Sandra just doesn’t feel like herself today. There’s no spring in her step and her focus is over her shoulder rather than in front of her. She is plagued with worries both about her business and personal life. Negative thoughts run through her mind on just about everything. She feels vulnerable, as though her very existence is at threat. She just doesn’t know where to start to make things better so she feels like staying in bed. Somebody else can take the reins and run her business, her life, today. Sandra is walking under a Concern Cloud and it’s raining anxiety!
Do you empathise with how Sandra feels? Have you felt this way before? Do feel this way currently? Well it’s all to do with the tale of 2 Circles and which one of these circles we choose to see the world from.
I’d like to offer this article as a love letter to Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern, Circle of Influence Theory. This powerful concept which he graced the world with in the late 1980’s is still one of the most effective ways of living a full & empowered life. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989, Stephen comments;
“Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their circle of influence to increase.”
Stephen’s theory demonstrates how in life we tend to operate in either our Circle of Concern or in our Circle of Influence.
How we think, feel and behave in these Circles differs dramatically and has a profound impact upon our lives, our careers, and not to mention our moods!
Circle of Concern
This is where we focus on the things that concern us but that we don’t have any control over. When focusing our time, thoughts & energy in this circle, we are being reactive to what is happening to us and our attitude and behaviour will be negative. This allows the things that we are worried about to begin to control us and so all of a sudden a small Concern Cloud turns into a Concern Cyclone!
Circle of Influence
This is where we focus on what we can do about the things that worry us. Here we are being proactive and opt for spending our energy on controlling the controllables. Another key aspect of operating in our Circle of Influence is that we find a way of accepting the things that we cannot control. Letting go of trying to control these things is liberating in itself and can instantly make us feel better and more able to cope. Another bonus to focusing on what we can positively & pro-actively do is that by the law of nature this actually increases the level of influence we have. There’s something about sending out positive energy that helps us to attract the outcome that we want, to make things go our way. So all in all operating in our Circle of Influence is a winning formula for tackling what makes us feel worried and stressed.
Are you investing wisely?
As soon as we begin to feel low or vulnerable whether in relation to our personal or professional life, a powerful question to ask ourselves is: “Which Circle am I investing my time in?” The proportion of the time you are spending in your Circle of Concern will correlate to how you feel and what results you are experiencing.
For example, imagine you are going to an important meeting which could lead to a lucrative business deal. Which focus do you typically take?
- Concern Focus – You become overly preoccupied with what the other party will think of you. You spend hours fretting whether they will like you and want to do business with you. “Will they think my services are good enough?”, “Will they think I’m good enough?”.
- Result – Your feelings of anxiety are heightened both leading up to and during the meeting. This means you find it hard to think clearly and relax which affects your preparation and delivery. You walk away from the whole process feeling disappointed in yourself and this conclusion feeds your feelings of anxiety as to whether you and your business are worthy of success. You wonder whether they will call? You have a feeling they won’t…
- Influence Focus – You are aware that you need to make a good impression but realise that no matter how much preparation you put in or how hard you try, at the end of the day you cannot control what opinion they will form of you. You can just be the best of who you are. Rather than spending time worrying whether you will say what they want to hear, you spend time instead on a) creating an innovative way of promoting your business that you will enjoy delivering, b) boosting your ‘mojo’ by doing the things that make you feel good & relaxed.
- Result – You enter the meeting feeling relaxed. You turn any nervous energy into excitement as you’re looking forward to showcasing your services. You are thinking clearly and are ‘on form’. You walk away from the meeting feeling proud of yourself and your business. You wonder whether they will call? You have a feeling they will…
We can trick ourselves into thinking that by focusing on our concerns we are somehow more equipped to avoid pain. In fact the reality is that by focusing on our concerns too much, we take ourselves further away from the outcome we want and closer to the outcome we don’t want. It is true that we create what we focus on. What are you focusing on and what are you creating as a result?
“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford
Tackling Your Concerns
A good way of clearing our minds from the concern chatter and taking a good look at what is happening is the age old method of getting it all down on paper. This allows you to see the fire wood (things that you cannot control) from the fur trees (things that you have direct control upon).
Step 1 – Perform a Worry Workout
- Take a piece of paper and write “I’m worried about….” in the middle
- Then around this, write down everything that is worrying you right now
- Once you’ve written everything down take a highlighter and highlight all of the concerns that you have control over.
It is in these highlighted areas where you can invest your time, attention and action wisely within. The remainder that you haven’t highlighted fall into your Circle of Concern and that is all you can expect from focusing on them, just more concern. It is sensible to find a way of letting go of trying to control these things because no matter what you do you can’t/don’t have control. So why waste your precious time & happiness on worrying about them?
Step 2. – Put Your Circle of Influence Hat On
Now that you have identified the worries that you can focus on and those which you can let go of, put your Circle of Influence Hat on and make a plan for how you are going to transform how you feel and create the results you want. Look at each of the highlighted areas and ask yourself:
- What can I do about this?
- What can I let go of worrying about here?
- What will help me create the result I want with this?
- How will I spend my time on this from now on?
- How can I be more effective here?
- How can I make me feel better about this?
What does this exercise reveal for you? What are you going to do today? Just as importantly what are you going to let go of and stop doing today? It may help to invent a code word that you can say to yourself when you feel yourself stepping back into your Circle of Concern to give you the cue you need to jump back over the fence into your Circle of Influence.
That’s nearly all folks…
When we are overwhelmed by our concerns the dominant state we experience is a feeling of being out of control. By focusing on your Circle of Influence you begin to take control of your happiness and success and bring responsibility for these things back into your own hands piece by piece, step by step. Is it time you let that Cloud of Concern pass you by?