Circle of Control, Influence, And Concern: Understanding the Control Dynamics

I strongly believe in establishing a balance in all spheres of life. I don’t try to control the events of my life; rather, I let everything flow naturally and try to put the best in my capacity in every aspect of my life. That is what I have learned by going through different challenges in life.

I do whatever is possible in my capacity and let things fall naturally. That’s what is referred to as a circle of control; when you are loyal to your work by detaching yourself to the outcome, putting hard work into it, and leaving the rest to nature, the outcome turns out positively.

Stephen Covey articulated this point well in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by using proactive and negative focus and differentiating between our circle of control and our circle of Influence. There is no need to worry about the outcomes of your job or things outside your circle of Influence or control. It only triggers anxiety and detracts you from your job of proactive focus.

I have always witnessed by working with different people that those who embrace change can focus on the things in their control instead of wasting their time and energy on the things outside their Influence. If you follow this course of action, things will naturally transform for you.

In this article, we will explore how to take advantage by exercising the practice of a “circle of control and circle of influence model.”

Understanding the Theory: A Model and Diagram

Stoic philosophers Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius believed that we can spend fulfilling lives by having focus and energy on the things we can control. Psychologists have expanded on the two spheres of control and included the “circle of influence” in the gray zone of the model of what we can and cannot control.

Some things about human nature are within our control and capacity, while others are not, according to Epictetus (2009, p. 135). Our body, possessions, reputation, standing, and anything else in human nature that is not our thinking and doing are not under our thinking and power; nevertheless, our thinking, opinion, motivation, desire, and aversion are.

The Stoics agreed that our thoughts, emotions, interpretations, actions, and reactions are always in our circle of control, and we should work on these factors to improve them. By contrast, Certain things are outside our control, like random life events, the economy, and other people’s actions, feelings, and opinions. These are the things that we can’t control and need not worry about.

Nisbett emphasizes the difficulty of comprehending the notion of the circle of control in his 2003 publication, particularly in a world where the need for control is ubiquitous. He notably mentions how most people from Western cultures frequently exaggerate their capacity for Influence and control over various facets of daily life.

The “Circle of Influence” model helps to identify the areas where one can exert control or Influence in one’s life and is often represented by two concentric circles. The inner circle, known as the “Circle of Influence,” encompasses aspects of our lives over which we have direct control, such as our thoughts, actions, attitudes, and behaviors.

The outer circle of Influence, known as the “Circle of Concern,” contains factors over which we have no direct control, such as global events or the behaviors of others. By focusing our energy and attention on our Circle of Influence, we can make impactful changes and avoid the stress and frustration that often comes from worrying about matters outside our control.

In the diagram above, you can see three circles embedded within each other.

Aspects of our lives that we have direct control over are represented by the first and smallest circle in the center, which is the circle of control. It is the area where transformation is possible. The circle of control represents the point where we can take significant action and improve things.

The junction of things directly under our immediate control and those out of our direct control is shown by the second, slightly wider circle, called the circle of Influence. This zone allows us to expand our circle of Influence and create change.

While we can’t control the outcomes, investing our energies in this sphere where we control our efforts is wise. Let’s embrace the challenge and make a positive difference here.

The diagram’s third and largest outermost circle represents the “Circle of Concern.” This circle encompasses our concern and includes a broader range of external events, factors, challenges, and circumstances that we may genuinely care about but are beyond our control.

These factors include macro-level elements such as government policy, the global economy due to the pandemic, climate change, and weather, for example, as well as the actions, reactions, behaviors, and feelings of others.

Author Ryan Holiday aptly stated in his 2016 book (p. xi): “We cannot control the world around us, but we can control our reactions to it.” The application of this model in our own lives has demonstrated significant benefits.

For example, a study by Luthans et al. (2008, p. 132) found that “individuals who focus on the circle of influence they control are more likely to exhibit resilience in the face of stress and adversity.” This underscores the importance of directing our efforts toward our Circle of Influence while maintaining a balanced awareness of our Circle of Concern.

The circle of control is a practical cognitive technique that helps people control their emotional responses to demanding circumstances.

Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Influence

The “Circle of Concern” and the “Circle of Influence” form two integral parts of this model. The Circle of Concern encompasses a broad range of issues, including those over which we have no control. These may include geopolitical events, environmental crises, or the decisions of others.

While we may feel passionate about these issues, we don’t necessarily hold the power to change them directly. For instance, you might be worried about a family member’s economy or health, but what can you do?

In contrast, the Circle of Influence contains matters over which we have direct control or Influence—from personal habits and behaviors to responses and reactions to situations. By focusing on our Circle of Influence, we can enact tangible changes in our lives, fostering a greater sense of empowerment and control.

