Looking at the World Through Un-Colored Glasses

by Charles Garland, MBA

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We all have an image of ourselves and a view of the rest of the world that determines our attitudes, personalities, and behaviors. Some people seem happier, more content, or more successful than others. Is this because they are lucky, or because they understand the source of power which controls their life's results? They know where it resides . . . and where it doesn't!

I. Introduction.

Locus of Control (LOC) is a term commonly used by psychologists in an academic context. But its real-world application is so basic and important, it's worthwhile defining the concept in every-day terms. Let's simply say that your LOC refers to the place you believe your source of power and control in your life resides. Your LOC "orientation" is either primarily Internal (within you) or External (within other things, people, etc.).

It is important to remember that no one is completely Internal or External; these are generalities. One's orientation lies along a simple "scale" between the two extremes. We all have some characteristics of each. They can be observed in virtually all people, but vary in degree over time and among different facets of any one person's life. What is most important is to understand that this orientation CAN BE SHIFTED . . . and can be done so through your own deliberate efforts.

II. Real-Life Examples.

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T here are lots of examples of human behavior that show the relative difference between Internal and External orientation. There are obvious examples of addictive behavior, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, overeating, etc. (which are not addressed in this article). But there are more subtle, and perhaps more widespread examples which many people tend to accept because they are so commonplace. Examples of External behavior include: looking to others for approval or acceptance; insulting or putting others down in order to make yourself appear better by comparison; attempting to artificially impose control over others in relationships; and blaming others for your lack of success.

On the other hand, we all see Internal characteristics in ourselves and others. Allowing others in a competitive environment to freely access sources of power; taking the initiative to solve a problem rather than complain about it; and negotiating an out-of-court settlement as a win-win situation are all examples of behavior that typically describe an Internal orientation.

III. Problems.

T he results we generate for ourselves are a product of the behaviors (efforts) we apply toward achieving them. Our behaviors are driven by our attitudes about ourselves and our abilities to achieve the desired results. And our attitudes are formed predominantly from the messages that our subconscious delivers to us, constantly. The reason that an External orientation is a problem is simple: it causes us to seek power and control in things outside ourselves, when we should be seeking them from within. It points us in the wrong direction.

Every time we focus on external entities for our source of control, we program our subconscious mind to believe that that is the right place to access it. The less we look within for solutions to problems, the less independent (and the more dependent upon externalities) we become. Where the Internal person remains empowered, the External approaches frustration, helplessness, and eventually hopelessness.

IV. Analyzing the Process.

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A vital skill for taking actions which create lasting changes is our ability to think analytically about the process(es) involved. We need to observe the details of our lives and the lives of others from the point of view of a student. The behaviors we note and the underlying attitudes need to be "seen" from an unbiased, non-judgmental perspective, and honesty with ourselves must prevail as the foundation for this analysis. Indeed, we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with "External" programming.

Just about any behavior you observe can be evaluated as being somewhat Internal or External. By understanding the differences in these behaviors and their underlying motivations, we take the first and most important step toward appreciating the power of shifting our attitudes along the scale toward the Internal. We are effectively "looking at the world through un-colored glasses," where behaviors are observed with honest and unbiased perspective, and can then be viewed in terms of this vitally important dimension.

V. Taking Action (One Example).

Understanding my own processes of subconscious influences, I set out to create a strategy for reprogramming my "inner computer." Through a number of avenues, a significant portion of my own self image had been painted with beliefs and messages that I could not succeed, overcome challenges, or achieve goals. I needed to first begin correcting the inaccuracies of past negative learning. By deliberately setting and completing a number of simple and easily-achievable short-term goals, I began effectively re-entering information to my subconscious which promoted stronger messages of "Success" and "Competence," which then translated into "Courage," "Motivation," and "Confidence."

A specific example where I used these principles is in my creation of a part-time business venture. I had a desire to develop a series of software products which were both simple and inexpensive, yet which would be effective in helping users (e.g. my trainees) automate their routine, but complex, tasks. Although I knew there was a strong need for such a product, I never considered that I would have the ability to put one together -- let alone one that could be marketable. I had little experience in programming or in running a small business. Such a vision was intimidating to say the least. Even if I could organize the overwhelming number of projects necessary to accomplish this, I still needed to overcome the fear of balancing new priorities...as well as the fear of failure.

One aspect of my desire to start this venture was the relatively unfulfilling career path I had been traveling along at the time. I felt bored, uncreative, and pessimistic about any prospects of the situation improving. I would typically blame my frustrations on any number of others -- my boss, my employer, the economy, etc. What was clear to me, though, was that I did need to make a change. Instead of just sending out resumes all over again (and finding a new set of circumstances to blame), I decided to try taking matters more into my own hands. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed some careful thought, and a detailed, adjustable, plan of action.

The most powerful activities for supporting this process were the creation of a Personal Vision/Mission Statement (PVS) and the development of a daily (mental) model for ongoing reference. The PVS acts as a "sounding board" for my weekly goal-setting and daily decision-making. On a daily basis, I use a particular mental image for representing not only my PVS/Principles, but also a review of my process for acting on or responding to unplanned situations.

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The mental model I use is something I refer to as my "Air Bag." It is similar in nature to the airbag of an automobile -- designed to be available to the user whenever the proper reaction is absolutely and immediately needed. By reviewing my Air Bag on a daily basis, I continuously refresh my short-term memory as to how I choose to respond to different occurrences, people, or information. Where I used to react -- normally in a negative, externally-oriented fashion, I now respond -- with emotions, attitudes, behaviors, and that are consistent with my most highly-regarded principles.

VI. Conclusion.

In this system, I have effectively moved my own orientation along the "Internal-External" scale TOWARD the Internal. By creating and reviewing my PVS, I conduct my life by way of deliberate action rather than with a wait-and-see reaction. I am following a plan -- a "roadmap to the highway of life" -- which I created, and whose resources reside within me, not outside of me. I gradually replace the process of reacting to externalities with the process of initiating my own behaviors. Does this mean that I have eliminated all characteristics of External behavior from my life? No, it does not. But it does mean that I have realistically taken the first steps toward significantly changing my orientation in life away from the habits of reacting to the External . . . continuously leading myself toward personal accountability and successful results.

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Charles Garland holds an MBA from Dartmouth College and has extensive management experience at Procter & Gamble, New York Life, as well as his own software development and consulting firm. He has spent years training and coaching individuals in principles of Personal Leadership, Team Leadership, TQM, and Analytical Problem Solving. His software company, PushButton Software, currently markets products which address these areas.


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