Personal Control: Definition, Benefits, & How to Enhance It

Have you ever been stuck in traffic, clenching your steering wheel in frustration, wishing you could magically clear the road ahead? Or perhaps, you’ve been at the mercy of a long, winding queue, yearning to be at the front instantly.

Life often puts us in situations where we feel we have little say, and that can be incredibly overwhelming. But what if there were a way to navigate life with a greater sense of influence over our own circumstances? Is it possible to truly have a grip on our destinies?

Dive in to discover the essence and power of personal control.

Key Takeaways

  • Personal control is the ability to manage one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions in line with personal goals and values, significantly influencing one’s life experiences and well-being.
  • Childhood experiences, parenting styles, socioeconomic status, and cultural influences all play significant roles in shaping an individual’s sense of personal control over their life.
  • Personal control enhances psychological well-being, improves physical health, boosts motivation and performance, and fosters resilience in the face of adversities.

What is Personal Control?

Personal control, also known as self-control or self-regulation, refers to your ability to manage and direct your thoughts, emotions, and actions in accordance with your personal goals and values. It plays a crucial role in shaping your life experiences and contributes to your overall well-being.

Historical Context

Evolutionary Perspective

Imagine our ancestors living thousands of years ago. They’re out in the wild, surrounded by all sorts of challenges: wild animals, unpredictable weather, scarce food.

In such an environment, being able to control certain aspects of their life was crucial. It meant safety, survival, and passing on their genes. So, over time, humans who had a stronger sense of control thrived better.

It’s in your DNA, this need for control. It’s something that’s been passed down from those ancient days. You’re not just being stubborn or demanding when you seek control; you’re tapping into a deep-rooted instinct.

Societal Shifts

As time passed, humans began to live in groups. They started building communities, villages, and cities. Living together had many benefits: shared resources, protection, and companionship.

But it also meant more rules and a structured way of life. Everyone had a role to play for the community to function. However, over the centuries, a shift happened.

The world became more about the ‘I’ than the ‘We’. With advancements in technology, transportation, and communication, individuals could now go out on their own, explore new opportunities, and build lives separate from their communities.

As societies modernized, the emphasis on personal freedom and individual rights grew stronger. This shift led to a world where personal control over one’s destiny became more valued.

Locus of Control

  • Internal Locus of Control
    If you believe that you are the captain of your ship and that your choices and actions determine what happens to you, then you have an internal locus of control. You believe that you’re in charge and that your actions matter. It’s like believing you can change the direction of your ship by turning the steering wheel.
  • External Locus of Control
    On the other hand, if you feel that things just happen to you and that outside factors like luck, destiny, or other people determine your life’s path, then you have an external locus of control. It’s like thinking that no matter how hard you turn the steering wheel, the ship won’t change direction because of strong currents.

Knowing where you stand with your locus of control can help you understand your feelings and reactions. If you’re more on the internal side, you might feel more empowered to change things. If you’re leaning towards the external side, you might feel a bit more at the mercy of external forces.

The key here is balance. It’s good to know you have power over your actions, but also understand that some things are just beyond our control. Knowing this can help you navigate life’s waters with more confidence and less stress.

Factors Influencing Personal Control

Childhood Experiences

Think back to when you were a kid. The games you played, the challenges you faced, and the lessons you learned. Those early years shaped a lot of who you are today.

For instance, if you were constantly encouraged to try new things and make decisions as a child, you probably grew up feeling you had a say in your life.

On the other hand, if you were always told what to do and never got a chance to voice your opinion, you might feel like life happens to you rather than you steering it.

Parenting Styles

Think about your mom, dad, or whoever raised you. How did they behave? Were they super strict, always setting the rules with no room for discussion? Or were they more laid back, letting you learn from your mistakes?

This is all about parenting styles. If your parents gave you room to make choices (and yes, sometimes fail), you likely learned to trust yourself and your judgment.

That trust translates to feeling in control of your decisions and life as an adult. But if your parents made all the decisions for you, it might be harder for you to feel that same sense of control.

Socioeconomic Status

Your socioeconomic status, which refers to where you stand regarding income, education, and job position, can greatly influence your level of personal control.

Think of it like this: having more resources often means having more options. When you have the funds to support yourself, you can make choices that align with your desires and needs.

