In the ICU, we had to perform a bronchoscopy on a patient to rule out excessive bleeding in the lung. It might have been my attending who was in a good mood or the fact that I was just sitting at the computer responding to WordPress comments, but whatever it was, he asked me to do the bronchoscopy. For those of you who don’t know, a bronchoscopy is a procedure where you take this thin tube with a camera at the end of it to visualize the inside of someone’s airways. The procedure looks like this. Gross, I know. I’m not much of a procedure person, but as I was standing there holding the scope in my hand and looking down this guy’s trachea, I came to a realization. Bronchoscopy is a type of endoscopy, and endoscopy means to look inside.
Do you ever feel like your life is controlled by things outside of your control? Your boss needs you to stop your project and fix his computer. Your significant other needs you to drop what you’re doing and fix the plumbing. Even your alarm clock yells at you to stop sleeping and get out of that warm and comfy bed. How much control do you really have?
A person’s “locus of control” was described by Julian Rotter in 1966 as the how much control individuals have on their lives, whether it be internal factors or external conditions. For example, take two students who received the exact same bad grade on a test. Let’s say they got a D+. The student with a strong external locus would believe that their bad grade was due to the test being hard or the teacher not teaching the material. The student with the strong internal locus would blame themselves for not studying enough.
Which would you rather be? Well, before you answer that, let’s take those same two students but this time they got an A+ on that test. The external locus student would say that the test was too easy or that the teacher was great. The internal locus student would praise themselves for studying hard.
In both scenarios, the external locus student believed that their grades were due to their teacher or test difficulty, whereas the internal locus student believed their grade was due to their own ability. However, if both students took another test, studies have shown that the internal locus student would do better.
By shifting your locus of control internally, I think we can perform more optimally and be more successful. In this study (Paulus M, Potterat E, Taylor M, et al), researchers looked at which Navy SEALs performed better under extreme conditions such as performing complicated tasks underwater. They found that optimal performers had a strong internal body state as compared to suboptimal performers. That is, people with a strong internal locus performed better. So why does having a strong internal locus correlate with optimal performance?
People with a strong internal locus tend to have a growth mindset. Carol S. Dweck describes a growth mindset in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, as the perspective that one can acquire new abilities as long as one puts in the effort and work. This is in contrast to fixed mindset, where these people believe that characteristics such as intelligence, athleticism, and creativity are fixed traits. By having a growth mindset, the potential for someone is boundless. They can study to be more intelligent, train to be more athletic, and even learn to be more creative.
So as I finished up clearing out my patient’s alveoli, I felt grateful for being able to do such an amazing procedure. Being able to look inside someone else to essentially save their life is a marvel in today’s medicine. But instead of looking inside others, we should look inside ourselves. By looking inside we realize that we control our decisions, our fate, and our lives. That realization is empowering, and I can only imagine how much we can accomplish with that mindset.
- Locus of control refers to how much control one has over their life.
- Internal locus of control correlates with higher performance, as seen in the Navy Seal study.
- People with a growth mindset believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point.
Add the word “yet” to your vocabulary. Carol Dweck talked about the power of yet here. The way it works is like this. Every time you find yourself saying that you can’t do something, add the word yet to that sentence. For example, “I can’t draw” becomes “I can’t draw, yet.” So everything you can’t do becomes everything you can’t do, yet.
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