Is Change my Responsibility or Yours?: The Healthiest Option

“In my class all the kids are mean to me. They make fun of what I look like. I tell my teacher but it doesn’t help.” I’ve just met Mark and he’s telling me why he gets so angry. “I can’t do my homework because I have to watch my little brothers and I don’t understand it anyway.” A pattern is starting to emerge here but I wait and let Mark finish his story. “I don’t play with the kids in the neighborhood because they’re all mean to me.” Finally I ask the million-dollar question: “Mark, what can you do to change your life?” Mark responds, “Nothing. There’s nothing I can do.”

Julian Rotter, a social-cognitive theorist, published a theory of personality in 1966 that focused on the locus of control: locus, a Latin word meaning location or place. Although it’s been almost 50 years the concept is still important in the field of psychology influencing a variety of disciplines, from sports to religion. Do you believe, like Mark, that other people and circumstances control your life? That is an external locus of control. If you believe and act as if you control your own life, you have an internal locus of control.

Unfortunately for Mark research shows the effects of stress are higher in people with an external locus of control. So Mark and I begin a treasure hunt: where are the situations he has choice, no matter how small? Mark discovers even in difficult situations there are skills he can use to make a difference. We create a plan; Mark agrees to use his newly learned conflict-resolution skills with other kids, and his parents set a meeting with his teacher to start to work as a team.

Especially when life is challenging it’s easy to get lost in what we can’t control. It can feel like the only way to transform is through huge, external changes, like a shift in the world economy. This week take a minute to bring your perspective back to the local—you—and make one concrete change, no matter how tiny. I’d love to hear about it!