In his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduced a tool that’s stuck with me — one that I now use regularly to reframe my fears, especially ones that are outside of my control.
Every situation, he writes, can be divided into two circles: the circle of concern, which consists of factors we have little or no influence over, and the circle of influence, which is made up of things we can control.
To see how it works, let’s apply these two circles to the thing that’s dominating our worries right now: the ongoing pandemic. Here, the circle of concern is blue, and the circle of influence is white.
In the circle of concern, we can see that many external events — such as the news, other people’s behaviour, the political situation, social media feeds, and the outbreak itself — are things that concern us, but are outside our control. In contrast, everything in the white circle, which includes our attitude, our own behaviour, what we watch on TV, and who we surround ourselves with, are within our control.
An important thing to understand is that the circles shrink or expand depending on where we put our focus and effort. If we obsess over external events — how long this disease will be around for or how it will impact the economy — our minds will go into overdrive, and we’ll only be expanding our circle of concern. This will impact how much brain space we’ll be able to give the things we do have control over, such as our ability to think rationally, our attitude toward others, and how we act around our loved ones.
The idea here is simple: By focusing on the things we can control, we’ll expand our circle of influence. Beyond that, we’ll have a positive impact on those around us, thus shrinking our circle of concern. If everyone stopped posting dramatic claims on social media and instead started following the health guidelines and helping others, we’d have a lot less to be worried about.
If we focus on the circle of concern, we allow what’s in it to control us. If we focus on the circle of influence, we are the ones in charge. It’s okay to be afraid — we all are — but understanding where to channel our thoughts and energy can help us more clearly navigate these uncertain times.
What would you do if you had a second chance at life?
As a chronic heroin addict turned doctor, I designed a program to help people to transform their lives. For FREE access to one of the most powerful tools from this programme – which includes an online course on morning routines – CLICK HERE.