Emotional Intelligence and Locus of Control


Identifying your first thought may be your biggest challenge right now. I often ask my clients to tell me what they told themselves, what their thoughts were, just before they made themselves angry.  Inevitably I get a very confused look and then, “What did I tell myself?  What do you mean?  I didn’t tell myself anything.”

“Just listen to your thoughts.  What are you telling yourself?”

“I’m not telling myself anything. I can’t think.  I’m too angry to think!”

Capturing your thoughts isn’t really a very difficult process.  We have a long-running, very familiar dialogue with ourselves every day that is easily recognizable.  The problem may be that question sounds so bizarre, “What are you telling yourself?” asked at a time when most people are confronted not with how they are making themselves feel, but how they believe others are making them feel.  It seems so much easier to ask, “What was the other person telling h/erself?” to which the person is always glad to tell me, “S/he was telling h/erself that s/he was better than me and that s/he was going to show me and . . .”

“How did you know s/he was telling h/erself that?”

“I could tell by h/er face.”

“So what were you telling yourself?”

“Like I said, I wasn’t telling myself anything.”

To begin to address this very simple, yet confusing issue, we might have a very quick look at a concept known as locus of control (LC). The concept of LC is described to help people identify the source of control over their destiny. There are believed to be two variations on this concept: internal locus of control (ILC) and external locus of control (ELC). If, for example, you take a test and you fail, do you attribute the cause of that outcome to a lack of studying (ILC)? Or that your teacher was a difficult grader (ELC)?  The notion of LC can easily be applied to the concept of emotional intelligence. LC is related to whom you attribute the cause of your emotional behavior.  Individuals with an ILC view their emotional state as a result of their own thinking.  People with an ELC view their emotions as being under the control of external factors, such as the way other people behave.

LC may have a profound effect on overall psychological well-being.  If people feel they have no control over their emotions (that the cause of how they feel comes from something external of them), they are less likely to seek or apply solutions to their emotional problems.  The far-reaching effects of such maladaptive behaviors can have serious consequences in many areas of life.

It appears that expressing an ILC is more beneficial than expressing an ELC. A person must perceive that s/he has control over those things they are capable of influencing, particularly the source of their emotions, before they are likely to be successful at controlling them.

An efficient ILC usually needs to be matched by competence, self-efficacy and opportunity so that the person is able to successfully experience a sense of personal control and responsibility.  Improved emotional intelligence emphasizes an ILC and provides a method for gaining competence and self-efficacy.  The opportunity to practice will be available to you every day.

The first step in developing ILC competence is to pay attention to what you tell yourself when you are experiencing emotion – especially emotion that you believe to be unmanageable.  Listen to your internal dialogue when you are facing adversity and pay special attention to how you use the words should, ought, must, have to and need.

Hear that voice.

It will tell you everything you need to know.

It is your first thought and will be the target of your second thought.

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14 responses

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  7. ELC to ILC is one of the first major shifts that I achieved in terms of emotional growth.

    We had a sales trainer who used to say that once you start taking responsibility for your actions, once you develop an internal locus of control, then you can take necessary steps to improve your performance.

    • In a more general sense i think he was was saying that when salespeople learn that a rejection of h/er product is NOT a rejection of h/er personally s/he is not likely to give up so quickly on selling the product to others. besides if you’re more interested in being liked than selling your product, you may be less likely to sell your product 🙂

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