How Do You Give Away Your Power?

Avoiding five habits that sabotage you.

Posted Jan 06, 2016

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

While many people begin each year setting goals to improve their lives, too many of us are sabotaged by unproductive habits that give away our power.

In my coaching practice, I help people recognize such habits, common roadblocks on the path to progress that include:

  • Chronic complaining: whining wastes our time and energy. If we spend all our time complaining, we’re not doing anything about the problem.
  • Letting others judge us: reacting to flattery or guilt manipulation, trying to live up to their expectations instead of our own.
  • Resentment: letting other people’s hurtful behavior colonize our consciousness. Feeling hurt and disappointed is normal, but dwelling on the hurtful action only injures ourselves.
  • Rumination: filling our brains with endless worry, going around and around in endless “worse case” scenarios, without doing anything about the problem.
  • Blaming others: if it’s “their fault,” and we see ourselves as victims, then “they” are in control.

Do any of these habits sound familiar? All of them involve an external locus of control (LOC)—an underlying belief that externals--fate or powerful others--determine what happens in our lives.

An external LOC not only sabotages our progress, it’s hazardous to our health. Research has associated an external LOC with poor mental and physical health, passivity, anxiety, depression, and learned helplessness (Burger, 1984; Hahn, 2000; Peterson, 1979; Peterson & Stunkard, 1989). My colleagues and I have found that college students with an external LOC are more emotionally immature and have lower levels of hope and optimism than their peers (Dreher, Feldman, & Numan, 2014).

Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura has found that a sense of self-efficacy, a belief in our ability to exercise personal control and shape our destinies makes a major difference in our lives. Our level of self-efficacy determines how much effort we put forth to reach our goals, how long we persevere, how well we deal with obstacles, and what level of accomplishment we achieve (Bandura, 1997).

So if you find yourself falling back into chronic complaining or other unproductive habits, STOP. Shift your perspective. Affirm your self-efficacy by asking yourself, “What can I do to make a difference?”


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Burger, J. M (1984). Desire for control, locus of control, and proneness to depression. Journal of Personality, 52, 71-88.

Dreher, D. E., Feldman, D. B., & Numan, R. (2014). Controlling parents survey: Measuring the influence of parental control on personal development in college students. College Student Affairs Journal, 32, 97-111.

Hahn, S. E. (2000). The effects of locus of control on daily exposure, coping and reactivity to work interpersonal stressors: A diary study. Personality and Individual Differences, 29, 729-748.

Peterson, C. (1979). Uncontrollability and self-blame in depression: Investigation of the paradox in a college population. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 88, 62-624.

Peterson, C. & Stunkard, A. J. (1989). Personal control and health promotion. Social Science & Medicine, 28, 819-828.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

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