This simple tool is one of my favorites when working with someone who feels overwhelmed with stress or who finds themselves spinning their wheels, working to change something beyond their control.
Visualize yourself at the center, surrounded by a circle. That one is your circle of control, and outside that is yet another one- your circle of concern.
Inside your circle of concern are all the other things that matter to you, but you don’t have the ability to control or change directly. Perhaps you can influence them to some degree, but trying to take charge and control it yourself is not possible- and attempting to exert control over these things will frustrate you and those who are actually in control. Things in this circle are the the feelings, attitudes, and choices of others; the economy, the outcome of the election, the news and weather- these things are certainly significant and must be responded to, but responding is going to look different than reacting. We respond to things in this circle by intentionally deciding how we are going to interact with it (this person or situation) and then doing so in a way that’s in line with our values. When a relative or friend mistreats us in some way, then perhaps we need to reassess our own boundaries instead of attempt to change that person (your boundaries are in your circle of control- you get to decide!). Similarly, if in an argument with your spouse he/she begins to yell, that’s outside your circle of concern; however your decision to not yell is within it, and you are 100% responsible and in control of that. Inside your circle of control are all of the things that you are responsible for and can choose to change (or not). Your behavior, your words, your thoughts, even your attitudes fall within this circle, as do how you show up in your various relationships. Also within your control are the efforts you put out, the decisions that you make for yourself, how you respond to the people in your life- as well as what you choose to eat, drink, read, and learn.
Some people go through life in a reactive state- reacting with aggression or resentment to the things outside of their circle of control, or furiously trying to manipulate in order to reach our desired result. It’s futile, and it takes time and energy away from living in a proactive way- that is, focusing time and attention on the things within your circle of control so that you may experience that satisfaction of self-efficacy- that you are a powerful person and you can make things happen in your own life!
Many people who come in for counseling initially want to focus on something (someone!) in their circle of concern, and I love to see how things shift as we move the focus onto things within the other circle- the circle that we can actually make a difference in. It’s like a weight is lifted off their shoulders as they learn to let go of things that they can’t control. We could all use that reminder from time to time- take a look at what you’re spending your time and energy and thoughts on. Shift your focus off the circle of concern, and onto the circle of control. Feels better already!