Sunday, May 4, 2008

Locus of Control: The Secret of Success

The Cliff Notes' version:

"Constructs" are very important in psychology. A construct is a theoretical "thing" which cannot be directly measured such as motivation or introversion. One of the constructs that I found most fascinating when I was a student, and to this day, was Locus of Control. A person with a completely external locus of control believes that everything is due to circumstances outside his control. If I lose a match, fail a course or get fired from a job, it is because of factors over which I had no control. The refereeing is bad, the professor was disorganized, the boss hated me, I was just born dumb and uncoordinated. A person with complete internal locus of control believes that everything is within her control. In the same circumstances, this person would attribute the cause of failure to her not having trained hard enough, having forgotten to ask the professor when the assignment was due or not having learned the boss's expectations and thus had misunderstandings.

It is better in the long-run to have a more internal locus of control rather than an external locus of control. In the short-run, maybe not so much.

For example, today my little daughter, Julia, won one match and lost two. Valerie, a friend of mine, who remembered me when I competed, commented to her son,
"That little girl is not going to get any sympathy from her mother."

She didn't. I took her aside and told her that she had lost because she did her o uchi gari reaching rather than stepping in to the other person. I also told her that she loses because many of the girls she fights go to practice more often than her and that she was going to have to go to practice more often if she wanted to win.

Today, I heard some parents excusing that their child lost because the other players were heavier or older, or that the refereeing was poor. It's hard to admit that your child lost because she doesn't go to practice enough, because who is it that takes your child to practice (or not)? In my case, it is even worse to admit that she lost because her technique was incorrect, because I am the one who is teaching her. We have been working on her pulling herself in instead of pushing with o uchi gari, but obviously not enough. It is always easier to let yourself off the hook. You feel worse if you believe that any failure was your fault.

Today, Julia said to me,
"I don't hate tournaments. It's just that I hate losing."

I told her,

"You're supposed to hate losing. That's what makes people train harder."

It's easier at the moment to blame your inept co-workers, biased referees or professors who are 'bad teachers'. Easier on your ego, maybe, but ineffective, since there is nothing you can do about any of that. I'd like to be a better judo coach, I really would, but at the same time, I am sitting here looking at a picture of all of my daughters taken at Maria's wedding. I realize that I was able to pay for their college educations and training for the last Olympics because I chose a profession that paid more than coaching judo.

I know more about statistics and educational technology than the vast majority of people, but not nearly as much as I would like. I could complain about how math is hard, I have four kids, it wouldn't make any difference in my career anyway - or I could pick up the book on the floor next to my desk and read more about statistical modeling. On Tuesday I am going to a conference on Educational Technology and on Wednesday I am leaving work earlier so that I can take Julia to judo practice at Sawtelle.

More than any other, Gandhi's saying,
"Be the change you want to see in the world,"

epitomizes an internal locus of control.

My husband worries that I will push Julia too much, interfering with her current evening routine of eating Red Hot Cheetohs while watching Hannah Montana re-runs. I disagree. A person learns to have an internal locus of control through experiences that tell them that their efforts matter.

Random thoughts:
This post on sportsmanship, from a New York Times article, made me think what I would have done. If someone had beat me fair and square, and then, say, collapsed on the mat from some unrelated injury, would I have helped her up so she could have won? I thought about this after reading the article, and I think I would, not because I don't think winning is important but because she would have won. I would have known it, she would have known it and whatever the referee said wouldn't have changed that fact. It goes back to an internal locus of control.

Self-esteem comes from achieving a difficult task. This is true in sports, it is true in academics and professionally. The more you achieve difficult tasks, the more you will have the belief that you can do so in the future.

Photo of Serge teaching ko uchi makikomi at the Great American Workout.

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