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Feb 02

Thinking about Self-Efficacy and Locus of Control

Positive psychology, as a self-conscious “movement” is relatively young.  However, interest in the personal qualities of individuals who excel or who seem to have a strong sense of well-being is not at all new.

Recently, I was reminded of two concepts from social psychology and personality theory that have been studied extensively and found to be of significant explanatory value: self-efficacy and locus of control.

Self-efficacy was defined by Albert Bandura as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.”  We can have a high sense of self-efficacy in certain areas of life and not in others, of course, but a high sense predicts willingness to take on relevant tasks and work to assure that they are accomplished.  When self-efficacy is high, we are more likely to be drawn to master difficult challenges, whereas, when it is low, we may avoid those same challenges.

Julian Rotter developed the concept of locus of control, which describes the degree to which people believe they can control the events in their lives.  People with an internal locus of control believe that their own behavior determines the good and bad things that happen to them, whereas those with an external locus believe that forces outside themselves determine what happens.

There are enormous implications of these different worldviews.  To be sure, good and bad things happen to all of us, regardless of what we believe about causation.  But how we think about those things makes all the difference in our lives.

It should be apparent that we are most likely to have a high sense of self-efficacy, when we work from our perceived strengths.  Moreover, although we still will experience disappointment, frustration, and personal pain, an internal locus of control yields optimism and determination to move forward.  Everyone gets knocked down from time to time, and some people struggle to get back up.  Belief that we determine the ultimate outcomes of our lives helps us move beyond disappointment and continue moving forward.

You can find reasonably complete descriptions of self-efficacy and locus of control in Wikipedia, if you are interested.  These and other ideas from social psychology and personality theory remain important to my own thinking about flourishing, thriving, strengths-based teams, and even design approaches to innovation.  Sometimes we create new names for things and discover new implications, but it also is good to remember the thoughts of those who came before.