At the moment, it’s easy to think there’s very little that’s within our control. Unfortunately, we’re right. However, this makes it even more important to focus on what we can control. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey separates our lives into three concentric circles: control, concern, and influence.
The Circle of Control includes events we control directly. In the Circle of Influence, we find those areas where we have some control but are also partly affected by the behaviour of other people. Finally, the Circle of Concern is everything that affects us, yet we’re powerless to change it. When I use the exercise with students, this outer circle is usually inhabited by Brexit, parents-in-law, and spiteful weather.
Draw three concentric circles on a piece of paper or download the template below.
Scribble down what you believe is within your Circle of Control. What can you actually direct each day (barring accidents and emergencies)?
Next, consider what lives in your Circle of Influence. So, these are factors over which you have some control, but routinely require negotiation with other people. This could be the relationship with your supervisor, family dynamics, or managing paid work.
Finally, look at your Circle of Concern. This is generally intractable stuff that distracts or annoys us, but we can’t actually do anything about it. Typically, this might be world events or university regulations.
As you’ll see, the Circle of Control is minuscule – perhaps the size of a 10p coin. But there’s enough space for a few tiny actions. And tiny actions, over time, build up into significant results. Writing 500 words a day doesn’t feel like much, but after a month, you’d have 10,000 words. Yes, really! Even if there are only 30 minutes a day that you truly control, I’d like you to focus on how you can make the most of it. Zoom in on that 10p coin and ignore the rest.
Of course, we can’t completely avoid everything that’s happening at the moment. However, we don’t need to be tuned into all the time. As I’ll explain in the final module, we need to identify and protect blocks of time to focus completely on our priorities. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the big picture, focus on that circle of control.