For example, you can decide where to live, what kind of food to eat, and what hobbies to pursue.

On the other hand, if your resources are limited, your choices might be too. It can be more challenging to have control over your life when you are constantly worried about meeting basic needs like food and shelter.

Sometimes, it feels like life is controlling you instead of the other way around. But remember, having limited resources does not mean you have no control. It means finding small areas where you can assert your independence and make right choices.

Cultural Influences

The culture you grow up in can also shape the amount of personal control you feel you have. Different cultures have different beliefs about individuality and making personal choices.

In some cultures, the group’s needs and desires are put before the individual’s. In such settings, you might find that your personal control is a bit limited because you are encouraged to think about the community before yourself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it fosters a sense of togetherness and support, but it can sometimes feel like your desires take a back seat.

In other cultures, individualism is celebrated, and you might be encouraged to forge your path and make your own decisions from a young age. Here, personal control can feel much more accessible because the environment encourages you to think about your own needs and aspirations.

Benefits of Personal Control

Psychological Well-Being

Imagine waking up in the morning and knowing that you have the power to shape your day. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? When you embrace personal control, you pave the way for better mental health. You get to steer clear of unnecessary stress simply by making choices that are aligned with your well-being.

Personal control allows you to set boundaries, enabling you to say no to things that don’t serve you and yes to things that nurture your spirit. You get to decide what is important for you and work towards it at your own pace, without the constant pressure of meeting other people’s expectations.

Physical Health

When you feel like you have a hand in shaping your destiny, it doesn’t just make your mind feel good; it helps your body too. You can better manage the stress and strains of daily life, which means a healthier heart and stronger immune system.

Taking charge of your choices means you can eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep — all things your body needs to function at its best. And when you take good care of your body, it becomes a great support system, helping you to move forward and reach your goals.

Moreover, a strong sense of personal control can lead to a longer life. Yes, you heard it right. Feeling empowered to make your own choices can aid in reducing risks of various health issues, including high blood pressure and heart diseases.

Enhanced Motivation and Performance

Imagine being the hero in the story of your life, actively shaping your path rather than just going with the flow. It starts with small things like setting goals at work or school, deciding your daily schedule, or taking charge of your learning journey.

When you have personal control, you feel motivated. It’s like having a superpower that boosts your energy levels and makes you want to give your best in everything you do. You find that tasks are no longer a burden but opportunities to shine and excel.

In your work or school life, it means being proactive, getting things done without being told, and creating a space where you constantly learn and grow. It’s all about using your initiative to create your path to success.


Life isn’t always a smooth sail; it sometimes brings storms too. This is where personal control can be your strong shield. It allows you to face difficulties with a brave face, adapting and finding solutions rather than giving up.

Being resilient means bouncing back stronger from adversities. When you have control over your reactions, you can look adversities in the eye and say, “I can handle this.” It is about being your cheerleader, encouraging yourself to stand up each time you fall.

With personal control, you develop a mindset that helps you to see failures as stepping stones to success. You learn to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going with even more determination. You learn that every situation, good or bad, is under your control, giving you the strength to overcome anything that comes your way.

Practical Strategies to Enhance Personal Control

Setting Clear Goals

When you wake up each morning, imagine having a roadmap that tells you exactly where you’re heading. This is what setting clear goals can do for your life.

By understanding where you want to end up, you give direction to your day-to-day actions. Without clear goals, you’re like a ship adrift at sea, at the mercy of the winds and waves.

Now, setting goals doesn’t mean just having vague wishes. Instead, it means having a precise picture of what you want to achieve. Think about details. If it’s about a new job, what position do you want? In what industry? If it’s about personal growth, what skill or quality are you aiming to cultivate?

The clearer you are about your goals, the more motivated you become to reach them. This clarity acts as a beacon, ensuring you’re always moving in the right direction.

Creating Action Plans

Goals are your destination, and action plans are the steps you take to get there. It’s like going on a trip. If your goal is to visit a beautiful beach, the action plan would involve packing your bags, booking tickets, and deciding which routes to take.

So, how do you create an effective action plan? First, break down your main goal into smaller, manageable parts. Think of these as mini-destinations on your journey.

