This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward. Register your company for 2018 at www.employeerecommended.com.
How much do you feel in control of your daily outcomes?
Let's unpack this question. Control refers to your ability to steer, decide and define what choices you make. What you do defines your good or bad outcomes for the day.
Our mental health is influenced by our sense of control over our life outcomes. The more we believe our outcomes are based on our actions, the more control we believe we have over those outcomes.
This micro skill focuses on a concept known as locus of control, which defines how much control we have over our life.
When we have an internal locus of control (ILOC) we believe that we can influence events and their outcomes, and take responsibility for our decisions. When we have an external locus of control (ELOC) we typically blame our situation or events that happen on factors that we believe we can't control, such as the environment, other people or luck. Take a moment to complete this locus of control quick survey to get your current baseline with respect to ILOC or ELOC.
Context is important when exploring locus of control. A golfer with an ILOC wouldn't golf in a lightning storm, but since we always have free choice they could choose to play in the storm, even though it may not make any sense. The person who isn't happy with their job or marriage and feels trapped could choose to leave or confront their issues. Sometimes it's not control that stops us from making a choice, it is fears around the potential consequences.
Life can be challenging, and one factor that impacts both ILOC and ELOC is stability of control. A person with a stable ILOC who fails may believe it's due to their lack of ability, whereas someone with an unstable ELOC may believe it's due to bad luck. Objectively taking stock of both our locus of control and abilities can indicate where we can improve and set realistic expectations.
For example, an amateur golfer with a high internal locus of control who doesn't make a professional golf cut knows it's due to their level of ability, not bad luck. The more we can put our life into context of what we can control and take accountability for our abilities and decisions, the more likely we will know where we can improve to help us have more confidence in taking control of our present and future. The outcome can have a positive impact on our mental health outlook and on our life.
Locus of control is a skill that can be developed once a person becomes aware of what it is, takes accountability for their abilities, and makes a commitment to be more in control of their life on a day-to-day basis. I refer to ILOC as a developmental coping skill that can be taught and mastered. Like your ABCs, once you develop this skill you will have it and can choose to use it.
Self-talk: Pay attention to your self-talk. What we say to ourselves over and over is what we typically believe. When you feel you're not in control, evaluate the context of the situation. Practice being honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do or change.
Set one goal daily: The practice of setting a goal daily and finishing it is excellent for developing ILOC. The goal doesn't need to be big; it can be a simple nutritional decision like picking to drink water instead of a sugary soda.
Think in terms of success: Define in writing who you want to be over the next two weeks and make one decision that gets you on that track. Track the number decisions you make that shine a light on how your daily choices impact your sense of control.
Smile: It takes just seconds to smile at a person you pass daily. Notice when you smile that the majority of people smile back. Because you choose to smile, you influence another person to smile back. Well-being is the result of many little decisions taken over a period that become habit forming and are within our control.
Stand: Many of us are over-committed and struggle to keep up. But when we're asked to do one more thing we haven't learned how to say no and explain why we need to say no. Evaluate whether you could benefit from declining and saying why. This can result in your dropping something so you can focus on something you desire to accomplish. You will feel more in control of your time with less stress.
Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.
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