High achievers possess a characteristic termed by psychologists as an "internal locus of control." If we throw out the big words and translate this into English, it means that champions feel they can personally control the outcome of events.
This feeling empowers them. They believe that their own efforts will ultimately produce results, and they feel responsible for success or failure.
This is in contrast to the less effective person who has an "external locus of control." These people believe that the outcome of events is determined by factors beyond their control -- by other individuals, society as a whole, the government, their employers, or just luck.
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Why? Because fear of failure impels them to dodge responsibility. Their insecurities delude them into believing their own excuses, and, attributing failure to factors other than themselves, they learn little from their losses.
So they lose more often than they should. Fearing that they will lose, these people try to avoid the pain of that loss by shirking responsibility for it.
This does not mean that the champions are so irrational as to really think that everything is under their control? Certainly not. They are well aware that good and ill-fortune exist. They have had ample empirical proof of it because they have lost in the past, so they would not bet their lives on the outcome of any particular contest.
But the crucial distinction is that they act as if they had this control. In their cores they are self-reliant. They unconsciously assume that they have the power to force a win if they apply sufficient effort, even though they know rationally that there is risk of loss.
It is somewhat schizophrenic in that these two conflicting ideas co-exist at different levels of consciousness. At the conscious level they know they could lose, but at the unconscious level they feel they will win.
A corollary belief of the champions is that losing is their fault. This makes losses hurt more, but it also motivates them to try harder as well as to analyze their performances afterward for mistakes or weaknesses.
They mentally rehash their actions to figure out what they did wrong. Once they have zoned in on their mistakes and weaknesses, they can work intelligently to improve and can avoid making the same mistakes again.
How Do We Measure It?
Psychologists use a "ring toss" game to differentiate individuals with an "internal locus of control" from those with an "external locus of control."
The game's objective is to see how many rings out of ten a subject can toss over a peg at a distance. The experimenter allows the subject to choose the distance.
They have found that the people with an "internal locus of control" choose a reasonable but challenging distance. They choose a distance where their efforts can be effective.
The people with an "external locus of control" tend to choose distances that are either so close that they can hardly miss or so far that success is a matter of chance only - thus reducing the risk that their efforts will be the cause of any failure.
The External Locus of Control
One former member of my Pepperdine team, lets call him Jeff, exemplified the "external locus of control" mentality.
Jeff appeared to have everything going for him. He came from a wealthy family, had great physical talent and was good-looking, bright, well spoken, and extremely successful with the ladies.
Unfortunately for him, he was also extremely insecure.
This led to his becoming unpopular with his teammates. He was self-centered, shallow, and critical of others. Appearances were overly important to Jeff, and he was quick to blame anyone but himself for his problems.