What are Your Circles of Control, Influence or Concern?

One of my favorite leadership tools is the Circle of Control. It is one of those tools that is timeless and can be used in so many ways, both personally and professionally.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares his thoughts on taking a proactive approach to life, and captures them in this simple, but powerful tool.

Visualize a small circle in the middle, a bigger circle around that, and the largest circle around those two.  The inner circle represents our Circle of Control, the middle circle represents our Circle of Influence, and the outer circle represents the Circle of Concern.

Reality is that we have less control than we would like to think we have.  The good news is that we usually have more influence and therefore more power than we think we do. The biggest challenge comes in with the largest circle, the Circle of Concern.

The Circle of Concern is the “money pit” of energy.

It is where we waste time, money and energy on things that we have no control or influence over. To use a familiar phrase, things that are “not our circus and not our monkeys.”

Why is it important to be clear which “Circle” our problems, challenges, and opportunities fall into?  If we can’t control something, there’s no use in getting stressed about it.

If you worry about everything and everyone, you make an already challenging life even more difficult.

If you can’t influence something, why would you waste your time and energy trying to do something you can’t do? I tell people it’s like pouring water in a bucket with a hole in it. You put in resources, energy and time, but there are no tangible results to show for your efforts, just a lot of frustration.

The key is to focus only on those things and people that matter to you.  Make a list of things that matter, then really look at it. See if there is anything that doesn’t need to be on that list.  Let it sit for a couple of days. Upon reflection, you might see that some of those things that you initially thought mattered, really don’t. And sometimes things that matter aren’t even on your radar screen yet. Knowing what’s really important makes living your purpose a lot easier.

The goal is to invest our time and energy where it can have the greatest impact, starting with those things that we have control over.  Contrary to what some might think, we do have a significant degree of control and influence over what we do, who we do it with, and when we do it. Maybe not 100%, but more than we might think at first.

We determine if we want to go to college and if so, to what level, and what institution would be the best match for us.  We might decide that skills training is a better route for us.  We decide what vocation we want to spend our life pursuing, and where we want to work.

We decide the type of car we drive, where and how we finance it, what type of home we want to live in and where we want to live.

We choose to marry or stay single, to have kids or not, and if so, how many.

The Circle of Influence includes everything within our life that we can impact or effect.

If we can control something, we can get exactly what we want; while influencing means we can impact but can’t guarantee results.

The number one way to increase your Circle of Influence is by being proactive and focusing on the things you can influence, control or change, rather than the things you have no say over.

To determine which of the three circles you are in and possible paths to take, ask yourself:

  1. Do I have complete control over this challenge or opportunity?
    If the answer is yes, great, be like Nike’s slogan and “Just Do It.”
    On the other hand, if you do not have control, it’s not time to give up yet.
  2. Do I have influence? With whom? In what way? Have I been in a similar situation that I can reflect on? Who can I enlist to help?
  3. Is this outside of my control or influence? What benefits can I reasonably expect to gain if I keep focusing on this? Is this a good use of my time, energy and resources?

For additional insights on the Circle of Control, check out CustomizingLife.com.  Author Cam, based out of Melbourne, Australia, is a marketer, martial artist, fitness enthusiast and psychology lover.  In an easy- to-understand way, Cam shares his perspectives which are based on three values:  Proactivity, Curiosity and Diligence.

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