Circle of Influence: How to Eliminate Worry Using this Model from Stephen Covey

written by  Ryan Seamons

It’s common to worry. And I hear it all the time when I talk to managers:

  • Are we going to hit the metrics?
  • When is this going to ship?
  • What is my boss going to think?
  • How will my team react?
  • What if the market doesn’t react like we think?

Most worries come from things we can’t control. One of my favorite mental models for becoming more aware of what you control and figuring out what to do about it is Circle of Influence. I first came across this in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The Circle of Concern (the outer circle) is everything we care or think about that we don’t control. Traffic, politics and news, and the reactions of other people all fall within this circle. This is a key source of worry.

The Circle of Influence (the middle circle) is everything we can indirectly control. Relationships with family and coworkers fall into this. We can try to help, but ultimately we don’t have direct control.

And finally, the Circle of Control (the inner circle) are things we can directly control. When we get up, how much time we spend on different activities, and what we say.

Here’s Stephen Covey explaining the model himself:

Being aware of these buckets is a helpful start. Recognize how much control you actually have over situations that command your attention. The more attention we can spend on things we directly control, the more ability we will have to change our situations.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.

Viktor Frankl (Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor – 1905 – 1997)

But real impact happens when you make decisions to increase the size of your inner circle.

This can feel daunting. It’s easy to let the outer circle take control.

I’ve felt the paralyzing fear of worrying how things out of your control will influence you. I’ve felt that with bosses that I worried about and in building a business as an entrepreneur.

It’s suffocating. It makes you want to slouch and hide. It makes you question the right move forward. It’s awful.

So how do you avoid this and ensure your circle of concern doesn’t overtake everything else?

Remember that focus brings growth. The circle you focus on gets bigger.

When you try to avoid pain and control things out of your control, you usually end up reactive and worried.

When you work to make things better and take charge of things you can control, you proactively craft the world around you.

Next time you see yourself worry, stop for just a few second. Take a breath and think, “how much control do I have over this thing?” Then ask, “What can I control to make this better?” And if you can’t control it? Stop worrying about that and start thinking about something you can control.

About the Author

Ryan Seamons
writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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