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Circle of Influence and Concern

Stephen R. Covey - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

'Lord, give me the courage to change the things which can and ought to be changed, the serenity to accept the things which cannot be changed and the wisdom to know the difference.'

Proactive people take the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.
Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.

Reactive people build their emotional lives around the behaviour of others, empowering the weaknesses of other people to control them. 

Taking the initiative means recognising our responsibility to make things happen
It is essential that we create an atmosphere where people can seize opportunities and solve problems in an increasingly self-reliant way.

One way to become more self-aware about our own degree of proactivity is to look at where we focus our time and energy. We each have a wide range of concerns - our health, our children, our problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war. We could separate those from things in which we have no particular mental or emotional involvement in by creating a 'Circle of Concern'.

As we look at the things within our Circle of Concern it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about.
We could identify those concerns that we can do something about by enclosing them within a smaller Circle of Influence.
By determining which of these two circles is the focus of most of our time and energy, we can discover much about the degree of our proactivity.

Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. Their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their circle of influence to increase.

Reactive people on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern. They focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization. The negative energy generated by that focus, combined with neglect in areas they think they could so something about, causes their Circle of Influence to shrink.

As long as we are working within our Circle of Concern, we empower the things within it to control us. We aren?t taking the proactive initiative necessary to effect positive change. It is only when we focus on out Circle of Influence that we can create the positive energy that is needed to change ourselves and eventually will influence others as well. By working on ourselves instead of worrying about conditions, we are able to influence the conditions.  

The problems we face fall in one of three areas:

Direct Control - problems involving our own behaviour
Indirect Control - problems involving other people's behaviour
No control - problems we can do nothing about, such as past or situational realities

The proactive approach puts the first step in the solution of all three kinds of problems within our present circle of influence.

Direct Control problems are solved by working on our own habits.
Indirect control problems are solved by changing our methods of influence.
No Control problems involve taking the responsibility to genuinely and peacefully accept these problems, even though we don?t like them. In this way, we do not empower these problems to control us.

Application Suggestions:

  1. For a full day, listen to your language and to the language of the people around you. How often do you use and hear reactive phrases such as 'If only' 'I can't' or 'I have to'.
  1. Identify an experience you might encounter in the near future where, based on past experience, you would probably behave reactively. Review the situation in the context of your Circle of Influence. How could you respond proactively? Take several moments and create the experience vividly in your mind, picturing yourself responding in a proactive manner. Make a commitment to yourself to exercise your freedom to choose.
  2. Select a problem from your work or personal life that is frustrating to you. Determine whether it is a direct, indirect or no control problem. Identify the first step you can take in your Circle of Influence to solve it and then take that step.
  3. Try the thirty day test of proactivity. For 30 days work only in your Circle of Influence. Make small commitments and keep them. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Be aware of the change in your Circle of Influence.
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