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Focus the Locus: Help employees find motivation from within

Help employees find motivation from within

Not to be confused with a locust a type of grasshopper known for traveling in a crowd and decimating crops, a locus is defined as the center, or source, of an activity or power. Behavioral experts often use the term locus of control (LOC) when studying or discussing motivation.

Employees with an internal LOC feel a greater sense of personal responsibility and control over their work. Those with an external LOC feel that fate, or what happens to them, is largely controlled by external forces.

Studies show that people with an internal LOC typically have a growth mindset—or that they view challenges as opportunities for growth, rather than as setbacks or roadblocks. The more internal control employees believe they have in a situation, the more likely they are to take action, be persistent, and ultimately be successful. They also tend to be happier and more resilient in the face of stress, when compared to those with an external LOC.

Now, it’s true that many things in life are largely beyond our control, like the weather, natural disasters or other people’s attitudes. What we can control—or, things that are within our circle of influence—are our own actions and reactions in any given moment or situation. By helping employees to focus on what they can influence in a situation, you can help them to develop an internal locus of control. This can lead to a more open and realistic worldview, as well as increased empowerment and resilience.

For example, consider these two reactions to the same situation:

External Locus of Control

“My team keeps dismissing my suggestions in meetings.  Their ears are always closed to me.”

Internal Locus of Control

“How could I have presented my idea differently to encourage acceptance from the team?  Maybe if I lead with the benefits next time they’ll be more open to my idea."

Science indicates that, though some aspects of our mindset are with us from birth, we still have a powerful capacity to embrace change. There are things we can do to leverage this capacity to develop a more adaptive and internal locus of control. Here are some suggestions to pass along to employees to help them get started:

  • Remind Yourself That You Have Choices: Every situation offers choices, even if it’s simply choosing to look at the circumstances differently. Although it’s true that you may not be able to choose to have challenges simply disappear, you can choose to look for ways to get help, alter your reaction or to make incremental changes to improve the situation. Sometimes it can be empowering just to know that you have options.
  • Brainstorm: Make a list of any possible choice or action – don’t try to evaluate or vet them, just write them down as a creative exercise. This list can be a living document, allowing you to add to it as new thoughts and ideas come up. By tapping into your creativity this way, you can help remember that there are things you can control, even in a situation that seems fixed. Don’t discount any idea, no matter how quirky or counter-intuitive. For example, if demands have you feeling pressed for time, an action you can take is to pause to breathe or make yourself a cup of tea. Although it doesn’t create more time, taking a mindful, specific action can create space to clear your mind and give you a sense of taking control of your time.
  • Get a Second Opinion: Ask a friend or trusted colleague to help you with your brainstorm list. They may see choices or opportunities that you’ve missed and can help you to decide on a course of action.
  • Make a Plan: After you’ve created your list, look at all of the options and decide which one represents the best choice. You can always keep your other options open to try later, but choose just one to implement. Now think, “What will I need to do this?” or “What will I need to get me there?” Use those thoughts to break that choice down into small, actionable steps.

By practicing these steps whenever they feel they’re in a situation that’s out of their control, it should become easier for employees to recognize new possibilities in any situation.

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