In our daily lives, we are surrounded by a wide range of concerns, so how do we know where to focus our time and energy? What is the difference between worrying about your fitness and worrying about third world hunger? Both are in our circle of concern, but only one is in our circle of influence. In Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he writes about these two circles which contain our lives.
Our Circle of Concern encompasses all of the things that are important to us; that we care about. These can be personal concerns about our careers, our family, or our fitness, and can also include our global concerns such as politics, climate change and the state of the economy. In other words, these are all of the things that we care about and are concerned about.
Our Circle of Influence includes the things that we care about, but have control over. These are the things that we can actually do something about, and many times we are the only ones who can make a change over these concerns in our lives. Worries that are outside of the circle of influence are things that we might care about, but we don’t have control over.
Knowing what circle that our concerns belong in helps us to prioritize the things that we can truly influence so that we can focus our effort where it has the most impact. It can be overwhelming to try and solve all of our problems and that feeling can push people away from solving any of them, leaving them feeling like their life is not in their control. They begin to blame outside sources and feel victimized. This leads to negative thinking and causes our circle of influence to shrink.
Many times we don’t put things in our circle of influence because we underestimate ourselves and the control we have over certain situations when in reality, we do. On the other side, we put things in our circle of concern rather than in our circle of influence because we don’t feel that as an individual, we can make a real difference.
Even further inside lies our Circle of Commitment. “This represents the area within your Circle of Influence where you are intentionally putting your time and energy (whether you do so for 10 minutes or the next year). This circle symbolizes the difference between the statements “I can” and “I will.”
“The problems all of us face fall in one of three areas: direct control (problems involving our own behavior); indirect control (problems involving other people’s behavior); or no control (problems we can do nothing about, such as our past, or situational realities).” – Stephen R. Covey
Rather than wasting our time working towards something we have no control or influence over, we should focus first on the things that we can change that have the greatest impact on us and then break it down to the things that we will do. When this happens, we realize that we have more control over our lives that we previously may have thought and thus, our circle of influence expands. Also, our circle of concern is widened because we start to realize that maybe we can learn to have some influence over the more challenging things that we care about.
“The proactive approach is to change from the inside-out; to be different, and by being different to effect positive change in what’s out there — I can be more resourceful, I can be more diligent, I can be a more creative, I can be more cooperative.” – Stephen R. Covey
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, try and think about the tasks you can tackle that you have real control over.
Try to recognize things that are weighing on your mind or making your life feel chaotic which are outside of your circle of influence. Personal development is about investing your time in ways that make you a better person on many levels, and if you can identify the things that you have influence over, you can make real changes and realize that you probably have more control than you think you do.