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Internal locus of control

Before bed last night, I came across this New Yorker article from 2016 that I thought was fascinating and broadly useful for both life and business. In it, Maria Konnikova talks about how people learn to become resilient. And she starts by citing the work of a developmental psychologist and clinician who spent decades studying why some people seem to manage stress and trauma far better than others. Here is an excerpt talking about why that might be the case:

From a young age, resilient children tended to “meet the world on their own terms.” They were autonomous and independent, would seek out new experiences, and had a “positive social orientation.” “Though not especially gifted, these children used whatever skills they had effectively,” Werner wrote. Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.

It immediately reminded me of something that Steve Jobs once said in an interview back when more people wore buttoned up jean shirts. His comment was that one of the most powerful things you can learn in life is that much of what surrounds us was created by people who are no smarter than us. His point being that everything can be altered. We all have that ability. We are “orchestrators of our own fate.”

The article goes on to argue that one of the ways we can exhibit a strong internal locus of control is by learning to view and respond to situations in a productive way. Put differently, whether or not we are subjected to shitty experiences matters less than how we ultimately react to and view those shitty experiences. If you can reframe and place in positive terms, then you can reduce any perceived stresses and become more resilient.

The good news is that, supposedly, these are skills that can be learned. So if this topic is at all interesting, I would encourage you to check out the full article. It certainly caught my attention before bed last night.


  1. I really enjoyed Maria Konnikova’s book “The Biggest Bluff – How I learned to pay attention, master myself, and win” where she learns how to play (and win) from ground zero to high stakes in poker in, I think, one year. Love the way she weaves stories, theories of Psychology and lessons learned all with a sense of humor into her writing.


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