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Hardworking vs. Smart – Developing Locus of Control from an Early Age

Hardworking vs. Smart – Developing Locus of Control from an Early Age

Part 2

Me struggling with home work as my patient father watches over.

Me struggling with homework as my patient father watches over.

Most of my life, people have told me I was hardworking, especially my schoolteachers. It always felt a bit odd because I didn’t necessarily feel like I was working harder than anyone else. Perhaps they would say it because I didn’t do particularly well with their testing methods, but still wanted to build my confidence because being called a hard worker by someone of authority feels good. Or perhaps they understood locus of control (LOC) and wanted me to develop a strong external LOC in me from an early age.

As I discussed in last week’s post (How Your Locus of Control Explains Your Thoughts, Actions, and Motivations), LOC measures generalized belief in internal versus external control of reinforcement. In the post, I have mentioned an example of how the US Marines develop an internal LOC among their new recruits. Here, I will give another example of how this can be developed in children as well as adults.

Don’t Tell Them They Are Smart!

Someone’s LOC can be influenced through training and feedback, especially children. New York Times’ business reporter Charles Duhigg highlights one experiment by Stanford physiologist, Carol Dweck to demonstrate this in his book, Smarter, Faster, Better.

The experiment gave students in grade 5 a series of challenging puzzles to complete. All were told they did well. Half of them were told they must have worked hard at solving the problems. The other half were told you must be really smart for solving the problems.

kid doing puzzleThe second round of puzzles included some easier and more challenging ones. The kids who were praised for their intelligence were much more likely to focus on the easier puzzles during the second round of play even though they had been complemented for being smart. Praising them for their smarts primed them to think they could not influence things and feared not completing a puzzle. They were less motivated to push themselves. They later said the experiment wasn’t much fun.

Alternatively, the students who had been praised for their hard work and were encouraged to frame their experience on self-determination, worked on the hard puzzles. They worked longer and scored better and said they had a great time.

Telling 10-year olds they worked hard has been shown to activate their internal LOC because hard work is something we decide to do. Complementing students for hard work gives them the belief they have control over themselves and their surroundings.

Praising children on their intelligence activates an external LOC. Most kids don’t believe they can choose how smart they are. In general, young kids’ think that intelligence is an innate capacity so telling young people they are smart reinforces their belief that success or failure is outside their control.

Teaching Adults –Leadership Is A Learned Skill

Internal LOC is a learned skill. Most people learn it early in life but for some people, self-determination gets surpassed because of how they raised or experiences they have had and don’t ralize how much influence they can have on their own lives. This is when training is helpful.

In training adults to increase their internal LOC, put them in situations where they can practice feeling in control, where the internal LOC is required. People can then start building habits where they can feel they are in charge of their lives. The more they feel that way, the more they really are in control of themselves, which means their impulse may become more automatic.

BASIC TRAININGThe US Marines never tell anyone they are a natural born leader. Natural born means it is outside your control. Instead they teach that leadership is learned. It is the product of effort.

Action: When working with kids or adults, only complement them on things they have control over. Praising them on intelligence, talent, height, and things that have been done for them will not help in their leadership development.

Until next week… Embrace the Adventure


Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author and Ironman competitor. 

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© 2016 Shawn Stratton. All rights reserved.