The theory suggests that those who devote their energies to their Circle of Influence rather than their Circle of Concern are more likely to feel satisfied and successful. They are proactive individuals who don’t allow external circumstances to dictate their happiness or peace of mind.

They understand the power of their actions and attitudes in shaping their environment and experiences.

By contrast, those who fixate and focus on their Circle of Concern often feel powerless or overwhelmed as they try to control the uncontrollable. This distinction and difference in focus is a critical guide in managing our focus and attention to lead more effective and satisfying lives.

Circle of Influence example

Consider the situation of an individual working in a company concerned about the business’s environmental footprint. This concern falls within their Circle of Concern as they cannot single-handedly alter the company’s environmental policies.

However, within their Circle of Influence, they can lead recycling initiatives, reduce paper use, and advocate for energy-efficient practices in their department or team.

By focusing on these manageable, positive aspects, they can still positively impact their concern, thereby expanding their Circle of Influence within the bounds of their workplace. It’s a prime example of how we can effectively operate within our Circle of Influence to address more significant issues within our Circle of Concern.

Proactive people

Proactive individuals exemplify the essence of focusing on the Circle of Influence. They invest their efforts in areas where they can make tangible changes, embodying a sense of control and empowerment. They deeply understand their ability to shape their environment and experiences through their actions and attitudes.

Proactivity enables them to confront challenges, innovate solutions, and turn obstacles into opportunities. Rather than reacting to situations, they anticipate them and take the necessary steps to steer the outcome in a favorable direction. By consistently operating within their Circle of Influence, proactive individuals gradually expand this circle, garnering more Influence and control over various aspects of human nature.

Reactive People

In stark contrast to proactive individuals, reactive people tend to focus their energies and attention primarily on their Circle of Concern. Instead of taking charge of their actions and attitudes, they often find themselves at the mercy of external events and circumstances. Their environment dictates their emotional state and responses, and they often feel overwhelmed, powerless, and frustrated due to their perceived lack of control over situations.

Reactive people typically spend their time worrying about issues beyond their control, such as the behavior of others or large-scale global events. Their mindset is characterized mainly by a defensive stance, reacting to the world around them instead of proactively shaping it.

These individuals often feel stuck, as they believe their happiness and success are dependent on external factors rather than a result of their actions and attitudes. This misplaced negative focus often confined them within their Circle of Concern, limiting their potential to expand their Circle of Influence.

For example, suppose a reactive individual is concerned about the same environmental footprint of their company’s new business or government policy as the proactive individual mentioned earlier. In that case, they might complain about the company’s policies or feel helpless.

Instead of taking actionable steps within their Circle of Influence, they allow concern to dominate their perspective, leading to feelings of frustration and powerlessness.

The goal is not to completely ignore the Circle of Concern—after all, it’s natural to care about larger issues in our personal and professional lives. However, the key lies in not allowing these concerns to spend energy, focus, and attention to the point where they impede our effectiveness.

The Circle of Concern, Circle of Influence, and Control

In further understanding the concept of the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence, it’s crucial to introduce the “Circle of Control.” This circle of Influence represents the aspects of our lives where we have direct and absolute control. Our behaviors, choices, and attitudes are within this circle of Influence.

The Circle of Control is nested within the Circle of Influence, symbolizing that our actions and attitudes can directly shape and impact those areas where we have a degree of Influence.

For instance, our work ethic can influence our professional success, and our health habits can affect our physical well-being.

Effectively managing our Circle of Control involves making conscious choices that reflect our values and goals—for example, choosing to respond positively to criticism, maintaining a healthy diet, or dedicating time to professional development.

Understanding the interplay between these circles – Concern, Influence, and Control – enables us to better manage our proactive focus and responses. By using aggressive focus and investing our time and effort in areas we can influence and control, we can effectively navigate our life’s challenges, seize opportunities, and, ultimately, steer the course of our life journey.

The Circle of Concern

The Circle of Control is nested within the Circle of Influence, symbolizing that our actions and attitudes can directly shape and impact those areas where we have a degree of Influence. For instance, our work ethic can influence our professional success, and our health habits can affect our physical well-being.

Effectively managing our Circle of Control involves making conscious choices that reflect our values and goals—for example, choosing to respond positively to criticism, maintaining a healthy diet, or dedicating time to professional development.

Understanding the interplay between these circles – Concern, Influence, and Control – enables us to better manage our focus and responses. By investing our time and effort in areas we can influence and control, we can effectively navigate our life’s challenges, seize opportunities, and, ultimately, steer the course of our life journey.

The Circle of Concern encompasses various issues and concerns that directly or indirectly affect us as human beings. These concerns range from global issues like climate change, political situations, and economic conditions to local or personal concerns about traffic congestion, job security, and health. While we may worry about or be interested in these issues, we must note that we have little to no control over them.

