Locus of Control

According to research on the causes of procrastination, a person has a locus of control that may lean more toward external factors (low sense of control) or toward internal factors (higher sense of control or self-efficacy).

My first thought was that as I learn more about how the environment controls my life (recognized in changing experiences, circumstances, livelihood, etc), the lower my sense of self-efficacy. Alternatively, this increased awareness could lead to a more constrained sense of autonomy and therefore toward a life focused on what is within its control.

Conversely, I could imagine that a person ignorant of the extent to which the world impacts their life would have a high sense of control because they would assume that they have a high degree of autonomy. Of course, said action would be misguided and likely thwarted by misunderstood contextual forces.

There’s a quote of Bertrand Russel’s that derives a moral observation from this reflection:

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

I’m not so sure about the stupidity-intelligence dichotomy. In my experience, increased knowledge has made me more hesitant. Though I do not think that stupidity and intelligence are innate qualities of a person, especially since the quantiative means of measuring intelligence (IQ tests) skew toward a particular, limited idea of effective cognition. In any case, the translation from knowledge to uncertainty needs a catalyst that shortcircuits what ought to result—increased autonomy due to a comprehension of worldly causality—with, instead, self-imposed hesitancy. Several attributions, often overlapping, come to mind: perfectionism, anxiety, fear, depression, or even an existential presbyopia whereby one’s future seems detached from the present.

Spinoza’s Approach

Spinoza helps to clarify what’s going on here. He would focus on the person who does not procrastinate because they lack knowledge of what controls them. Such misunderstood or under-informed action would be of limited efficacy. As I just said above: misguided actions will probably be thwarted by misunderstood forces.

Moreover, this failure likely repeats because it takes some level of understanding in order to learn from how the world reacts to one’s misguided actions. (Spinoza’s view of human agency in the world comes from Descartes’s own interpretation of error as originating only when an acttion is taken prior to clearly understanding the situation.)

By contrast, the person who understands how the world impacts them can deploy that knowledge in a way that increases their own self-efficacy—knowledge included. They know when to distrust bodily sensations and to overrule those appetites.