It’s nearly always helpful to feel you have an element of control over life, even in relatively trivial ways such as being a pedestrian in a city centre.
You’re marching down the street and come to a traffic intersection. Thoughtfully, someone has placed a button there for you to press, so you do. Then you wait for the lights to change – happy in the knowledge that now “they” know you’re there, they’ll do so more quickly.
But will they?
Not always. In Central London, for instance, a large number of pedestrian crossing signs at traffic lights have no effect whatsoever during normal office hours. Whether or not you push the button, the lights change when their computerised operating system tells them, not you.
The same is true in New York City, where thousands of pedestrian crossings have been left with their old mechanical push buttons even though the lights are now computerised. The buttons may be there but they’re disconnected.
Why? City planners know that even when people actually have no control, they’re likely to be more patient if they believe they do. In fact in New York these non-controlling controls are even sometimes referred to as “placebo buttons”.
The highly-regarded psychologist Julian Rotter developed the personality concept of “locus of control” in the 1950s.
Someone with an external locus (locus is Latin for place) believes they have little or no control over their own life, such that both bad and good days come about entirely because of external factors.
A poor test score, for example, is because the examiner was unfairly harsh. A good score was the result of the questions being easy. In neither case would someone with an external locus of control believe they had any influence.
A poor score wouldn’t be because they’d insufficiently prepared for the test, and a good one wouldn’t be the result of them swotting diligently. These alternative explanations would be how someone with an internal locus of control might view things.
It’s likely that as your mood ebbs and flows, so too does your locus of control: on a good day you may feel more in control of things than you do on a bad one.
But of course even on a day when your inner sun shines, the truth is that there will always be some things that you can control and others that you can’t. How to handle this? I think by practicing acceptance.
By all means control what you can. But at the same time, simply accept what you can’t. Anything else would be like impatiently and repeatedly pushing the ‘Cross’ button. And who’d do that?
Yep, me too.