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Focus on what you can control and increase your influence

Women making a focus sign with her hands
"Change the things you can, accept the things you can’t, and have the wisdom to know the difference between the two." – Reinhold Niebuhr

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need reminding of the difference.

  • What can I change?

  • What can't I change?

  • How do I tell the difference?

The tool I use most often to remind me how is the Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Influence.

Trying to control everything

The downfall of every strong, independent, career-focused woman I know is the constant chatter and worry in her head all day and all night long.

Sometimes that chatter is self-limiting beliefs, sometimes worry, and usually, it’s both. Worrying about the day that just passed, worrying about the day coming up, worrying about the future, and so on.

This incessant worry leads us to try and control as much as possible at home and at work. It is this illusion of control that makes us focus on the wrong things or spend time worrying about the little things.

The fact is we cannot control our environment, other people, or their perceptions of us, and trying to do so is exhausting…and it doesn’t work. Our energy can be put to better use.

Using the circle of concern and circle of influence

The concept of Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Influence is taken from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and what really struck me was the simplicity of the model and its application in daily life.

The Circle of Concern

This circle contains our focus on our lives.

This includes all the concerns we have for our health, our family, our finances, our work, our business and our future. Basically, everything you are – or will be – concerned about.

The Circle of Concern is the outer circle you see in the diagram. And you can see that inside the Circle of Concern is…

The Circle of Influence

This circle contains our focus on doing things that are actually in our control so that we can influence our concerns.

The more time that we spend worrying about things over which we have no control, the more stressed and reactive we become.

Doing this means a life filled with blaming, accusing, or feeling like a victim. In fact, the more negative we are, the more we reduce our circle of influence.

The more focus we place on our circle of influence, the problems that we can actually do something about, i.e. ourselves, our own daily behaviour, and the decisions we make, then the more proactive and the less stressed we become.

Each victory in the circle of influence leads to more influence.

Simple… right?

Stephen Covey defines proactive as “being responsible for our own lives”, i.e. “our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions [external factors].”

Increase your influence: Be proactive, not reactive

Understand that people can only control themselves, their decisions, their actions, and their reactions, and you have no control over anyone else.

Develop a proactive approach by making decisions to control yourself and your reactions so you don’t rise to the bait or react to other people any more.

Proactive people focus on the Circle of Influence because they know this is where they can make a difference.

Yes, we are concerned about all the things in our Circle of Concern, but we can’t influence them.

Be proactive not reactive sticky note
Be proactive not reactive

Health is a prime example. If you exercise regularly, eat well, and don’t smoke, this increases your circumference of control (Circle of Influence). There is no guarantee that you will still not develop sickness (Circle of Concern), but you are doing what you can within your sphere of influence to ensure that you stay as healthy as possible.

Own your choices

Everything is a choice. Your choices are your Circle of Influence. You make a choice to exercise regularly, you make a choice to eat well, you make a choice not to smoke, you make a choice to be happy, feel courage, take the next steps, and you make a choice in how you react to every situation.

Instead of worrying about things over which you have little or no control, i.e. what people think of you, how they behave, and the weather, you practice using your energy on the things you can control.

“Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll

Taking responsibility for your own life, not blaming others or expecting others to meet your expectations of how they should behave, but rather holding yourself accountable for your own choices is key. By doing this and taking responsibility for your choices, you reduce the worry and concern for things that are out of your control.

Control your fear

In a work setting, this can be enormously helpful. Instead of worrying about how others will perceive you if you speak up at a meeting, a proactive you would come up with solutions rather than state problems. You would use language like “I can, I will, I prefer…” and not “I can’t, I won’t, it’s unfair…” and you don’t worry about what everyone else does, only what you are doing and how you react.

More often than not, women worry more about what they didn’t say than what they did say. They feel muffled from stating their thoughts and feelings and then spend the whole night worrying that they didn’t say what they should have.

If you take a positive and proactive approach, instead of worrying about it, you actually provide a resolution and are more likely to feel the satisfaction you made a contribution.

Increase your impact

In our universe, there are things we can influence and things we can’t. Focus on the things you can do today to make a difference and ignore all those that are out of your control. Focus your attention and energy in the right direction to increase productivity, efficiency, and reduce stress exponentially.

Once you accomplish this effectively and grow your influence, you will eventually begin to enlarge the circle of control and influence simultaneously.

Until one day, you may find that your circle of influence – influences the world.


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