Turning 13 was a fantastic year. It’s the age that I had finally received the right to work out in the weight room. Soon after my birthday one evening, my dad and I made one of our tri-weekly visits to the local community center. But instead of playing in the gym or swimming in the pool, I proceeded to walk my obese self to the weight room for the weight training circuit orientation led by the wellness attendant. In retrospect, it wasn’t much, but to a young, overweight boy who saw some kind of correlation between men who hung around the weight room and their muscular physiques, it seemed like a magic formula I just needed to follow correctly.

“If only I do all the things this guy says,” I thought, “I’m going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in no time”.

Needless to say, I wasn’t offered a small glass vial and syringe at the end, so my aspirations to look like Arnold haven’t quite worked out.

Of course, I wasn’t given the easy way out, but neither was I taught any movement fundamentals or how to start using basic resistance training equipment. I was given a sheet that looked like something out of geometry and told to log my reps, sets, and weight completed on the machines. Of course, after a few weeks, boredom and apathy set in as the mysticism wore off and my ‘workouts’ became limited to walking on the treadmill for 5 minutes, bench pressing, curling crunches, and, wait for it…finishing with a walk in the “fat burning zone” on the treadmill until my dad was done. I hadn’t even bothered to ask him to show me his routine.

Of course, my tubby body composition didn’t change much through that adolescent stage, and I continued to gain weight until my big transformation at the age of 18, which is a story for another time. However, my point in this story is how, and why my tenacity dwindled to not much more than mere obligation during what are the most potential years of a young man’s physical development. I was following someone else’s prescription. I went in expecting to get spoon-fed and, indeed, got spoon fed. I had no sense of ownership. In fact, what I did have was an external locus of control.

Locus of Control

Locus of Control (LoC) is a psychological term referring to a person’s belief in who or what controls the circumstances and outcomes of their life. I’m no psychologist so I won’t act like one, but essentially, there are two types of people on the LoC continuum.

A person with an internal LoC (iLoC) is one who assigns the control of their life to themselves. They sense that they have influence over the circumstances they face and that they can manipulate the variables, or, in some cases, make up their minds to control the outcomes they want. If they fail at any time, it’s because they didn’t plan correctly or work hard enough. Of course, a person with a healthy iLoC doesn’t ignorantly believe they have control over everything; they only know how to identify and allocate their time and energy to the areas they do have control over. This is more contemporarily referred to as having a “growth mindset”.

Conversely, a person who maintains an external LoC (eLoC) is one who assigns the responsibility of outcomes of their life to other, uncontrollable variables. This looks different in many cases, but essentially, this is the person who invests whole-hearted belief into thinking they don’t have full control and chooses to live accordingly. Contrary to what you might conclude, a person with an eLoC is actually more obsessed with control, as they only see themselves as successful if, and only if they can get control of everything. They function in an “all or nothing” paradigm, making commitments and decisions only when they are in control and the risk of failure is low. In contrast to the “growth mindset”, this view is now commonly referred to as a “fixed mindset”.

It’s tempting to view this in binary terms, as if a person falls in one mindset or the other, and that would actually be the correct way to view this. In fact, the person who reads this and thinks, “Yeah, but there are definitely circumstances and things out of my control” or “The other type of person is just in denial thinking they can legitimately change the unchangeable”, would be considered to have an eLoC. This is because it’s not about what you affirm as being true in regards to control. Rather, it’s about what you focus on and how you consign your energy into what you can control.

LoC and Sustainable Physical Transformation

This, in a nutshell, is why my initial gym-going attempts fell off the cliff. If I had had an iLoC, I might have taken what I learned, interfaced it with information I gathered on the internet, and approached men in the gym who looked like they knew what they were doing. Then, I would have synthesized the information, built my own program, and brought myself under the coaching of an experienced individual with the goal of being able to train on my own. Over a few years, I would have expanded my control over the outcome of my health through the knowledge and experience gained from the invested I made.

However, this was not the case, though I did eventually grow into a growth mindset. This is why it’s so important to avoid any kind of health or fitness business that claims to have an easier way for you to achieve your goals other than good ol’ fashioned hard work and ownership.

Forget the gurus and fitness coaching companies who claim they have the answers and you only need to sign up for their stupendous monthly program. In reality, everyone SHOULD hire a coach when getting started in their transformation journey, but should never fall for the ploy that there’s an easier way or you NEED them to be successful. To achieve a transformation that is successful and sustainable, you need to be able to have stake in the process. Eventually, you will need to take complete ownership over all program design and diet maintenance, and be able to function independently of another person telling you what to do.

This is what having an iLoC means for one’s health and fitness. Our industry is plagued with marketers and schemers looking to make a quick buck off people looking to achieve their goals thinking they NEED something more than what they already have. In reality, good coaches ARE out there and instead of creating umbrella exercise programs and cookie-cutter diet plans, they interact with clients to give them the tools they need to eventually take over their own healthy life.

To conclude, consider what kind of mindset you have. If you see obstacles as excuses and look for someone else to do the work for you, you might have an eLoC. However, if you see obstacles as opportunities to improve, you’re right where you need to be and maybe you just need someone to help you gain momentum.

Having an iLoC doesn’t mean you are in control of and do everything on your own. It means you see the beneficial opportunity in hiring a coach who will eventually render himself or herself obsolete.