Psychologists have a name for it – internal locus of control. It’s the feeling of having control over your own life and it’s critical to people and to animals as well. It’s built into us at a genetic level.
Even my chocolate lab, Nessie, prefers to have it her way and make her own decisions. She does not like the fact that she’s currently wearing a “cone of health” to keep her from licking a scratch on her paw. And she’ll tell you about it.
This feeling of control can turn a difficult job into a meaningful choice. It is the fertile ground for self-motivation. It can connect small, seemingly inconsequential, tasks into a larger, more powerful purpose. It is key to satisfaction, happiness, and even longevity.
New York Times bestselling author Charles Duhig wrote this:
“Internal locus of control has been linked with academic success, higher self-motivation and social maturity, lower incidences of stress and depression and longer lifespan,” a team of psychologists write in the journal “Problems and Perspective in Management” in 2012. People with an internal locus of control have more friends, stay married longer, and report greater professional success and satisfaction.”*
It’s a learned skill
Usually, we learn this one very young. So young that by the time we’re adults we seem to just know it instinctively. But learned behavior can be unlearned.
As we grow older, schools, bosses, and authorities spend so much time trying to shape us to their will and use us for their purposes that we can easily believe it’s dangerous. We are told what to say by our peers and media. Our social need to belong is so powerful that we begin to give in.
At the same time that we know that you can’t please everybody, we are conditioned to try. It’s a process so slow that we can’t see it happening. As a result, we become less independent, less able to make our own decisions and significantly more fearful.
Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist, helped conduct a study that indicates when we practice feeling in control, our internal locus of control is reawakened. We can slowly rebuild habits that give us back our feelings of autonomy. But if we are denied that self-control, watch out.
It’s a rebellion!
“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing . . .” – Thomas Jefferson
A number of studies in nursing homes in the 1990’s attempted to find out why some patients thrived there and some didn’t. It turned out that the survivors conducted continual small rebellions against the rigid structure that controlled every decision, right down to their menus.
It even got to the point that one group of residents in Little Rock ripped the furniture off the walls that had been attached for their “safety.” Then they traded furniture to the management’s dismay.
Another group in Santa Fe swapped unapproved food, like cake, during meals. As one man put it, he’d “rather eat a second-class meal that I have chosen.”*
The result is that these rebels walked twice as far, ate a third more, visited the gym more, took medications more regularly and even obeyed their doctor’s orders better. As a result, they lived longer, were happier and had better relationships. In general, those that seized control of their lives had better, longer lives than others.
Wired for self-determination
I don’t need to illustrate any further because I’m sure these stories resonate right to your bones. You know that a sense of autonomy and self-determination is better. We always have.
So, while scientists have gone so far as to call the need to make your own decisions about your life “a biological imperative,” Americans just call it freedom. And we know the benefits are beyond measure. And we will rebel against any group or institution or social construct or government that tries to force us to submit.
God is the only one worthy enough to command our submission. And any submission to each other is to be done by choice, for the purpose of service in gratitude for God’s rich blessings and unmerited grace.
So have a happy central-locus-of-control, self-determination, rebellion, autonomy day! May love and liberty be your steadfast guides. May grace and gratitude be your prayer.
*Smarter Faster Better, Chapter 1. A round of applause to Charles Duhig for his great work.I liberally absconded with this data in the full knowledge that you were not writing about the 4th of July. And yet you did. Thanks. You can buy it here. I have NO affiliate relationship; I just like it.
Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash