Circle of Concern vs Circle of Influence

(excerpted from Habit 1: Be Proactive, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey)

“In looking at ways to influence and change our surroundings it is helpful to notice where we focus our time and energy. We each have a wide range of concerns–our health, our family, problems at work, the national debt, etc., and it is these things in our lives that make up our Circle of Concern.

As we look at those things within our Circle of Concern, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about. We could identify those concerns in the latter group by circumscribing them in a smaller Circle of Influence.

The problems all of us face fall in one of three areas: direct control (problems involving our own behavior); indirect control (problems involving other people’s behavior); or no control (problems we can do nothing about, such as our past, or situational realities). A proactive approach is the first step to the solution of all three kinds of problems within our present Circle of Influence. Some people interpret proactive to mean pushy, aggressive, or insensitive, but that isn’t the case at all. Proactive people are smart, they are value driven, they read reality, and they know what’s needed. And they 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.

One way to notice where our energy and focus is located is to distinguish between the have’s and the be’s. The Circle of Concern is filled with the have’s:  ‘I’ll be happy when I have my house paid off.’

  • If only I had a more patient spouse…’

  • ‘If only I had better employees/co-workers…’

  • If only I had a boss who wasn’t so demanding…’

The Circle of Influence is filled with the be’s:

  • ‘I can be more patient…’

  • ‘I can be a better employee…’

  • ‘I can be more wise…’

It’s a character focus. Any time we think the problem is ‘out there,’ that thought is the problem. We empower what’s out there to control us. The change paradigm is ‘outside-in’–what’s out there has to change before we can change.

The proactive approach is to change from the inside-out; to be different, and by being different to effect positive change in what’s out there — I can be more resourceful, I can be more diligent, I can be a better listener, I can be a better leader.

There are things (like the weather) that our Circle of Influence will never include. But as proactive people, we can create and carry our own physical or social weather with us. We can try to accept those things that at the present we can’t control, while we focus our efforts on the things that we can. Test the principle of proactivity for 30 days. Try it and see what happens. For 30 days, work only in your Circle of Influence. Make small commitments and keep them. Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

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