Do you ever feel like the world has spun dangerously out of control? If you listen to or read the news on any given day, you know exactly what I mean. Bad stuff happens all too often – people are hurt or killed by other people, natural disasters occur with seemingly increasing frequency, tragic accidents happen, illnesses take lives, wars rage on. In our own families, communities, and workplaces there is frustration, disappointment, uncertainty and pain.
A common response is to become completely overwhelmed by everything, swept away by waves of anxiety – like Chicken Little, declaring “the sky is falling!”. Personally, I am a first-born and in a healing profession which means I tend to be overly responsible and compassionate, wanting to help however I can. I feel deeply with those who are suffering. If I am not aware of how I handle my concerns, I will be consumed by anxiety and be constantly trying to think of ways to fix them.
Stephen Covey in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, defined two kinds of people in the world: proactive and reactive. To help define these terms, he created the concepts of the circle of influence and the circle of concern. The circle of concern encompasses all of one’s worries and daily anxieties about self, family, health, and work, and even extends to larger-scale worries like war, weather, and world problems.
The circle of influence is the area within the circle of concern that contains the worries one can actually have some effect on. Covey defines proactive people as actively focusing on their circle of influence. Instead of dwelling on all problems they cannot change, they shift all of their concentration and energy to areas in which they can make an impact. On the other hand, reactive people overlook their circles of influence and dwell on all the things in their circle of concern, tending to focus on bigger issues that they cannot change.
Covey encouraged people to become aware of the places they expend their energy, asking “are you focusing on all the things in your circle of concern or on what is in your circle of influence?”
Inside the above two circles, there’s another, smaller circle – the circle of control. This circle contains things that are directly within your control: your thoughts, your reactions, and your actions (you’re not always entirely in control of those, but most of the time you are). This circle does not contain things you can’t control – other’s actions, other’s thoughts, and the environment around you. You can influence many of those, but you never control them. As you further focus on what is in your circle of control, you are able to impact the things in your circle of influence as well and maybe even expand that circle wider.
Let me give you a real life example of how this understanding can be helpful. A co-worker of mine came to work a couple of weeks ago saying how she hadn’t slept well and was feeling very anxious about her upcoming knee replacement surgery. She was stressing about things like what if the surgery didn’t go as planned; what if she didn’t have a good physical therapist; what if she got a post-operative infection; what if she wasn’t ready to come back when her time off was finished, etc. I shared the circles concept with her and told her those things weren’t really in her control. What was in her control was how much effort she put into doing her PT exercises and how closely she followed her doctor’s advice. The rest of it she needed to let go of and offer it up to God in prayer. I texted her the day of surgery to see how she was feeling and this was her response “I’m a little nervous but the ‘circles of control’ you showed me really do help.”
Some other ideas:
Instead of worrying about how much or how little your college student is studying, pray that they would have good study habits and trust that you trained them well while they were under your roof
Instead of worrying about your friends’ or relatives’ health habits and/or exercise levels, strive yourself to do well in those departments and be a non-vocal role model to them
Instead of fretting about all the babies killed by abortion each year, volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center
Instead of worrying about climate change, look for ways in your home or workplace to be “greener” like recycling; using less electricity or water; composting instead of throwing certain things in the trash
Instead of worrying about nation-wide homelessness and poverty, volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter; go through all your clothes and household goods and donate them to a local thrift store or clothing closet; give or sponsor nutrition, gardening and/or cooking workshops to those in need in your community
I am thankful that God’s circle of control encompasses everything in the universe and spiritual realm and that I am able to cast all my cares on Him because He cares for me (see 1 Peter 5:7). I am thankful that as much as He cares about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, He cares so much more for me and I don’t need to worry (see Matthew 6:25-34). I can work on the things in my circle of control and seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else will come together.
6 Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. 7 And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours]. Philippians 4:6-7, Amplified
Please share with me your insights and experiences with this.