Over the past few months, I’ve been working with a lot of students preparing for their end of year exams. It’s been a stressful time, with many trying to learn how to retain as much information as possible for the dozen or so subjects they were sitting. Honestly, I’m glad I’m not sitting my GCSE’s right now! But what was most interesting was listening to the language some of these young people were using to describe themselves and their abilities. The language they choose to use about themselves can tell you an awful lot about how they value themselves and what they are doing. And it can also help you use the right language to encourage them. When it comes to success in anything, positivity is key, and hearing the right language can have a huge positive impact on the person, their self-esteem and their performance.


Time for your dose of learning for the day. In psychology, there is a theory called the Locus of Control. The basic idea of this is that everyone has a perception or belief about how much control they have over their lives. This perception leads to the behaviours that either help us meet our goals, or hold us back. Within the Locus of Control, there are 2 categories of focus – internal or external, knonw as ILOC and ELOC.

ILOC- People with an internal locus of control see themselves as in control of their lives. They have the power to influence the direction their lives take and the way things turn out. For example, if an overweight person has an ILOC, they will see themselves as ultimately responsible for being overweight and recognise that they have the power to change it, and therefore usually will.

ELOC – On the opposite side, people with an external locus of control see something other than themselves – other people, the environment around them, nature, ‘fate’ – as being mainly responsible for what goes right or wrong in their lives. So if that same overweight person had an ELOC, they might see their condition as the result of all the food out there that’s manufactured with added sugars, their job for being desk based, their genes or even ‘big bones’.

Now that’s all well and good, but what does that have to do with learning or language?

Transforming Your Views

When people struggle with a particular subject, they can start to externalise the issues they are having as a way to cope. They would rather believe that the test is too hard than that they need to learn more to be able to tackle it. But if we can change that ELOC mind-set and transform it into an ILOC one using positive language, we will see dramatic results. A good example of this is a recent conversation I had with my son. He was struggling with his maths homework, and when he couldn’t answer a question he would call himself a failure, or thick and stupid. Instead of trying to reassure him, I asked him a question:

‘Can you name 2 things you are good at?’

‘I’m not good at anything for me.’

‘What about 1 thing?’


‘Are you 100% sure there is not a single thing you’re good at?’


‘You are 100% certain you’re good at nothing, and completely rubbish at everything?’


‘Well there we are – we’ve found the first thing we can say. You are good at being confident that you’re good at nothing.’

‘I guess…’

And that was the opening of the floodgates. Once he had acknowledged that he was good at something, he was able to think of more things that he was good at, and slowly he started to get better at maths. All I did there was counter his negative language with more positive language, and this meant he could start changing his perceptions. So if a student says they aren’t good enough, you can counter that with ‘what would be good enough?’. The positive language is a huge motivator here. But if you were to use negative language in this situation, the students’ belief that they are ‘thick’ will be reinforced, and they might never be able to conquer the obstacle.

In order to be successful learners, we should all be trying to shift our locus of control from external to internal. By accepting that we can change things, we are more likely to actually do so. But if we are resigned to the idea that everything is out of our hands, the motivation and belief that we can achieve just isn’t there. When it comes to learning, I see too many students stuck in this ELOC state. Through my work with them, I use positive language to change their perception of themselves and the power they have over their own lives. The result is a happier, more empowered learner who believed that every obstacle can be broken. For more information about ILOC an ELOC, or to find out about what I do, get in touch with me today.


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