Spending excessive energy on the Circle of Concern can lead to feelings of helplessness, stress, and frustration. It’s essential to be aware of these issues, but it’s equally important not to let them consume our attention. Instead, identifying and shifting our focus to the Circle of Influence and Control can lead to a more positive and proactive life approach.

One step further – The Circle of Control

It’s important to remember that while it’s natural to care about larger issues, it’s equally important to focus on those areas we can influence and dictate. We can shape our lives through our attitudes, behaviors, and choices. We are better by committing to this Circle of Control and taking ownership.

The Circle of Control represents the areas where we have complete autonomy—our behaviors, attitudes, and choices. These are the variables we manage directly, permitting us to shape our paths in life. Focusing on this full circle of Influence transforms challenges into opportunities, maintains our values, and fulfills our potential.

Our Circle of Control is the cornerstone of personal development and satisfaction, underlining the importance of personal responsibility and proactive living.

For you or with your team – Circle of Influence Exercise

Ready to level up your team’s performance? Give the Circle of Influence exercise a try! Here’s how it works:

  • Grab a large sheet and draw two concentric circles.
  • Jot down elements your team can control in the inner circle, like collaboration and communication.
  • Note areas of Influence in the outer circle, such as team culture and relationships with other departments.
  • Acknowledge what your team can’t control, like company policies or market trends, outside these circles.
  • Watch your team identify where to spend energy, fostering proactivity and effective teamwork.
  • Empower your team to make a real impact!
  • Worksheets for therapists, HERE

Circle of concern example

Let’s talk about the pressing global issue of climate change. It’s a challenge that falls squarely within your Circle of Concern because it affects all of us. But here’s the thing: you can’t single-handedly control global carbon emissions as an individual. The magnitude of the problem can sometimes feel overwhelming, leaving you helpless.

However, don’t lose hope just yet! While you may not have complete control, you can still make a difference in small but impactful ways. Start by reducing your carbon footprint, and watch as your actions ripple outwards, entering your Circle of Influence.

Remember, finding the right balance between concern and not is critical. By managing your problems and taking proactive steps to engage with these issues, you, one person, can be part of the solution that affects us all. Let’s make a positive change together!

Applying the Theory: 3 Real-Life Examples

  1. Michael Jordan: The professional basketball player offers a perfect example of a healthy mindset and the strength of persistence. Despite being cut from his high school basketball team, Jordan continued to persist, practicing diligently and honing his skills. His unwavering effort and belief in his ability to improve made him an iconic figure in basketball and a testament to a growth mindset.
  2. Thomas Edison: The famous inventor represents an embodiment of focus and proactivity. Rather than being deterred by his countless failed attempts to invent the light bulb, he sustained his focus, directing his energy and resources toward his goal. Edison’s relentless pursuit symbolizes proactive behavior, as he took the initiative to test different materials until he finally succeeded.
  3. Oprah Winfrey: Known for her rags-to-riches story, Oprah’s life is a powerful example of expanding one’s Circle of Control. Despite facing numerous adversities in her early life, she took control of her destiny, made conscious decisions aligned with her future goals, and relentlessly pursued her passion for media. Her journey from circumstances of hardship to becoming the queen of media showcases the impact of proactively expanding one’s Circle of Control.

Where Should You Focus Your Energy?

Focusing your energies effectively is crucial in achieving your goals and aspirations. It’s advisable to direct it toward areas that align with your passions, values, and strengths – the elements that resonate truest with who you are. Simultaneously, concentrate on aspects within your Circle of Control where you can influence outcomes.

Spending too much time thinking about how much time and energy worrying about circumstances beyond your control can lead to frustration and stagnation. Instead, stop your time worrying about, take proactive focus, and invest in personal growth, learning opportunities, and relationships that enrich your life. Remember, where fierce focus goes, energy flows.

So, ensure that your proactive focus targets areas that will propel you forward on your journey of self-fulfillment.

Proactive Mindset vs. Reactive Mindset

A proactive mindset is characterized by anticipating, initiating change, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. Instead of waiting for things to happen, proactive individuals make things happen. Conversely, a reactive mindset responds to the environment.

Reactive individuals often feel victimized and caught by circumstances, reacting to events rather than shaping them. While proactive people invest their energy in creating the desired future, reactive individuals expend energy coping with already occurring situations. Ultimately, adopting a proactive mindset leads to personal growth and self-fulfillment.

Cultivate a growth mindset.

Cultivating a growth mindset is about embracing challenges and seeing them as exciting stepping stones toward improvement. It’s about persisting through setbacks, treating effort as a thrilling pathway to mastery, and viewing criticism as valuable feedback that propels you forward.

