Key to Getting Unstuck in 2012–Understanding”Locus of Control” and Choice Theory.

Trapped or Stuck?? Find your niche in the world by discovering your strengths and making your own choices. Are you an external or an inner directed type? Internals think they have more choices and can control their futures and externals think things are more determined by outside situations , fate and luck.

An acquaintance of mine talks about his first love for music and the Arts and yet continues to work in the automotive industry to support his family.  The more we talk the more I realize that he feels and thinks being “stuck” is just his fate. Suggestions for problem solving and opportunity finding are seen as an opportunity for him to play–” Yes, but… He is unhappy and feels stuck and trapped in a thankless and meaningless job because of his responsibilities as a bread-winner.  He is a super smart and very talented but seems sad and frustrated most of the time. He has always done what is right and mostly listened to others to find direction in his career. The kids are moving on to college and he feels life slipping by. He hasn’t had time to follow his dreams. He keeps asking me –what should I do?

I avoid answering this question because advice is cheap and he needs to make that decision; so as a good coach, I ask questions and listen so he has a sounding board for his frustrations.  The problem seems to be his powerlessness to make his own choices and his perception that external sources and situation control his life. He has been doing the right thing and following everyone’s advice except his own dream. He constantly worries about what others think about him and his religiosity of faith and God’s will be done keeps him stuck in the “status quo”.  So in my quest for answers I ask–What can Social Psychological theory tell us about these kinds of situations? My search leads me to Dr. Rotter, a social psychologist, who developed a framework called the “Locus of Control” and how inner direction for life decisions provides a strong basis for making life decisions. Here is a good summary of Dr.Rotter’s Social Learning theory and the framework  of “Locus of Control” from Wikipedia:

” When Rotter developed his social learning theory, the dominant perspective in clinical psychology was Freud’s Psychoanalysis, which focused on people’s deep-seated instinctual motives as determining behavior. Individuals were seen as being naive to their unconscious impulses, and treatment required long-term analysis of childhood experience. Even learning approaches at the time were dominated by drive theory, which held that people are motivated by physiologically based impulses that press the individual to satisfy them. In developing social learning theory, Rotter departed from Psychoanalysis and drive-based behaviorism. He believed that a psychological theory should have a psychological motivational principle. Rotter chose the empirical law of effect as his motivating factor. The law of effect states that people are motivated to seek out positive stimulation, or reinforcement, and to avoid unpleasant stimulation. Rotter combined behaviorism and the study of personality and interaction with his environment, without relying on physiological instincts or drives as a motive force.”

The main idea in Rotter’s social learning theory is that personality represents an interaction of the individual with his or her environment. One cannot speak of a personality, internal to the individual, that is independent of the environment. Neither can one focus on behavior as being an automatic response to an objective set of environmental stimuli. Rather, to understand behavior, one must take both the individual (i.e., his or her life history of learning and experiences) and the environment (i.e., those stimuli that the person is aware of and responding to) into account. Rotter describes personality as a relatively stable set of potentials for responding to ever changing situations of the person’s  environment. Rotter sees personality, and therefore behavior, as always changeable. Change the way the person thinks, or change the environment the person is responding to, and behavior will change. He does not believe there is a critical period after which personality is set. But, the more life experience you have building up certain sets of beliefs, the more effort and intervention required for change to occur. Rotter conceives of people in an optimistic way. He sees them as being goal directed. Always seeking to maximize rewards, and making choices rather than just avoiding punishment. For most people there seems to be a cognitive balancing rod so that they feel what happens to them is a matter of preparation and choice and being in the right place or situation at the right time. What happens to others is that they view live as more chance or luck driven beyond their control.

One’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location”) can either be internal (meaning the person believes that they control their life) or external (meaning they believe that their environment, luck or fate, or other people control their decisions and their life).

Those with a high internal locus of control have better control of their behavior, tend to exhibit more people and better political behaviors , and are more likely to attempt to influence other people than those with a high external locus of control perspective. Those with a high internal locus of control are more likely to assume that their efforts will be successful. They are more active in seeking information and knowledge concerning their situation.

Rotter has four main components to his social learning theory model predicting behavior. These are behavior potential, expectancy, reinforcement value, and the psychological situation.

Behavior Potential. Behavior potential is the likelihood of engaging in a particular behavior in a specific situation. In other words, what is the probability that the person will exhibit a particular behavior in a situation? In any given situation, there are multiple behaviors one can choose to engage in. For each possible behavior, there is a behavior potential. The individual will exhibit whichever behavior has the highest potential.

Expectancy. Expectancy is the subjective probability that a given behavior will lead to a particular outcome, or reinforcer. How likely is it that the behavior will lead to the outcome? Having “high” or “strong” expectancies means the individual is confident the behavior will result in the outcome. Having low expectancies means the individual believes it is unlikely that his or her behavior will result in reinforcement. If the outcomes are equally desirable, we will engage in the behavior that has the greatest likelihood of paying off (i.e., has the highest expectancy). Expectancies are formed based on past experience. The more often a behavior has led to reinforcement in the past, the stronger the person’s expectancy that the behavior will achieve that outcome now.

Reinforcement Value. Reinforcement is another name for the outcomes of our behavior. Reinforcement value refers to the desirability of these outcomes. Things we want to happen, that we are attracted to, have a high reinforcement value. Things we don’t want to happen, that we wish to avoid, have a low reinforcement value. If the likelihood of achieving reinforcement is the same, we will exhibit the behavior with the greatest reinforcement value (i.e., the one directed toward the outcome we prefer most).

Predictive Formula. Behavior Potential (BP) is a function of Expectancy (E) and Reinforcement Value (RV) can be combined into a predictive formula for behavior:

BP = (E & RV)

So back to my coach with Bill H. It would have come as a great shock to everyone except his few close friends, had they discovered, how deeply unhappy he was with work routine. He was really only happy in his music studio, were he can listen to his favorite songs and composers, and very few knew that his real dream was to own his own music shop and teach others to appreciate the beauty of classical music some day.

Joe C. was by nature very out going, and I suspect that he suffered from a mild form of grandiosity and depression. Working as automotive executive was a struggle for him that never eased. Not to disappoint his wife, parents and work, he resolved to stick with it until something changed. His inability to be more self-directed, goes to work –  living out a self-inflicted misery instead of a happy life.

There are actually many people pursuing careers and goals that they are ill suited for, and they too will remain stressed and unhappy until they make a change. But many feel trapped by the need to keep up a certain lifestyle, family expectations, and accumulated financial responsibilities.

The only way out of this unhappy state is to make a change in line with your true nature, or what the Buddhists call one’s being or “suchness.” Your true temperament will never allow you to feel comfortable, happy, or content, when you are engaged in activities that are not a good fit with who you really are.  So I asked Bill C. how committed he was to make a life change that better fits his perception of himself and his natural strengths? Stay tuned he says he is pondering what that change would look like and how committed he is to do it 2012.


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