We all have things in our life that challenges us, whether it’s people, situations or the environment that we live or work in. Whilst sometimes we can not control or change what is happening to us, we can however choose how we are going to respond to it and it can be the difference between wasting our precious energy and not.
In his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) Covey talks about the concept of Circle of Concern & the Circle of Influence. Applying this technique is good for separating out lower from higher priorities, gaining ownership for action as well as taking a look at where we are choosing to spend our energy. The model is based on two circles.
Circle of Concern
Within the Circle of Concern, includes a whole range of things that we are concerned about in our life ranging from global warming, the environment, the state of the economy, to the clothes your children want to wear, attitudes in society, the organisation you work for, the health of your family members, threat of war etc.
This actual list will depend on the individual, but it’s important to understand that there may be little you can do about many of these things since they are outside your influence. Devoting your energy to them is most likely going to be a waste of time (the equivalent of shouting at the television or having a whinge to your friend). The time and energy you have used cannot be reused.
Circle of Influence
On the other hand, our Circle of Influence will be much smaller and it includes the things that we can actually do something about.
The key is to focus your energy on those things that you can actually influence. If you do this and are proactive you will find your circle of influence starts to increase and others will see you as an effective person and this will in turn increase your personal power.
Furthermore, Stephen Covey defines proactive as “being responsible for our own lives…..our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions”. Proactive people focus on issues within their circle of influence. They work on things they can do something about. The nature of their energy in doing this is positive, enlarging and magnifying and they ultimately increase their Circle of Influence.
Alternatively, if all your energy goes into those things you cannot change or influence in some way your circle of influence will shrink. Not only will you drain your precious energy, but other people may start to see you as unduly negative and critical. People who focus their energy on things beyond their control or influence are seen as reactive. Reactive people maintain an attitude of victimisation and blame. Their focus is elsewhere and their Circle of Influence shrinks.
Why is this Important?
Knowing how far your circle of influence extends is an important aspect of personal effectiveness. So is forming partnerships and alliances, as you may not have any direct influence over something in your Circle of Concern, but you may know other people who do.
During times of stress or overwhelm it can be helpful to write down all the things that concern you and then reflect on which of those you can actually influence and how. This can help us to redirect our energy and our efforts into more positive and constructive pursuits. Download a copy of the Circle of Concern, Circle of Influence growth playsheet here