Just finished Charles Duhigg’s new book, Smarter Faster Better, subtitled The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. Duhigg is a Pulitzer prize winning reporter for the New York Times, and not surprisingly is a great (non-fiction) storyteller. In his book he takes us from the cockpit of a crashing airliner to a white-knuckle championship poker game with $2 million up for grabs, in order to show us how to get better at doing whatever we do.
It was packed with insights, and a delight to read. And I found myself asking if I personally had one trait that he says (in fact, researchers for years have been saying) is indispensable: an internal locus of control. In brief, do you take responsibility for what happens to you (internal locus of control), or do you tend to blame others for your life and circumstances (external locus of control)?
“Researchers have found that people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves for success or failure, rather than assigning responsibility to things outside their influence. A student with a strong internal locus of control, for instance, will attribute good grades to hard work, rather than natural smarts. A salesman with an internal locus of control will blame a lost sale on his own lack of hustle, rather than bad fortune.”
“‘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 wrote in the journal Problems and Perspectives in Management in 2012. People with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends, stay married longer, and report greater professional success and satisfaction.”
“In contrast, having an external locus of control – believing that your life is primarily influenced by events outside your control – “is correlated with higher levels of stress, (often) because an individual perceives the situation as beyond his or her coping abilities,” the team of psychologists wrote.
This insight strikes me as being hopeful, and at its core…Christian. We are, after all, called to be responsible for ourselves:
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. Ezekiel 18:20 (ESV)
And therefore, in the end, taking responsibility for oneself is the first step toward becoming a Christian. For in order to embrace the gospel, I must first admit that I am a sinner – I have made my choices that have landed me where I am in life…and I need a Savior.
But surely all people, Christians and non-believers, would fall at different places on the internal or external locus of control scale, and Duhigg happily prescribes some help in growing our internal locus of control:
“Internal locus of control is a learned skill,” Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychologist who helped conduct that study, told me. “Most of us learn it early in life. But some people’s sense of self-determination gets suppressed by how they grow up, or experiences they’ve had, and they forget how much influence they can have on their own lives.”
“That’s when training is helpful, because if you put people in situations where they can practice feeling in control, where that internal locus of control is reawakened, then people can start building habits that make them feel like they are in charge of their own lives – and the more they feel that way, the more they really are in control of themselves.”