Having concluded after yesterday’s entry that we have the capacity to choose our response in any given situation by using our self-awareness, creative imagination, independent will and conscience, the first and arguably most important choice to make about effectiveness is to ask ourselves “Where do I focus my thoughts and activities?” Covey’s first suggestion is that we look at life through two circles. They are the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence.
The Circle of Concern is all-encompassing. It contains anything and everything that is part of our lives. It includes social, political, environmental, psychological and any other ‘concerns’ that you know about. Right now that includes BLM, Cancel Culture, Brexit, green issues, ISIS, Donald Trump and any thing that makes you pause, think, worry, bemoan, support, decry – anywhere you might spend emotional effort.
The Circle of Influence is within that broader Circle and contains the things you can do something about. Which means for most of us it excludes a lot of the aforementioned list. We can be concerned about Donald Trump but unless we are US citizens and have a vote we can pontificate and worry all we like – won’t change a thing. However, within this Circle of Influence is your ability and willingness to do all the effective things – have greater relationships, use your initiative to solve problems, do an excellent job, act with patience, plan your work and your life.
Here is where you can ask, “What can I do about (this)?” and decide upon an actionable response. This is where you ask yourself whether the problem you are addressing is even solvable.
There are three kinds of problems. Direct Control, where you are able to affect any outcome because it is well within your Circle of Influence; Indirect Control, where you probably need others to assist with the challenge, can delegate or in respect of which you can seek help. If you like, things on the outer edge of your Circle of Influence. And No Control, where you can’t do anything about something in your Circle of Concern, where your proactive response is to smile and get on with something else.
You can’t really affect the size of the outer circle – it just ‘is’. But by focusing on the inner circle you can actually expand your influence – get better at your job and get promoted, become an authority on your profession, lead its development. By focusing on things outside your influence you waste valuable time and the inner circle effectively shrinks while you tweet mercilessly about a President you can’t vote in or out, or get emotionally upset about a statue that no-one cared about and that you walked past daily, and in blissful ignorance, until someone you never met pointed it out as racist.
Effective people ‘live’ in the Circle of Influence. They extend emotional and physical effort only towards the things that matter to them. They don’t get upset or even engage in debate about that which is of no consequence to them, and they don’t get caught up in the ‘if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem’ dichotomous thinking that surrounds our world of 2020.
I have a line of thought that says, “I may not be an environmental activist but I’m glad there are people out there to whom I can delegate responsibility for saving the planet.” The same goes for many other protests, campaigns, etc. As long as they are peaceful and well-argued, we should encourage debate and appropriate activism. But don’t expect everyone to feel as strongly as you do about things that aren’t as important to them as they are to you.
It’s synergistic. While you are arguing for your cause, they are serving you by arguing for theirs, for working in an industry that serves you. They are in their Circle of Influence so that you can be in yours.
Tomorrow we go even deeper into proactivity.