By Ashley Underwood, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.
Many of us are all too familiar with stress and anxiety, along with all the baggage it brings. Have you ever sat down and thought about how much of what you are worrying about is within your control? Are you stressing over things that you cannot change? Think of it like this – can we control the weather? No. But can we control how we react to the weather? Yes.
This concept is known as the circle of control. It was introduced by Stephen R. Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The purpose of this concept is to help people focus on the things in life they have control over, rather than being stuck trying to change things they can’t control. It is a visual representation that is useful for both adults and children as a guide to cope with difficult situations. I have used this with the students I meet with as well as with school staff.
There are three rings that make up this concept and visual representation. The outermost ring is called the circle of concern, the middle ring is called the circle of influence, and the innermost ring is called the circle of control.
Circle of Concern – This circle contains the things that you cannot control like the weather, other people, violence, etc. When focusing on the circle of concern, people can feel overwhelmed and stressed because they are worrying about what they have no power over.
Circle of Influence – Within this circle are things that you have some influence over like relationships, friendships, or how other people feel about you. Focusing on our power to influence can be beneficial for certain relationships, but keep in mind that there is still no way to control others in the situation.
Circle of Control – This circle is where your thoughts, reactions, and boundaries fall. You can control these things. Focus on the items within your circle of control to reap the biggest benefit for your mental health.
Get out of the habit of focusing on the circle of concern by practicing mindfulness. Be aware of your worries and work to identify which circle they fall into. Practicing mindfulness skills through meditation or guided breathing exercises can help with help bring your awareness back to the area that you can control.
As time goes on, you will notice that your circle of concern will get less attention from you while your circle of control gets more of your focus and energy. Using this technique is a great way to prioritize what’s important without getting caught up in details beyond our control.