About ten years ago, I had a twenty-hour layover in Denver. Conditions there were fine, but a late-April snowstorm was keeping all flights out of Rock Springs. At about 10:30pm, the pilot decided to go for it and time our arrival to coincide with a window in the storm. As it turned out, we missed the window, the blizzard had intensified and we had to return to Denver.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of turbulence on the flight, and many seasoned passengers were gripping their armrests with white knuckles. Their response was understandable: the plane could have crashed and we all would have died.
I was as relaxed as anyone and enjoying the ride. I chose to have a different perspective, and it’s a perspective that can save you a lot of stress, frustration, and even fear.
Everything in life can be placed in one of two circles, possibly both, maybe neither: the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. These circles are very dynamic. They’re different for each of us, and they’ll even vary for us from day to day.
The Circle of Concern is everything you’re interested in. Things you’re passionate about fall within this circle. Your hopes, your dreams, your hobbies. It also encompasses your fears. Things that make you afraid. If it has your attention, it’s in your Circle of Concern.
Your Circle of Influence encompases everything you can control in your world. By being proactive and making choices, you can determine the outcome. You are at the center of your Circle of Influence (and, probably, your Circle of Concern, too). You always have the choice of how you respond to a situation.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
–Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
How do you grow your Circle of Influence? It happens in three steps. They might sound familiar.
- Accept the things you can’t change. I had a personal interest in the outcome of the flight—I wanted to land safely just like everyone else on board—but that outcome was out of my control. There was no action I could take to help, no amount of worry, stress, or fear would make a difference to the plane. That was up to the pilot and God.
- Change the things you can. This starts at the center of your Circle of Influence: you. If I responded to the situation by focusing on my Circle of Concern (we could crash), it would only affect me and make me miserable. Instead, I chose (Circle of Influence) the one thing I could: to remain calm and enjoy the flight.
- Know the difference. Some things are worth worrying about, but not everything. Basically, if you can affect the outcome, accept the responsibility and do something about it. If it’s out of your hands, don’t try to control something you can’t. Knowing which Circle(s) circumscribe the situation is the first step in choosing your response.
Is it possible for your Circle of Influence to be larger than your Circle of Concern? Absolutely. We influence people we don’t even know through our example and actions. Celebrities set trends and define what’s cool. Politicians enact laws that affect our daily lives. Heros inspire us to be more than we are. When this influence is focused and used intentionally, they’re extending their Circle of Concern to do something amazing. When they focus their Circle of Concern inward (it’s all about their personal power and prestige and perks), that’s when things tend to go off the rails.
It’s completely natural for your Circle of Concern to be much larger than your Circle of Influence. If it’s not, you’re living in a bubble and you will never be inspired. Growth is process of expanding your Circle of Influence to take control of a larger portion of your world. Growth happens when we focus on what’s already in our Circle of Influence, develop those skills and relationships, and increase our capacity to do more. Self-control and self-discipline are exercised the same as any muscle is.
Your Circle of Influence is larger than you realize. We often don’t act simply because we don’t think that we can make a difference. We assume that something is out of our control without ever checking. It may as well not be.
Focus on your Circle of Influence. Grow yourself. No matter what else is happening, you can choose how you respond. You can choose your attitude. You can usually even choose what comes next.
And you can choose to enjoy the ride.
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