How Much of Your Life Do You Actually Control?


This question arose. When i was reading maria kovas new book. The biggest bluff so maria like you has a phd in psychology. But she's not an academic she's a writer and this book is about her quest to become a professional poker player starting from scratch so we made a freakonomics radio episode about her book. That was called how to make your own luck and really what. Maria is wrestling with throughout. That book is the relationship between luck and skill. She's doing it in the context of poker but it's easy to extrapolate into our daily lives. So here's the passage that made me think of you. There's an idea in psychology. She writes. I introduced by julian. Wrote her in nineteen sixty. Six called the locus of control when something happens in the external environment is it due to our own actions in other words skill or some outside factor. Chance people who have an internal locus of control tend to think that they affect outcomes often more than they actually do whereas people who have an external cause of control think that what they do doesn't matter too much events will be what they will be. Typically an internal locus will lead to greater success. People who think they control events are mentally healthier and tend to take more control over their fate so to speak. Meanwhile people with an external locus or more prone to depression and when it comes to work a more lackadaisical attitude so angela. My question has two parts one. Is it indeed. Better to generally have an internal locus of control as maria. Kind of cova rights. And if so if. I am more inclined toward the external if i tend to feel life as more happening to me rather than me making it happen. How can i shift to have a more internal locus of control. It's a great passage from a great book from a great author. So i'm glad to be asked this question i'm gonna throw in a bonus answer here. You didn't ask me if i had. An internal control of control is probably. I haven't internal locus control. and yes. it is generally a good thing. It correlates positively with just about every life outcome you can think of you know income and wellbeing not going to jail it cetera. I guess my suspicion the counter would be that. It might also correlate with things like arrogance and nurses system in other words no characteristic that we think of is unabated. Good all the time obviously well. You're right that it can't be a complete recipe for a good human and there might be instances in which it could be bad. I am not aware of a lot of research. On the downsides of internal control in my data when i measure things that are conceptually siblings two locus of control like growth mindset or self efficacy or optimism. I don't find negative correlations with good things now. That might be. Because i'm studying teenagers. And maybe i'm not measuring all the right outcomes. So i would have imagined that your answer would be something along the lines of well. Of course you want to have an internal locus of control when you're talking about things that you actually can control. But it's really really important to acknowledge that despite your best efforts or maybe despite your worst actions that there's going to be a lot of countervailing activity from institutions or societies systemic things other people and so on that you can't control so that's i guess the answer i was expecting to hear but it sounds like you're saying that the more internal you have at least for teenagers who you've studied the better. It is yes. Yeah i mean you asked me a really straightforward question which is what's the correlation is it positive is it negative and the answer is also simple which is a positive but i think we should move onto the more interesting question more than thinking about. What's the downside. I do think we should think like. Is it a fully accurate view of the world to think that you can control what happens to you or are people who are very aware of all the things like luck and social inequality and racism and the list goes on. Is that a more accurate view of the world. The idea of look control goes all the way back as you said to rotor in the sixty s when he was developing this idea it was really on the heels of behaviorisms where the idea that you would even have any thoughts in your head expectations about the future. That didn't really matter because we are basically all just animals responding and very mechanical ways to stimuli punishments rewards etc is really true as recently as the nineteen sixties. You're saying that was the standard scoop thought. Well certainly the early twentieth century was definitely behavior ism and it was pretty dominant. And that's why when you have a psychologist like rotor. And then also like alexandra. Who is still with us. He's in his nineties and stanford he has a very similar idea. Called self efficacy. They wanted to make the point that people are not just lab rats responding to rewards and punishments. They are thinking and they're projecting into the future and wondering if i do this is going to pay off. And so it really was a conception of human nature which was much more genetic having agency and having free will and having an influence on your future as opposed to just when environment does this. I do that. That's not just like stimulus response.

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