Go inward: How locus of control can save you


Believing you have some control over the events in your life is crucial to happiness and could make a huge difference in your personal life and veterinary career.

(Shutterstock.com)When I read about "locus of control"-the extent to which people think they have control over events in their lives-in a dissertation recently (see sidebar below), I was inspired. The author, Deborah Stone, MBA, PhD, CVPM, theorizes that perhaps a stronger internal locus of control is just what leaders need in order to rise in the profession.

"A study of the relationships between self-esteem, locus of control, authentic leadership, and veterinarians in the United States"

What's in this dissertation?

Deborah Stone, MBA, PhD, CVPM, asks whether "authentic leaders" (who build legitimacy through honest relationships with followers that value followers' input and are built on an ethical foundation) may be most effective during these challenging times in the veterinary profession.

Her study examines the relationship between self-esteem, locus of control and authentic leadership among veterinarians in the United States. She controlled for the effects of gender, practice ownership, practice type, age, ethnicity, practice management experience and education.

She asked 562 veterinarians in the United States questions from the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the Internal Control Index and the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire.

Stone's study (abstract here) found that self-esteem and an internal locus of control were significant predictors of characteristics of "authentic leadership," indicating that the higher the self-esteem and the higher the internal locus of control, the higher the scales associated with authentic leadership.

The concept of locus of control was first defined by Julian Rotter, PhD, in 1954, but Stone puts a veterinary spin on it in her research. It's a sliding scale, she writes, and where you fall on that scale will determine which locus controls you more. If your locus of control is internal, you believe in your own internal ability to control what happens to you in life. If your locus of control is external, you believe most of what happens to you is out of your control, and therefore in the control of others or fate or luck.

Throughout the past few years, I've been reading all of your cards in the Veterinary Confessionals Project. Thanks to Stone's dissertation, I realized that many of our problems could be solved with a more internal locus of control. Maybe we used to have more internal locus of control and we gave it away in veterinary school, internships, residencies, or even interactions with clients and friends asking for free services.

Here are some ways I think you can increase your self-esteem, boost your resilience and truly believe you've got control over your life-or at least control over yourself!

> Avoid negative self talk. This all starts with more self-awareness-you have to know when it's happening to make a difference. Stop telling yourself that fate controls your life, that you're fundamentally unlucky in life, or that you're not capable of making positive change in your life. Your inner critic is full of it. Catch yourself when you say nasty things about yourself to yourself. Slow down, pay attention and talk back in those moments. Journal it out if it helps get the mean words out of your head on the page so you can face them and fight back.

> Stop giving away too many f***s. I read and loved The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson (Warning: The F-bomb gets dropped with wild abandon on this website). You only have so much energy and time to give to people, worries and even patients. Better emotional boundaries won't make you an emotionless psychopath. The truth is, if you're giving away too much energy and time to too many things, you'll become depleted, exhausted and no help to anyone. And that'll really crush your self-esteem.

> Join an improv class. You know what will convince you you can think on your feet, be funny and have fun when life throws you unexpected highs and lows? Practicing thinking on your feet in the relative safe space of an improv class.

> Get out of your comfort zone. Set yourself a new challenge. Test yourself, work your brain cells and remind yourself you can grow and learn.

> Connect with people who love you and support you. Stick to them like glue. Ditch the people who don't.

> Learn to be assertive. Set reasonable boundaries. Ask people you trust what a reasonable boundary is if yours is a little out of whack. And remind yourself how to say "no"; this is a big one for our profession, because we're often people pleasers.

Start healing yourself today so you can keep practicing medicine and help to heal-and lead-this whole profession.

Hilal Dogan, BVSc, owns mobile veterinary service Dogan Vet Care in Maui, Hawaii. She started the Veterinary Confessionals Project as a senior veterinary student at Massey University in New Zealand.

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