There’s a concept in psychology, locus of control, that refers to the degree of control we believe we have over our lives.

The theory is that some of us see the world as a whirling mass of unknowable, external forces over which we have little or no influence, while others are more likely to perceive things as being within reach and manipulatable—we can pull levers, shift stones, build stuff, and reorganize things.

Most of us exist somewhere in between these two extremes, neither feeling absolute power to influence the world around us, nor feeling like impotent leaves floating listlessly in the breeze.

Some research has shown that people who feel they have more control over what happens in their lives have higher levels of work and lifestyle satisfaction than their peers who feel less in control. And there’s evidence that feelings of ineffectiveness often correlate with neuroticism, self-efficacy, and issues with self-esteem.

In other words: our sense of how much control we have may influence, or be influenced by, our levels of stress and anxiety, our perception of our own ability to successfully perform tasks, and our sense of self-worth.

Interestingly, some studies have shown that our perception of control can be just as important as our actual level of control in a given situation, in terms of psychological outcomes.

So you could have tons of influence and power, but feel inert and unable to get anything done. You could also have relatively little say over how things turn out, but if you feel you have control because of how your job or life or thinking is structured, or because you identify other things in your life over which you do exert relatively more authority, you may still benefit from a sense of control-wielding correlated capability, self-esteem, and fulfillment.

Your perception of control over your own destiny, in other words, may at least partially determine your psychological state, regardless of the reality of the situation.

This implies that some of how we feel about our current level of control over our own lives is just in our heads, while some is the consequence of where we are, what we do for a living, and the nature of our relationships with others.

It also means that we can perhaps change our perception so that we claim more responsibility and control in some facets of our lives, or recalibrate our thinking so that we notice the control we already have but don’t consciously appreciate as such, to achieve better outcomes—to feel generally more fulfilled and more capable.

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