Then, for each part, list down specific tasks that will lead you there. The beauty of an action plan lies in its ability to make a daunting goal feel achievable. By tackling one small task at a time, before you know it, you’ll be standing at the doorstep of your main goal, ready to embrace it.

Cognitive Restructuring

The mind is a powerful tool. At times, it might convince you of things that aren’t truly reflective of reality. For instance, after a minor setback, you might think, “I’m not good at anything.” But is that really true?

Cognitive restructuring challenges you to question these thoughts. Each time a negative or limiting belief pops up, pause and analyze it. Compare it with evidence from your real life.

As you practice this, you’ll find that many of your negative beliefs are just unfounded fears. Over time, this process will help you adopt a more positive, realistic, and solution-oriented mindset. And with the right mindset, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.

Enhancing Skills and Competence

When we talk about enhancing skills and competence, it’s not just about being better at something. It’s about growing and evolving as a person. Every new skill you acquire adds a layer to your self-confidence and self-worth.

Imagine learning a new language. It’s not just about speaking; it’s about connecting with more people and understanding a different culture.

As you grow in your skills, you not only become more competent in that area but also broaden your horizons. Learning takes effort, yes. It might mean waking up an hour earlier to practice or dedicating weekends to it. But the reward? You feel more in control of your actions, choices, and, ultimately, your life.

Seeking Support Systems

Life is like a marathon, not a sprint. And in this long journey, everyone needs a pit stop, a place or a person where they can refuel and gather their strength. That’s what support systems are all about. It’s not a sign of weakness to lean on someone; it’s a sign of strength to recognize when you need help.

By sharing your feelings or concerns with friends or family, you’re opening up channels for advice, encouragement, or just a listening ear. Support groups, both offline and online, can be valuable resources too. They offer a space where people with similar experiences or goals come together.

Mindfulness and Acceptance

In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to lose ourselves in a sea of thoughts, worries, and anxieties. Mindfulness is like an anchor in this chaotic sea.

By practicing mindfulness, you train your mind to focus on the present, to truly live in the moment. It’s not about emptying your mind but about paying full attention to what you’re doing.

Whether you’re drinking a cup of tea or taking a walk, be fully present in that action. As you develop this habit, you’ll notice a significant drop in stress and a heightened sense of well-being.

Acceptance, on the other hand, is a gentle reminder that we can’t steer all the winds in our favor. There will be days when things don’t go as planned, and that’s okay. It’s about understanding that some factors are beyond our control. Instead of fighting these uncontrollable aspects, embrace them.

Accepting doesn’t mean resigning; it means acknowledging. And in that acknowledgment, you’ll find peace and, ironically, a greater sense of control. Because while you can’t control everything, you can control how you react to it.

Scientific Studies on Personal Control

Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test is a famous experiment conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel in the late 1960s. It studied children’s ability to delay gratification and has since become a classic in understanding self-control.

In this test, a child is given the choice to either eat a marshmallow right away, or wait for a short period of time (usually 15-20 minutes) and receive two marshmallows. The results demonstrated a connection between the ability to delay gratification and long-term success in various areas of life.

Other Noteworthy Experiments

  • The Stroop Test
    This test involves presenting words that are colored differently than the color they name. For example, you might see the word “red” printed in blue ink. Participants must name the color of the ink, not the word itself. It’s a simple task but requires mental effort to override the natural tendency to read the word. It’s a great way to measure self-control.
  • Limited Resource Model
    Researchers have proposed the idea that self-control is like a muscle that can be exhausted. Engaging in self-control tasks may require effort, depleting some inner capacity and leading to poorer self-control performance later on. This exhaustion effect has been debated, with some studies supporting it while others question its validity.

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Talkspace is an innovative online therapy platform that connects you with licensed therapists, offering accessible mental health support right from your device. With flexible scheduling and a user-friendly interface, it empowers you to manage your well-being anytime, anywhere.


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Brenda Calisaan is a psychology graduate who strongly desires to impact society positively. She aspires to spread awareness and knowledge about mental health, its importance, and its impact on individuals and society.

She also has a passion for working with children and hopes to dedicate her career to positively impacting their lives.

Outside of work, Brenda is an avid traveler and enjoys exploring new experiences. She is also a music enthusiast and loves to listen to a variety of genres. When she's not on the road or working, Brenda can often be found watching interesting YouTube videos, such as Ted-Ed content.