Psychological Self-Help

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Other people believe they are not at all in control of what happens
to them (these people feel like they are merely riding a space ship
controlled by a control center far away). It seems to them that
external forces, such as other people, fate, luck or chance, are
responsible for what happens to them. Such people are
"externalizers." At first, it may seem like externalizers would be
hopeless, scared, and paranoid. Some are but others are optimistic
and blissful because they believe "things happen for the best," life is
guided by a kind fate and/or by God's will, or a benevolent God is
looking out for them. 
Many learning theorists, such as B. F. Skinner, believe that forces
in the environment (including previously learned response habits
based on rewards and punishment) determine what happens in our
lives. This eliminates free will (meaning an undetermined choice--one
which is of our doing at this moment and not explained by the
environment or our past experience). Yet, many if not most people feel
as if they make "free" choices and are in control. How could we get the
belief that we are directing our lives if everything were determined by
external factors (which I don't believe)? Because it "seems like" we are
planning and directing our lives, at least some parts of it. I believe that
is an accurate perception, but, in addition, research has shown that in
certain circumstances there is a remarkable tendency to believe we
are in control when we aren't. For instance, Langer (1975) sold $1
lottery tickets. One half got a randomly selected ticket; the other half
got to select their own ticket. Then she asked them how much they
would sell their ticket for. The first group would take on average
$1.96. The second group wanted an average of $8.67, presumably
asking much more because they believed it was more likely to win. So
it is quite possible to believe you are in control when you aren't. (And,
as we saw in Seligman's helplessness research in chapter 6, the
opposite may be true too: dogs and many humans too may believe
they are out of control when they aren't. More on this later.) 
Why might a person believe they have control when they haven't?
This view provides hope (of winning the lottery, etc.) and makes the
world less scary and more predictable and comfortable. Indeed,
considerable evidence suggests we are more effective, more
responsible, and happier when we feel we are partially in control, i.e.
have made the decisions and carried out the plans for changing things
(Deaux & Wrightsman, 1984). But, of course, it is usually impossible
to know exactly how much of our good fortune is due to our efforts
and how much is due to others, fate, or chance. It is, to some extent,
a matter of "beliefs." 
Several years ago Julian Rotter developed a simple but now
famous personality test for measuring internalization-externalization,
called the I-E Scale. It asks these kinds of questions in order to
measure your beliefs about your control over life events: 
Are most unhappy events in your life the result of bad luck or
your mistakes? 
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