Are you an Internal or an External Thinker?

September 5, 2019


How much power do you think you have over your life? Some people go through life feeling like they have no control over anything. They think the things that happen to them – a promotion, getting fired, finding a partner – just sort of happen. They say things like, “It doesn’t matter how many hours I put in, my boss will never promote me.”

How much power do you think you have over the events in your life? Here is an exercise to help you find out. Draw a line on a piece of paper with the word Internal at one end, and External at the other.

Now plot where you are on this line based on the definitions below. They apply to both your work and your personal life.

External Thinkers

People who are at the extreme external end feel they have absolutely no control over their life. Their book of life has already been written. They are scheduled to die at a certain point, and they will, regardless of whether they eat well, exercise, or smoke. They feel they can go ahead and enjoy life to the fullest because how they live won’t make any difference. Everything in their life – good or bad – has been predetermined by fate. There is no point in them trying to get ahead by giving their heart and soul to their work. Their job was destined to be their job, and nothing they do will change anything. If they get promoted or if they get fired will be because of fate, not their work habits. Is that you? I hope not! But believe it or not, it is how many people think. If you are one of them, put your X along the line close to the word External.

Internal Thinkers

At the other end, Internal, the complete opposite is true. If this is you, you feel that you have complete, 100 per cent control over your life. You always have a choice and you are where you are based on your work and lifestyle choices. You believe the things that happen are consequences of the choices you’ve made. You, and you alone, decide where your life will go.

If this sounds like your attitude toward life, put your X on the line near Internal. Of course, there are varying degrees to all of this. Exactly in the middle, for instance, are the people who believe they can control some things in their lives, but not everything. If they stop smoking, they will live longer. If they work hard, they can get a promotion.

Put your X along the line somewhere that represents you. I want to caution you against choosing the exact middle, though. Force yourself to decide whether you are more of an External or an Internal thinker.

As you can imagine, I fall on the Internal side. I believe in choices and consequences; I believe that I am here because of the decisions I have made. While I am not on the extreme end of Internal, I am definitely well past the middle. What does that allow in my life? It allows me to feel that I am in control. It allows me to take responsibility and feel responsible. It allows me to be in control of my destiny.

If you are closer to External, ask yourself whether you can push yourself closer to the middle. Question why you believe what you believe. Wouldn’t you feel better, more positive, and more in control if you relied on your own life decisions? If you are an External thinker, consider what impression you are giving to others. Likely, you’re the person who “always has an excuse” when things go wrong. You may also be overly pessimistic about the likelihood of anything going right. How can it, when you have no control over anything?

Ask yourself what decisions and consequences in life you can control, and take control of them. For other areas in your life where you feel you have no control, ask yourself what you can do to be more in control of events. If you do, you will become more positive, since you’ll be more in control of the outcome of your life.

And isn’t that better?

About the Author

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, On The Right Track- Training and Consulting™ INC., is a professional speaker, trainer, and author from Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. Rhonda served as the National President in 2004 for the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS), has served on the Board of the Global Speakers Federation and is named in the current edition of “Who’s Who in Professional Speakers” (where she has been listed since 1998). Rhonda has earned the highest speaking designation in the world, the “Certified Speaking Professional” designation (CSP). Rhonda is an author of six books and is a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers in North America.

This article first appeared in Executive Secretary Magazine, a global training publication for administrative professionals. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at to find out more or to get your 30% discount email [email protected] and tell them we sent you.

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