Don’t forget to celebrate the successes of others, as, by example, they can be incredible sources of inspiration. Always remember you have the potency to evolve and constantly grow through unwavering focus, perseverance, and resilience. Let the journey of self-improvement begin!

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” — Dr. Stephen Covey

Dr. Stephen R. Covey, an esteemed educator, author, and speaker, once said: “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” This quote is a powerful reminder of our autonomy and role in shaping our destiny. While our circumstances can influence our options, our choices ultimately determine our path.

Rather than passively accepting our circumstances, we can influence and shape our experiences through our decisions. Therefore, we must view ourselves as architects of our fate and happiness rather than victims of our circumstances. Our choices, not our circumstances, drive the narrative of daily life and our lifestyle. Thus, making choices that align with our values, passions, and goals is imperative, propelling us closer to the life we aspire to lead.

Find Your Purpose

Discovering your purpose involves introspection, self-realization, and understanding your passions. Consider what ignites your passion, what naturally draws your interest, and what you consider deeply meaningful. Understanding these elements can provide insight into your true purpose.

A clear purpose guides you, aligning you with your core values and ambitions. It can fuel your motivation during challenging times and create a sense of fulfillment as you journey through life. Embrace your journey to purpose discovery, as it’s an intrinsic part of personal growth.

Break Your Limiting Beliefs

Shattering our limiting beliefs is a crucial leap toward unlocking our true potential. These beliefs, often rooted in past experiences, can confine us within self-imposed boundaries, hindering our progress. They shape how we perceive ourselves and the world, perpetuating a cycle of negative self-talk and self-doubt. But here’s the thing: these beliefs are not absolute truths. To dismantle them, we must first recognize and challenge them head-on.

Ask yourself: Are these beliefs rooted in facts or mere assumptions? Do they propel me forward or hold me back? Once you’ve pinpointed your limiting beliefs, it’s time to replace them with empowering ones. Instead of thinking, “I’m not capable of success,” affirm yourself, “I possess the boundless potential to conquer anything I set my mind to.”

By consciously reframing our thoughts, we liberate ourselves from the shackles of limiting beliefs and step boldly into our power. Let’s break free!

How to Apply the Circle of Control in Life

Embarking on our purpose-finding journey is like embarking on a thrilling quest. Picture it: the unexplored territory where our passions, skills, and the world’s needs intersect – our unique and impactful sweet spot. First, we dive into our passions, those sparks that ignite us into action. Then, we uncover our skills and our superpowers.

And finally, we contemplate the world’s people’s needs, pinpointing where we can contribute the most. Focus on one small thing, focusing on a tiny thing, this magical intersection; we unlock a path to purpose and fulfillment. This journey, this adventure, has the power to shape a remarkable legacy. Are you ready? Let’s begin!

How to Expand Your Circles of Control

First, to expand your Circle of Control, identify areas where you can enact change, such as health or career. Develop habits that positively influence these areas – for instance, maintaining a balanced diet and exercise routine for better health.

Cultivate a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities and setbacks as lessons. Remember, expanding your control doesn’t mean controlling everything.

Instead, it’s about effectively responding to situations and fixating energy on areas you can influence, leading to personal growth and life satisfaction. This proactive approach makes you an architect of your fate, not a victim of circumstances.

Develop a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the key to unlocking your potential. It’s about believing in your ability to learn, adapt, and improve. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, persist through setbacks, and see effort as the path to mastery.

Criticism becomes constructive feedback, and others’ success becomes your inspiration. With a growth mindset, you’ll surpass limits, continuously improve, and become resilient.

Remember, intelligence isn’t fixed; it’s cultivated through dedication, focus, curiosity, and perseverance. You have the power to unleash your full potential!

What is a circle of control?

The Circle of Control refers to the areas of our lives where we have direct Influence, like our behaviors, attitudes, or actions. It’s from Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” book. Focusing our thinking on this own circle of Influence promotes proactivity and guides our focus and attention toward positive aspects we can change.

What is the circle of control in mental health?

The Circle of Control in mental health refers to personal factors that one can directly manage, such as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Acknowledging this control promotes a greater sense of empowerment, helps cope with stressors, and fosters resilience, thereby contributing positively to one’s mental health.

What is the circle point of control in a relationship?

In a relationship, the Circle of Control embraces elements you can directly manage, like your communication style, reactions, and feelings. Recognizing this control can foster healthier interactions, promote emotional well-being, and help navigate conflicts effectively, enhancing the overall relationship quality.

What is the definition of a circle of no control?

The Circle of No Control encompasses elements in a person’s life beyond a person’s circle of Influence or control, such as the economy, job, the global pandemic, or other people’s behaviors. Focusing, worrying, or overthinking on this no circle of Influence can lead to frustration and stress, for example, thinking we cannot change these circumstances.

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