The Locus Meets The Butterfly

Locus of control is the extent to which we believe we control things. The more we shift from external to internal, the more we shift from passenger to driver.

When one personality dimension collides with one known effect, what will happen? My "guts" tell me good things will. Let´s give it a whack and find out!

Lots of research, along with our intuition, tells us we feel best when we feel we are in control of things. And interestingly, there is a dimension of personality that looks at our propensity to view situations, or events in our lives, as within our control or outside our control. The formal term for it is locus (place, location) of control. It´s essence is as follows:

Locus of control is the extent to which we believe we control things. It is our perception of the degree to which we control how things turn out. It is where we believe control of things rests. "Internals" believe that outcomes are a function of our own doing. "Externals" believe that what happens to us is more or less a function of luck. We usually reside somewhere along this continuum. And the thinking is that the more we shift from external to internal, the more we shift from passenger to driver.

The point? We now know this personality dimension exists, that it has a label. We also know that it is malleable. It is learned, so it can be relearned. Once we know something exists and that it affects how we see things, we can usually self-optometrize - alter how we look at things. It´s like finding a new knob on our onboard guidance system. Or like finding that new dial in our new car and saying, "OK so this thing controls that!" It´s like discovering that the thermostat controls room temperature. Well our locus of control beliefs can affect room temperature.

So where´s the furnace. How can we change room temperature - go from more external to internal...shift from passenger to driver?

(Please note...this is the clever segue to the Butterfly part...just in case it turns out to be not so clever).

The reality is that we probably don´t/ can´t control everything. And to presume that we can might be a little tough. However, there is this extremely cool effect out there, the knowledge of which, for me anyway, has been empowering, liberating and flat out energizing. This effect is called the butterfly effect (yup, the one they talked about in Jurassic Park). Heading to google.com and typing in chaos and complexity theory will give you the big picture, but here is its essence...

Developed in the early sixties by Edward Lorenz, the "butterfly effect" (the one about a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the planet causing or influencing a storm on the other side of the planet one week later) came about as a result of his work using computers to simulate the weather.  Running his simulation two, what were thought to be, only slightly different ways, yielded dramatically different results. The Butterfly Effect is property rich, but my three favorites and the ones that best fit here are as follows:

1. There is a sensitivity to initial conditions.

2. Small changes can have large effects

3. Minimum rules influence outcomes

So what happens when the locus meets the butterfly? Wonderful things! Let me give you an example. How about our kids? They do not control the price of oil nor will they influence the timing of Mr. Greenspan´s next interest rate move. However, they can control all kinds of things as they relate to their financial future.

Starting now (sensitivity to initial conditions), they can save/ invest 15% of everything they earn, (minimum rules) and my guess is that if they keep to this, they will be very much in control of their own financial destiny in not too many years (small changes can have large effects).

So how about us? How does the knowledge of chaos principles help slide us from copilot to pilot? My sense is that while we can´t know exactly where we´ll end up, it has been my experience that the harder we flap, the more likely it is we will land closer to where we want.

What we do is iterative. It builds. A little bit here, contributes to a little bit there. Compound interest. Compound interests. Compounds results. No knockout punch. Just jabs. A little here. A contact there. Just do. We control that.

The butterfly enhanced locus self talk now goes, maybe I don´t control this situation outright, maybe I don´t control the outcome, but I most assuredly do control the inputs, how hard and how many times I flap these wings of mine!

Just a little bit. Everyday. Two bucks in the vacation jar. Ten crunches. Three phone calls. One thing we hate doing but we know to be good for the cause every week. One course a year. One good thing a week. Something for somebody else just because. Can you feel the momentum build - us shifting over? Can you feel the love? Sorry...got carried away. Minimum rules. Start now. Small changes can have large effects. Things ultimately "tip" for us. (see The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell´s outstanding book to learn more about the process of "tipping").

So the good news? The butterfly effect applied to everyday life helps provides assurance that while we don´t control our outcomes outright, our inputs matter. We lay groundwork. Things build. Everyday provides new beginnings, boundless opportunities. So while we might not control the exact leaf we´ll land on, cause it sure can get windy, we most assuredly can control which direction we face and how hard we flap!

Oh yah. How do I know all this stuff works?
Been there. Done it. It works. Flap on!

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