Circles of Influence vs. Concern

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Saint Francis

I’m working my way through Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. In chapter 1 he says “the essence of proactivity lies in taking the responsibility and the initiative to focus on the things in our lives we can actually do something about.” We all have a “Circle of Concern” that includes everything in our life that we care about. Inside this circle is our “Circle of Influence” which includes the things we can actually do something about.

When we focus on our circle of concern we exert negative energy and our circle of influence grows of concern negative
Proactive people focus on their circle of influence. As a result that circle grows and they have a greater impact on their circle of of concern positive

Covey uses the example of an adult man whose parents decided to divorce. His natural instinct was to help them “fix it.” When neither parent was willing, he became empty and sad. A friend helped him see that his parents’ divorce was not his problem. His energy fixing their marriage was negative, wasted energy. He needed to step back within his circle of influence and figure out what he could do to love and support each of them through the process. He used his parents’ experience to identify the values he wanted in his own marriage and put his energy there.

Another example is of a father who determined his daughter’s behavior was destroying their family and was ready to kick her out of the house if she did not make significant changes. As he waited for her to come home one night he made a list of demands on a 3 x 5 note card. When he was done, he turned the card over and saw that it was blank. Stepping back into his circle of influence, he wrote a list of changes he would make if she would comply with his requests. As he wrote, he realized that his list was longer than hers. When she came home, they had a long and insightful talk beginning with his side of the card.

What might have happened in these examples if the young man and father had focused within their circle of concern but outside their circle of influence? Most likely the young man would have been accused of taking sides and possibly alienated one or both of his parents. He might not have seen his parents’ divorce as a learning opportunity to carry forward into his own marriage. The daughter might have come home to a list of demands with no offering of concession. Feeling blamed for all that was wrong in the family, she might have chosen to leave taking with her negative feelings toward her father.

I have started using these circles in my own life. As my children grow older, I want my circle of influence in their lives to continue to grow. If I want them to come to me when they have difficult decisions to make, I can’t meddle outside my circle of influence. Doing so would lose their trust. From inside my circle of influence, I can show them through my own actions how to make wise decisions. I can talk with them about sex and drugs and all things teenager giving them knowledge and confidence to make their own wise decisions.

Our yoga mats are within our circle of influence. It is here that we practice asana, the physical postures, to build flexibility, strength, stamina, and balance. We can heal what ails us and prevent new injuries and illnesses from slowing us down. Through pranayama, breath control, we clear our minds. And with dharana and dhyana, concentration and meditation, we can create an inner peace. With a peaceful mind, we can direct our energy toward our circle of influence where we can make positive changes that will benefit ourselves and others.

So the next time you get worked up over something you heard on TV or around the water cooler, rather than blaming, accusing, or overreacting, take a moment to see where within this circle of concern your circle of influence lies and focus your energy there. Maybe you can’t bring about world peace but you can stretch, breathe, and meditate for a moment and give yourself a little inner peace that just might rub off on the person next to you.

See you on the mat soon…

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