• Robert Clarke MFT

What is your Circle of Influence?


In his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey talks about a concept that I find particularly useful with clients who are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety. I’m referring to what Covey calls the Circle of Concern / Circle of Influence.


Basically, this is his model for showing that there are things that you can do something about and others that you can’t. That is, you can be concerned about everything within the larger circle (Circle of Concern), but you can only change things within the smaller circle (Circle of Influence). Simple enough, right? But how many of us consciously distinguish between the two? How many of us are aware of what should be in each circle? We all have things that concern us, but in our busy lives we can’t help but have countless concerns. This is especially true when we’re regular followers of mainstream news or social media, whose goal is to goad into growing our circle of concern exponentially. And if we’re not careful, we can easily expend all of our energy on things that we can’t change while giving no energy to those that we can. (See the picture above for an illustration of this concept and showing some of the influences attempting to expand your Circle of Concern.)


When Mr. Covey’s book was first published in the late 1980’s, email was new and things like the internet and social media didn’t exist. Because of that, his discussion of Circle of Concern addresses issues that are more “local” than many of our concerns today. Here in 2020, there are countless social media sources, as well as online websites, online newsletters, spam emails, and many organizations that are trying to get our attention through electronic communications. There are countless websites reporting their “news” and whole industries that monitor our net usage and target us with carefully curated stories designed to grab our attention.


Ultimately you would like your Circle of Influence to be a significant part of your Circle of Concern, but that can get very challenging with the pressures attempting to expand the outer circle.


Besides keeping this idea top of mind, here are three particularly important things to consider:


1. What is in each Circle? Specifically, where do you have influence and where don’t you? It can be hard to let go of things that concern you, but it’s important to make conscious decisions about what deserves your time and energy. Where can you make a difference and where can’t you?

2. How much energy do you want to give to your circle of concern? Be concerned, but don’t get into a rut hitting your head against a brick wall – that will only give you a soft head. I’m not saying that you should ignore those things or not be concerned, but I am asking you to decide how much of your energy you want to give away to things that that are impossible for you to change. Are you expending all of your energy on your concerns leaving no energy for where you have influence?

3. How do you want to spread the energy you give to your circle of influence? This is the place where you CAN make a difference, but it’s likely that you can’t make a difference on everything. If you’re not careful about picking and choosing, you may find that your energy is spread too thin to be effective. Where specifically do you want to and can you make a difference?

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My posts are purely my own thoughts and opinions and are not meant to give you advice, but instead to give you insight into some of my thinking. My hope is that you will find useful information here as you navigate your life and relationships.