Locus of Control and Self-Efficacy

Locus of Control and Self-Efficacy

August 12, 2023

Changing a Behavior and Building a New Habit

By Annette Lang, MS

Behavior change is very complicated. Sure, we’ve all been successful at huge changes in our lives, but we’re probably still battling others.  Whether we want to reduce or stop a behavior or increase a different behavior, understanding the concepts of locus of control and self-efficacy can increase our chances of success. 

 Locus of Control                                                                

The locus of control is the degree to which we feel responsible for a situation.

  • External locus of control is the feeling that we are not responsible or accountable for a situation.
  • Internal locus of control is the feeling that we are responsible or accountable for our situation.

woman smiling

 Statements that reflect an external locus of control, include:

  • I can’t work out next week because my boss said I have to come in early each day
  • I didn’t do my cardio workout this week because I didn’t have time.

 To transition from external to internal locus of control, we acknowledge the situation and explore our options. In this way, we take charge and are in control, which is empowering right from the start. 

 Then, one should make a plan to be successful. Using the scenario above, it might sound something like:

  • My boss said I need to come in early each day next week to reach the project deadline by Friday.  Now I need to look at the week, and prioritize every other part of the day and figure out where I can carve out time to get to the gym.

 If we think back to a behavior we have successfully changed at some point in our lives, we probably were thinking along an internal locus of control.


Self-efficacy is the degree to which we feel we will be successful. The higher our self-efficacy, the greater probability we have of being successful.

 Statements reflecting low self-efficacy, include:

  • I’ll try to get up in the morning and go to the gym.
  • I think I can get to the gym in the morning.

seated yoga

Statements reflecting high self-efficacy:

  • I’m 100% confident that I will get up when the alarm rings tomorrow morning at 6 AM and go to the gym.

 To increase self-efficacy:

  • State the action in terms of a specific behavior rather than the ultimate goal.  Losing 10 pounds can be the ultimate goal, but having specific behaviors will lead to that ultimate goal.
    • Think of different specific behaviors you can do, and list the options:
      • Burn 500 calories per day – but how?
      • Do 1 class, 3x per week – but which class? 
      • Do 30 min of cardio 3x per week – but which specific cardio options? 
    • Ask yourself if you like the options, and if not, pick a different one. If you don’t like to get up early in the morning, the chances you will get up when the alarm rings are low. Perhaps planning to work out later in the day sounds more appealing. 
  • Think of other times in your life when you were successful at changing a behavior. Think through what you did that time. Using yourself as a role model for being successful will increase your self-efficacy that you will be successful this time.   

 Annette Lang is a private trainer in NYC. She has a Masters in Health Education and teaches workshops for personal trainers. 

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