Your circle of influence

Have you got a clear mental picture of your circle of influence? Or do you just as often address issues that are out of your control? By learning to distinguish between your circle of influence and circle of concern you will prevent entering into conflicts that don’t serve your interests.   

One of the biggest eye openers to me recently, both personally and professionally, are the circles identified by Stephen Covey in his book 7 habits of highly effective people.

The circles helped me realize that I was spending way too much time and energy on matters that were out of my control. I also discovered that focusing outside of my circle of influence caused me to clash with people around me or at least be frustrated by their actions or ideas.

And then I noticed it wasn’t just me who had both circles confused. Clients searching my help in conflicts are very often consuming time and resources in their circle of concern. I realized that that was one of the causes of the conflicts that they brought before me.

The three circles in our lives


These circles (from outer to inner) encompass:

  • issues and situations that are beyond our control and influence
    -> that do not actually concern me personally

  • the wide range of issues that concern us but over which we have little control
    -> concerns about our health, our children, a high workload at work, the amount of government borrowing, or the threat of global warming.

  • those concerns we can actually do something about
    -> your thoughts and actions, such as lobbying with the local counsel to create a communal vegetable garden, building your own sustainable house, looking for a mediator in a family crisis, giving your child the safety and attention your ex-partner is not giving, assigning work to others to avoid being overloaded, acquiring a new client for your boss leading to interesting work and a better position to negotiate a salary raise

The donut of frustration

So many people focus on their middle circle, their circle of concern. They believe they are not responsible for what they say and do, they have no choice. That makes them very reactive.

Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. They find external sources to blame for their behavior. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance, and they blame the weather. All of these external forces act as stimuli that we respond to.

Your language is a good indicator of how you see yourself. Reactive people tend to use language such as I can’t, I have to, If only .. and neglect those issues that are under their control and influence. Being stuck in te donut of frustration generates:

  • conflicts with yourself or others
  • a feeling of despair, anxiety and exhaustion
  • depression or burn out

The circle of influence

Between external sources (the stimulus) and the response is your greatest power: you have the freedom to choose your response. One of the most important things you choose is what you say. Every moment, every situation, provides a new choice to speak or not speak, act or not act. Even in those situations which might seem overpowering such as when you receive a nasty e-mail, are confronted with disloyal behavior of someone you trusted or are faced with criticism.

A proactive person takes time to reflect and knows which choices he or she has while focusing on things they can change. This reflects in language such as I can, I will, I prefer, etc.

This is how you redirect your focus towards your circle of influence

grey circle of influence

You can move from your circle of concern to you circle of influence by reality checking your concerns.

Is it really your problem, can you do anything about it?
Why are you choosing to let this affect you, what is the real issue – do you know?

You will prevent being drawn into conflicts if you:

  1. Stop over analyzing issues that are beyond your control.
  2. Refocus on what it is that affects you and that you can do something about.
  3. Reflect and act consciously.
  4. Take a first step. What can you do yourself?
  5. Ask for help if necessary.

In the words of Maya Angelou:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Are you still hesitating whether or not you are over focusing on the wrong circle?
Feel free to get in touch with me.

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