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#5 Motivation to Study

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

In the previous lesson, we talked about imposter syndrome and how you might believe that your successes were just a result of luck. It could also be said that you have a high sense of external locus of control.

Wait a second — what was that last part again? Locus of control?

Why yes, you’ve spotted today’s main topic! Locus of control is the extent to which people believe that they have control over events that influence their lives. Not only does it have an impact on your responses to a situation, but also your motivation to take matters into your own hands. There are two strands: internal and external locus of control. Internal locus of control is when you believe that you’re the one who can take charge of your fate. This is a positive outlook, since you’ll be more likely to actively make choices that can change your life. However, if your locus of control lies externally, it means that you think the results of events are out of your hands, putting you in a passive role in your life.

Like many characteristics and traits, locus of control is on a continuum. It’s very unlikely for someone to be in either extreme of internal or external locus of control. Below are some characteristics of people who have dominant internal or external control orientations (Lopez, 2009):

Internal Locus of Control:

  • Are more likely to take responsibility for their actions, regardless the results

  • Tend to be less influenced by the opinions of other people

  • Often do better at tasks when they are allowed to work at their own pace

  • Tend to work hard to achieve the things they want

  • Feel confident in the face of challenges

External Locus of Control:

  • Blame outside forces for their circumstances

  • Often credit luck or chance for any successes (Sound familiar? Read about Imposter Syndrome)

  • Don’t believe that they can change their situation through their own efforts

  • Frequently feel hopeless or powerless in the face of a difficult situation

  • More prone to giving up if hardship continues

People with high internal locus of control often have a stronger sense of self-efficacy. This is the person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a certain situation. This belief can determine how people think, behave, and feel (Bandura, 1995). Bandura, among other researchers, have found that your self-efficacy is an important determinant in how goals, tasks, and challenges are approached.

Just like the locus of control, there are two types of self-efficacy. People with a stronger sense of self-efficacy tend to: develop deeper interest in the activities they participate in, form a stronger sense of commitment to interests and activities, rebound from setbacks more quickly, and view challenging problems as tasks to be mastered. On the other hand, people with a weaker sense of self-efficacy will most likely: avoid challenging tasks, believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities, focus on personal failings and negative outcomes, and quickly lose confidence in their abilities.

Self-efficacy comes from four major sources. The most effective way to develop a strong sense of efficacy is through ‘mastery experiences’. When you perform a task successfully, it strengthens self-efficacy. However, failing to manage the task can weaken it. The second source is ‘social modeling’. This is when you witness other people (especially people who you associate with) successfully completing a task.

Another way to develop self-efficacy is ‘social persuasion’. Positive affirmation and encouragement will help you overcome self-doubt and build the confidence to master tasks. Last but not least, the final source of efficacy is your psychological responses. Emotions, physical reactions, and stress can impact how you feel about your abilities in particular situations. Building a strong sense of self-efficacy is important when trying to pursue a life where you have an internal locus of control. Believing in your abilities to break through challenging situations.

Metacognition can be used as a tool to help you carry out the choices and actions that will impact the situation (Hrbáčková et al., 2012). Knowing that your actions can influence the results is a powerful principle. Along with that, knowing how to bring an impact makes it even more effective. For example, you are aware that if you study for this maths exam, you can make fewer mistakes. You also know that the best way for you to prepare for the exam is to go through past exams and focus on the concepts you missed. This is using metacognition and internal locus of control together.

However, it’s important to realise that internal locus of control is not always just ‘good’ and external locus of control is not always ‘bad’. For example, if you lost a football game due to bad weather, you might be overly stressed out with a strong internal locus of control thinking, ‘I could have done more’. On the contrary, with an external focus, you would be able to see that there are things you can’t control, making you feel more relaxed. The most important thing to take away from this lesson is that you shouldn’t be a passive bystander in your own life. Always take actions that can impact your life because you’re the only one who can write your story.


Bandura, A. (Ed.). (1995). Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511527692

Hrbáčková, K., Hladík, J., & Vávrová, S. (2012). The Relationship Between Locus of Control, Metacognition, and Academic Success. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 69, 1805–1811.

Lopez, S. J. (2009). The encyclopedia of positive psychology. 2 : L - Z. Wiley-Blackwell Pub.

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