Drawing your Internal Locus of Control to Reduce Anxiety

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Clarifying your Locus of Control to Reduce Anxiety

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The Locus of Control Activity

Here’s a quick activity that you can do to decrease your anxiety and restore a sense of safety and calm, I do it all the time with my clients in session and you can feel a noticeable difference almost immediately

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What is a Locus of Control?

The Locus of Control activity is short and simple, but it can really help decrease anxiety. Because I think that a big part of anxiety and stress is trying to figure out what you should be doing about certain problems. I mean that’s what worry is, right, it’s thinking about a problem over and over to see if you can find another option or another solution.

This exercise is all about understanding your locus of control, and it’s really simple, and you can use it with so many situations- marriage problems, problems with a coworker or fears about the future, but the important part is that you draw it- because that does something to help the brain clarify and calm down more than just thinking. -So start by drawing two intersecting circles on a piece of paper. Write your problem or your question at the top of the page. And then label one circle “In my control” and the other circle “Out of my control”. Where these two circles overlap is your zone of influence, and we’ll get to that later.

An example of how to draw your Locus of Control

Let’s say I’m working with parents of an adult child who is living at home, and these parents are frustrated that their kid isn’t going to college, doesn’t have a job, and doesn’t seem motivated. And they’re really frustrated, they’re putting a lot of energy into being upset about her lack of motivation, and they keep trying to get her to change. So let’s clarify:

Out of your Locus of Control

So let’s start with what’s out of the parents control:

They can’t control whether their child is motivated, whether she gets a job, works hard, goes to school they can’t control if she goes to therapy. And they can’t control the outcome. They can’t control whether in the long run their child is successful in life or not.

In your Locus of Control

Now, what’s in their control. Their money. Their property.

They control whether they set an example of working hard. They control their boundaries. They can control what they say, and the skills they learn for parenting a young adult. They control what they teach and how they teach.

Things you can Influence

They can influence by explaining, requesting, begging, pleading, or setting boundaries. IE if you don’t get a job by next month then you may not live here. Or, if you would like to live here, these are the expectations.

So when I work with these parents, I’m going to encourage them to stop putting all their energy into the things they can’t control, like the outcome, or their daughters’ choices. And to start putting their efforts into the process and the things that are in their control and influence. The process means engaging in the efforts and actions they can take right now that may be most helpful.

Now let’s do the Locus of Control activity with something that hits a little closer to home, the 2020 Pandemic:

In my control:

I can inform myself about the facts

I can choose to wear a mask

I can choose what level of social distancing to do.

I could choose to support local healthcare workers or keep myself healthy in other ways by exercising, good nutrition, etc.

Out of my control:

I can’t control other people opinions, actions, I can’t control the total number of cases, I can’t control whether other’s wear masks or whether those masks cover their noses

I can’t control some risk factors like age.

I can’t change what the government chooses- but I can influence that by being informed, voting, and protesting as needed.

Things I can Influence:

I can use social media to share my opinions.

I can talk to people around me and listen to them and share my opinion with them

How I vote or contribute to public discourse whether that’s protesting or letters to the editor, etc.

The Locus of Control Exercise helps with Anxiety

So what this diagram is really about is where am I going to put my energy and my focus? Am I going to spend a lot of time getting upset about what other people do? Am I going to hyperfocus on how mad I am that other people aren’t wearing masks, or that schools are requiring them? No, I’m going to focus on my realm of influence and my realm of control. That means I’m going to focus my time, energy and attention on the good that I can do, and the most effective way to create change- getting informed, engaging in the community debate or simply choosing to social distance, or not.

And often the best thing you can do is to focus on the process, the process of discussion. The process of being engaged and interacting, and trying. Instead of just focusing on the outcome.

To do this you have to let go of the need to control the outcome (which you don’t have control over anyway) and instead keep refocusing yourself to put your energy toward your realm of influence.

But when you take the time to clarify your role, what you can and can’t change, then that anxiety turns into action, or active acceptance, not that stupid zone of anxious uncertainty.

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