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Taking comfort in the circle of influence

In the midst of adjustments and uncertainty we’re all facing at the moment, we’re more keen than ever to avoid adding to the noise unless our messaging can be of some benefit.

With that in mind, we’ve written this post to share what we’ve found to be a really useful coping mechanism to remain grounded amongst shifting sands.

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey introduces the idea of the circle of concern and the circle of influence. While his book may be 20 years old, the seed of his idea can be traced back much further to the stoic philosophers of ancient Greece, who made a similar distinction around the events that surround us.

The circle of concern encompasses everything that we are currently worried about. From the immediate, close to home issues that are affecting us personally right now, to more distant concerns (those that are geographically far away, or located in some hypothetical future, or connected to friends, family, the community).

It’s worthwhile thinking about all of the things that concern us. Often, we are carrying round a whole range of worries that stack up on top of each other and somehow feel greater than their constituent parts. It also gives us pause to consider whether our levels of concern are proportionate, or if an underlying sense of angst has amplified a small possibility into an overwhelming fear.

Our circle of concern can be large, varied and wide ranging. But within our circle of concern lies a much smaller sub-set - the circle of influence. This is the collection of things that we can actually do something about. The things that we can have some bearing on.

The logical thing to do would be to only concern ourselves with the things within our influence. In other words, don’t concern yourself with things you cannot influence. While this was the ultimate goal of the stoics, it’s not very practical or humane.

Where we can use this model more effectively though is to consider where we should invest our energies. We could spend all of our time arguing over the government's strategy for flattening the curve, or trawling through pictures of empty supermarket shelves and crowded parks, or worrying that our business won’t exist in six months. All of those things are in our circle of concern, but they are frustratingly outside of our influence. Not only is this time wasted, but our powerlessness just makes us more anxious and helpless.

Focusing our attention on the things we can control gives us back the ability to affect our situation. Amending our businesses, protecting our families, supporting the community, finding new ways to connect remotely, getting exercise; all of these things allow us to make positive steps to improve our situation in a way that gives us some small victories against our concerns.

And if we all devote all our energies to our own circle of influence, we’ll find that we can collectively address some of those bigger challenges that are outside our individual influence.

We absolutely cannot control the events happening around us. But we can control how we respond to them and where we devote our time and energy.

We’ve found this outlook to be a calming influence in recent weeks, focusing us on the things we can do, rather than everything we’re powerless against. We hope sharing it is helpful to you too.


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