Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence—Use Time Wisely

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What are the Circles of Concern and Influence? Where do you focus your time and energy? How many of those things can you impact?

The Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence both affect how we structure our lives and tend to things and people. Read on to find out the differences between Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern, and how to direct your energy towards your Circle of Influence.

Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern

There are a million things that may concern you — your children, your work, politics, climate change. That is your Circle of Concern. Carefully determine what you have the power to control or influence. That is your Circle of Influence. The difference between your circle of influence vs. circle of concern is that proactive people focus on the circle of influence, and concern people are reactive.

The Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence are part of our lives, whether we realize it or not. Proactive people focus their time and energy on their Circle of Influence. Why waste your efforts spinning your wheels about concerns you can’t impact? 

Proactive people focus on their circle of influence, and concern themselves with what they can change. Since the 7 habits are all about being proactive, that’s where we strive to be.

On the other hand, if you are reactive, you focus on your Circle of Concern, and influence becomes secondary. You worry about the housing market, or the fate of your sick aunt, or your irritating coworker. Spending your mental and emotional energy on things that are outside of your Circle of Influence reinforces feelings of victimization — you are allowing things that are out of your control to determine your actions and emotions. The Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern help us see where we do have control, and where we don’t.

Sometimes a person’s status, wealth, job title, or relationships grant her more power and influence than the average person, expanding her Circle of Influence vs. her Circle of Concern. Having the broad ability to make a difference but not having concern enough to do so is selfish and another form of being reactive; you’re not taking responsibility for using your influence productively, and lack a full understand of the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.

Every problem we encounter falls into one of three categories: 

  1. Direct control: These are problems that are directly related to your actions
  2. Indirect control: These are problems that are related to other people’s actions
  3. No control: These are problems that you have no ability to impact, including certain circumstances (e.g. the weather) and the past 

Proactive people recognize they can choose their response to each type of problem, and place them all in their Circle of Influence, even though they are aware of both the circle of influence and concern.

  • For direct control problems, a proactive person works on her habits and behaviors. Habits 1-3 address these kinds of problems.
  • For indirect control problems, a proactive person works on her interactions with other people to expand her influence on others and their actions. Habits 4-6 and the “Public Victories” they emphasize address these kinds of problems. 
  • For no control problems, a proactive person accepts the unchangeable reality and makes peace with it, never empowering the problem to dictate her emotional or mental well-being. 

Consequences and Mistakes

While your actions lie within your Circle of Influence, the consequences to your actions are beyond your control. You can’t choose your consequences; at best, you can anticipate them. This is a key part in understanding the differences between the Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern

Think of an action and its consequence as opposite ends of the same stick: When you pick up one end, the other comes with it. You can’t carry out the action without the consequence following. 

By and large, when you act according to your principles, you’ll experience positive consequences. And when you break with these principles, you’ll face the negative consequences. 

When you regret the actions you’ve made — and the consequences they brought — these are mistakes. Mistakes lie in the Circle of Concern: You can’t change or undo them. But you can choose whether you accept and learn from them, or dwell on them. The Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern both deal with consequences; but you can act positively, hope for positive consequences, and be proactive in learning from your mistakes.

Proactive people acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them. You can try to make a difference in your Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. It’s best to do this as quickly as possible, because the longer you go without learning from a mistake, the more likely you are to repeat it. In contrast, reactive people try to justify, rationalize, or minimize their mistakes. Doing any of these is an additional mistake; when you try to cover up a mistake, you’re empowering it by putting even more energy toward it.

Think of it this way: If a poisonous snake bites you, chasing the snake will only cause the poison to course through your system more quickly. The best response for your own well-being is to expel the poison as quickly as possible. 

Committing to Yourself and Others

The power to make and commitments to yourself and others is always within your Circle of Influence. Your ability to make and keep those commitments reveals how proactive you are. 

When you recognize something within yourself that could be changed or improved, you have the power to determine how to achieve that change by making a commitment or setting a goal, and by recognizing how it fits into your Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. Every time you set a goal — no matter how small — and take the steps to achieve it, you empower yourself to make bigger and more substantial changes in your life. By doing this, you put yourself in charge of your life, and shift the way you view and interact with your Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.

Challenge yourself to 30 days of proactivity: For one month, focus deliberately on your Circle of Influence. Make small commitments and goals — whether they are personal, at work, in your family, or in your marriage or relationships — and work to achieve them. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it, correct it if you can, and learn from it. 

Remember the foundations of proactivity and approach things from the inside-out. Resist blaming circumstances or other people. Pay attention to the language you use whether it’s reinforcing a reactive or proactive mindset. The Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence are one tool to help you set your priorities and focus on them.

Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence—Use Time Wisely

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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