How to stop stressing out


Last week I was reminded of the late great Stephen Covey’s teachings of the ‘circle of concern’ and ‘circle of influence’. I’m not sure if it’s originally his or someone else’s, or a variation on the theme, but essentially it goes like this. The reason I bring this up today is that I was stressing out about something and had to constantly remind myself of these following principles.

It goes something like this.

Imagine two concentric circles like the ones below.


Circle of Influence Circle of Concern

Circle of Influence Circle of Concern


The inner circle is what we call the “circle of influence”. Inside this is everything we can have an influence over. For example: whether we get up to go to the gym in the morning, the time and effort we put in to writing a report, the best use of our time right now.

The outer circle is what’s called the “circle of concern”. In this part of the circle is everything that tends to worry us and take our time and attention. Things like: does this person like me, will my boss like my report, wondering why someone hasn’t emailed or texted you back.

A lot of people (me included – hence writing this post and constantly reminding myself) spend their time and effort focussing on activities and situations that they can’t control. They can’t control what their boss will like about their work, or whether someone likes them or not. They can do things to make the outcome as favourable as possible (like dress well, be polite, or adventurous or whatever they perceive attracts the other person – so long as it’s genuinely part of their personality, otherwise it won’t work for them). Or in the case of their boss liking their work, they can see what he’s liked in the past about their (or others work), they can work hard, present it will, research it as best they can. This they can control.

I spent a bit of time last week waiting on emails and texts from people about things (important things) and then found myself getting worked up if I hadn’t heard back. Thinking and running scenarios in my head. The truth was though, that I had no idea why they hadn’t responded. And I couldn’t control what they would do.

The best approach is just to first recognise that this is what you are doing and identify what is really a ‘circle of concern’ activity and which is a ‘circle of influence’ activity and then focus your attention and energies on the ‘circle of influence’. When you do, you will also probably find that your ‘circle of influence’ increases and you can maybe influence what you couldn’t before. Maybe you couldn’t influence how your boss thought in the past, but the more you focussed on the things you could do and the better you became at your role, the more he came to trust you and listen to your opinions and advice.

What’s in each of your circles right now?

What do you think?