Internalizing Control


What if, by changing your mentality, you could change your success? What if changing the way you think about yourself and your environment could improve your external outcomes?

You don’t have to take any physical action. You don’t have to work longer hours or get a second degree. Just change the way you think. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. This is a simple technique that comes naturally to some and must be practiced by others, but it is absolutely achievable by everyone.

First, take a moment and think about the adjectives we associate with success: driven, motivated, focused, passionate, etc. Striving to embody more of these characteristics is like chasing stars. These aren’t easy things to become, and I promised easy. So think about one more success-related idea: internal locus of control.

One of the key characteristics of successful individuals is a strong sense of control over their personal outcomes. In other words, people who tend to succeed also tend to believe that they are in control of their own destinies. That’s not to say that they don’t have a sense purpose, or that they don’t believe that things happen for a reason, it just means that they tend to take responsibility for their own successes and failures.

Think about the times that you experienced real, tangible failure. A highly anticipated job interview that didn’t turn out well, or being passed up for that desperately-needed promotion, or the time that you were juggling a thousand and one responsibilities and something fell through the cracks. In these situations, it’s easy to blame external influences.

The person giving the interview judged me too quickly.”

“My boss doesn’t appreciate how much work I do.”

Sometimes our blame on externals is obvious and sometimes it’s more subtle.

“There was too much to do, something was bound to be missed eventually.”

Also think about the times you were successful. Did you toast to how “lucky” you were? How nice other people were to help you? Or did you recognize that your hard work had paid off?

Now, I know that external factors do affect outcomes. It’s an inescapable fact. Forces outside your control will change your life, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Often, all we can do is accept and try to cope. Preventing failure or pain or hardship is not always possible, and it it forces us to acknowledge the world is not entirely within our control. At the end of the day, we can only control our actions, and our reactions. Recognizing the difference between those factors we can change and those we cannot takes wisdom. It is humbling look upon a situation in which we are powerless, and accept it with grace.

However, there are many externals that can be prevented or overcome. When facing external factors, do you believe you can usually recognize, adjust for, and ultimately overcome external setbacks? Or do you believe that you can only do your best and that the final outcome is decided by forces outside your control? This is the fundamental difference between people who operate their lives successfully and those who are living as victims of their circumstances.

So the mental change that can improve your external outcomes is simply believing that you are in control of your life. You cannot always change the world, but you always have control over yourself. So in that respect, there are no external factors in all the world that have more control over your life than you do. Aligning your mentality with this premise absolutely has the power to make you happier, more fulfilled, and more successful.

By shifting your thinking to accept control of your life, you are acknowledging that you are making choices every second of every day.

For many of us today, it is so easy to live our lives on autopilot.

                “I have to go to work.”

                “I have to run these errands.”

                “I can’t leave my job.”

Each of these little statements represents giving up control. Acknowledge these minuscule choices for what they are: choices. Not only am I going to work because I made the decision to work there, but I am daily choosing to continue going to work. Every single day that I put on my shoes and walk out the door to go to the office, I am choosing to do so. I could leave my job, but I am choosing to stay here because the benefits outweigh the costs. The moment those circumstances change, I am still at liberty to choose. Habits can give the illusion that you are not making choices, but don't be fooled: you always have a choice. No one can force you to choose a particular option, and you always have more than one option.

Each and every day, I am choosing how I spend every second of my time.

When we realize that we have the ultimate choice, suddenly our options are limitless. Yes, we still have to weigh benefits and repercussions and we still have to deal with the consequences of our actions, but we are no longer living within the imaginary boundaries of “I don’t have a choice.” Once you have internalized control, you are truly acting as the driver in your own outcomes, not reacting to the world around you.

Take a look at the ebbs and flows of your day-to-day life. Recognize that they are the result of your choices and be conscious that you have the power to change the things you dislike. In essence, when you internalize control of your circumstances, you are returning power over your life to its rightful owner: you. From there, you will make choices that serve you better, and you will see that the final outcome is improved success and happiness. 

So assume for a moment that you've changed the way you think, and you believe that you have the ultimate control over your life. Now you can use every success and every failure as a learning experience. You can’t learn from success when your success is determined by luck. Similarly, you can’t learn from failure when you only failed because of other people and unfortunate circumstances. As soon as you begin to realize your own role in your successes and failures, you can see which actions led to which outcomes and use that information to make better decisions in the future.

Further down the road, when you encounter significant challenges, you have a whole host of situations behind you in which you learned the actions you should take and those you should avoid in order to gain a desired outcome. So this kind of model, even though you are only changing the way you think, leads to better management of external situations.  When there is an unexpected obstacle, you have a foundation of knowledge to help you overcome it. You are no longer relying on luck or good fortune or just hoping for the best. You are actively seeking a desired outcome and because you have learned from your past experiences, you already have the tools to succeed.

Internalizing control represents a tiny mental "tweak". It only requires a conscious effort to change your thought process, yet the benefits are immense. By believing you have control, you are actually gaining control. The advantages that follow are far-reaching, including actually improving external outcomes. That's powerful. 

Change your world by changing the way you think.

It only requires a mental shift.