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Control yourself, and you control your happiness

“The more you try to control something, the more it controls you.” –Leon Brown

The Circle of Concern vs The Circle of Influence is a tool that was first introduced to me in Stephan R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Successful people”, and it has stayed with me every year since I read it 20 years ago.

This one tool can change your whole life.

And, no, in my humble opinion, this is not an overstatement!

Understanding where we have control to make choices and where we have no control increases the level of power we have in our own lives to create peace and balance and, ultimately, happiness.

Increasing our proactive actions throughout the day and reducing our reactionary responses to stress and upset increases our power. It enables us to nourish the area of creativity in our brain, creating fuel for our self-development and lifelong learning.


A journey of control

I use it as a means to manage my feelings and my reactions.

It takes practice, but it enables us to minimise our suffering in life.

When something bad happens –

  • And I have no control over the thing happening; I take a breath and realise there is no point being upset over something I cannot control and move into solution mode.

If I am disappointed in something –

  • I examine the expectations I had built around that person or that event and realise there is no point in being upset over an expectation I created.

When I feel someone has hurt me –

  • I try to examine what about the interaction makes me feel that way and if I want to feel that way or if I want to let it go. After all, feeling hurt is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick!

I have to work at it still, every time, but the practice and reduced suffering come more and more easily as I embrace this frame of mind.


Introducing the Circle Of Concern Vs. Circle Of Influence

It's a relatively simple concept represented by two circles.

Think of life as two circles.

Describes life as two buckets, things that concern us and things we have control over.
Circle of Concern vs Circle of Influence

In one circle, we have everything we care about and everything that affects us.

This is called the Circle of Concern.

In the other circle, we have everything we can influence, that we have control of.

This is called the Circle of Influence.

The Circle of Concern includes all the concerns we have for our health, our family, our finances, our work, our business, our healthcare system, and our future. Basically, everything you are, or will be, concerned about. It includes politics, the economy, the state of the roads, natural disasters, pandemics, the weather, what people think of you, social media likes, etc.

The Circle of Influence contains the things that we have control over, things like our values, our actions, kindness, physical activity, what we buy, books we read, courses we take, what we do in our free time and crucially, how we react to the things going on around us.


How the tool works

The Circle of Concern is the larger scope of our lives, everything that concerns us.

The Circle of Influence is within the Circle of Concern.

When we focus on only the concern we reduce our ability to influence
Circle of Concern illustration

When we focus on the Circle of Concern – the problems we worry about are things over which we have no control, we become more stressed and reactive.

Anxiety and depression rise, and we complain, blame, accuse, or feel like victims.

In fact, the more negative we are, the more we reduce our Circle of Influence.

When we focus on what we can influence, our influence expands
Circle of Influence illustration

When we focus on the Circle of Influence — the problems or challenges that we can do something about, i.e. ourselves, our daily behaviour, the decisions we make, and the way we react, the more proactive and the less stressed we become.

Each victory in the Circle of Influence leads to more influence. For example, when we are kind and conduct actions of kindness, we can influence others.



1. Start by defining the Circle of Concern

In our workplace, our Circle of Concern is extensive.

  • What is the state of the economy?

  • How will the economy affect my business?

  • Will the business survive?

  • What will the traffic be like today?

  • Will I be late to work?

  • Will I be laid off this year?

  • Will I get a raise or bonus?

  • Will I get my promotion?

  • Will I get along with my colleagues?

  • Will I stay healthy enough to work?

  • Will my boss be nice today?

  • Will my boss approve my vacation?

  • And so on and so on…

2. Then analyse the Circle of Influence

Our Circle of Influence feels small, but by focusing on what we can influence and control allows us to take command of our day.

  • Leave in plenty of time to avoid traffic delays and arrive calmly on time at work

  • Define your role and what you need to accomplish your tasks

  • Timebox your day so you can ensure you have time to accomplish your tasks

  • If someone pulls your time away from your schedule, don’t worry; protect it as much as you can and do the most important and urgent things first

  • Create a schedule that ensures we take breaks for coffee and lunch, so we can maintain a balanced mindset and stave off hunger pangs or tiredness

  • Ensure you eat healthy, so you don’t experience an energy crash in the afternoon and can work the next day

  • Take a walk to get the blood flowing

  • Schedule a call for emotional support with a colleague or friend

  • Meditate if you are feeling out of balance

By focusing on what we can control to reduce stress, we create a more peaceful environment and reduce unrealistic expectations.

Health is another great example

  1. While we have no guarantee that we will still not develop sickness (Circle of Concern)

  2. We can do everything possible to stay as healthy as possible by exercising and eating healthy (Circle of Influence)

Examine every element of your life and identify where you can control the outcome.


Proactive not reactive

We are not ignoring reality when we use this tool; we are ensuring we use our limited energy on the things we can control, the things that will ensure we reduce our reactionary behaviour.

Focus on the things we can control and do not give energy to things that are out of our control. Focusing time, attention and energy in the right direction will increase productivity and reduces our stress and, ultimately, our anxiety.

When we focus on what we can control, i.e. ourselves, our actions, our decisions, and our choices, we can achieve more influence by entering every situation with a non-reactive balance and being proactive in adding value.

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