Last week we discussed how some people have an internal locus of control and others an external locus of control, with the former group believing that their own actions are related to outcomes and the latter group perceiving external events having more effect on their lives. Which group do you fall into? And does this actually affect your health?
Studies are certainly contradictory about the effects these viewpoints have on actual health behaviours. For example, there are some studies on people with alcoholism that found that alcoholics have a strong external locus of control and blame events and others in their lives for their excessive drinking and anti-social behaviours stemming from this. They blame their miserable childhoods, their bosses, their spouses and sometimes even their children, for “driving them to drink”. Many people would not be surprised by this finding.
However, it is not that simple, as other studies have found the opposite to be true, finding that alcoholics have a strong internal locus of control, perceiving themselves as making the choice to drink and being in control of their own choices around their drinking. Similar findings have been reported with other health behaviours such as exercising regularly and eating more healthfully. So how do we make sense of all this?
It seems that we need to look at another factor which is “health value” or the value people place on having good health. Well, you might say, all people value good health, but this is actually not true! There are many people who are quite happy being overweight and sedentary and they seem happy to see their doctor every three months to have their prescriptions for cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes medications renewed. I used to be be puzzled seeing how passive some of these patients were about their health, especially in those who obviously had an internal locus of control and were successful in other aspects of their lives. Many patients admit that most of their medical problems are caused by themselves through eating poorly, overeating and not exercising.
When I add “health value” to the equation, it actually does make sense to me. I understand now that if a patient is not motivated to have a slim, toned body, why would they make the effort to exercise daily if they don't enjoy exercise, or constantly “deprive” themselves of food and alcohol that make up a big part of their social life?
However, if you are constantly wishing you could be healthier or get off your blood pressure or cholesterol medications, I would encourage you to consider what your locus of control is. Are you constantly blaming others for why you can't eat better or exercise more? Are you ready to take responsibility and set your alarm earlier every day so you can have a walk before work in the relative cool of the morning?
There are many studies that link a strong internal locus of control with improved physical and mental health and overall quality of life even in people with medical problems such as migraines, diabetes, kidney disease and epilepsy. I encourage you to take the reins in your own life and reap some of the benefits!