas such as:
- mental health
- physical health
- emotional control
- academic achievement
How we can benefit from control
People would tend to agree that Steve has one of the least desirable jobs.
Steve is a trash collector (garbage man) in the city of Chicago. Most
people see his position as one they wouldn't want to have but they are glad that
somebody does it. However, even though he deals with trash all day long,
and is confined by the requirements of his job, Steve has control over his
environment and how he affects people. For example, most garbage men, once
they empty the cans into the truck, will just throw the cans up onto the curb.
Sometimes they just fall over or the lids get misplaced. Steve sets the
cans back up on the curb just as he found them with the lids properly attached
so that they don't get lost, and he has been known to leave notes attached
to the top of the cans containing a poem or a joke; something that will make his
customers smile. Steve has also found a side job selling antiques and
collectibles to local shops and on the internet at auction sites. The
majority of the items that he sells are items that other people have discarded.
This shows how he controls his environment by making his customers happy and
making a profit over and above what he is getting paid.
It has been proven through studies that people can tolerate most kinds of
stress if they feel they are able to control the stress. The biggest
threat to our health occurs when we feel like we are trapped in a situation with no way out. Those people who have the internal locus can control or
possibly eliminate the stress being caused by the situation. For example:
- a study of elderly people who live in a nursing home shows that, if they
are given control over their activities where they can make decisions, they
tend to become healthier, happier, and usually live longer.
- employees who have control over the pace of their work as a whole have
fewer illnesses and take fewer sick days than employees who have no control over their work conditions.
If a person feels like they are in control of their recovery after having surgery, their recovery time is usually shorter than in patients who had the
same surgery but don't feel like they are in control of the recovery. For
example, a study was conducted on patients who suffered from heart attacks.
The patients who believed their heart attack was due to fate or bad luck had a
long, slow recovery time. However, in those patients who believed their
heart attack was from an unhealthy lifestyle that they led by choice, such as
smoking or stress, controlled the situation by changing these factors and had a
much quicker recovery time.
Around the world, many cultures have differing beliefs about predisposed fate
and whether it is possible to control one's fate. Germany, for example,
has a highly structured social welfare system. This allows people to feel
more in control over their health, whereas in America, our social welfare system
leads us to feel less in control due to the restrictions placed on our
availability to get health insurance.
Most cultural beliefs are related to the mortality rate in the area in which
they live. In China, the traditional astrology tells us that people born
on certain years are considered to be unlucky and can expect to have bad health
and bad fortune throughout their life. This has been called a
self-fulfilling destiny. A study conducted on Chinese people who lived in
America and some that lived in China, born in the same year, that was considered
to be a bad luck year, shows that those living in China followed their
"predetermined fate" while those living in America lived normal lives with
average success in their careers, health, and relationships
Control has limits
Having a sense of control is always a positive thing. However, one must
ask the question "control over what?". It cannot be a benefit for people
to believe that we can control every aspect of our lives; things such as taxes, death, storms, or being a victim of a random crime. These things cannot be
in anyone's control. Self-blame will not enhance our well being or the
belief that all sicknesses will be prevented if we eat right and always do the
Eastern and Western society have differing beliefs when it comes to the
ability of controlling our own life and fate. Eastern belief puts an
emphasis on secondary control in which people try to accommodate reality by
changing their desires. If you have a problem, you are expected to live
with it or act like it doesn't exist. Western belief is that people try to
change reality by exerting control over it. For example, if you don't like
a situation... change it.
People can benefit from both Western and Eastern beliefs on different forms
of control by avoiding both. For example, take responsibility for your
future actions and don't blame yourself for your past actions. If you can
do this, you will adjust to the given situation faster than those who believe
that they control everything and those who believe they control nothing at all.
A sample test for "The Locus Of Control" can be found at http://www.drwoolard.com/learning/locus_of_control.htm