From the Docs


It is true that part of our daily life experience involves negotiating a number of challenging, unpleasant or adverse circumstances. How many times have you focused on the reality of a situation and thought, “There is really nothing I can do about this”? Is that really true, or is it possible that your thinking is, in fact, limiting how you respond? In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey addresses this concept, explaining that the way we make sense of our capabilities falls into two categories: a circle of concern and a circle of influence. Dr. Covey explains that the circle we are primarily focused on can significantly impact our reality and, consequently, our behavior.

The circle of concern is composed of things we care greatly about, such as other people’s opinions of us, the current political and economic climate or getting that desired promotion. These things all have the power to significantly affect our lives, even though many believe we don’t actually have any real power to directly change them. Dr. Covey explains that most of us get caught up devoting our attention, time and emotional energy to these dynamics in the circle of concern in a way that controls us. Think about it: Is your overall life satisfaction impacted by how much time you spend focusing on what others think of you? Or a negative change in your work environment? It’s not difficult to get so fixated on these things that we are consumed by those thoughts.

The second circle, the circle of influence, encompasses aspects of our lives that we do have the power to impact in a direct manner. These circles of influence can include relationships with significant others and family members, our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves, our ability to organize and plan effectively and the various areas of personal growth.

For most of us, our circle of influence is smaller than our circle of concern, and because of this, we may be falsely led to believe that the circle of influence is less important, which results in the consuming focus on our circle of concern. The key to Dr. Covey’s theory is really the way in which these circles interact with each other. As you reflect on these things, you may realize that perhaps you take for granted some of the things in this circle of influence and this is something you would like to change.

Many of us (consciously or otherwise) tend to overlook our circle of influence, either minimizing the importance of what it includes or getting overly focused on our circle of concern. Consequently, our circle of influence may shrink, affording us less ability to impact the things we have the direct power to change. When this occurs, we may become overwhelmed, unhappy or unmotivated. We may feel less capable and
approach life from a more reactive stance (e.g., waiting for the next crisis to flame up so we can stomp it out). Fortunately, the reverse is also true. If we spend more time investing in the elements of our circle of influence, we will begin to observe opportunities to grow and expand them proactively, thereby allowing the entire circle of influence to expand. When this occurs, we may experience improvements in our relationships with our significant others and family members. We may also observe enhancements in our personal and professional functioning that lead to an improved reputation or additional responsibility.
Such changes are important, not only because they lead to a more positive perspective on life, but because, over time, they will ultimately expand and give us the ability to impact our circle of concern in a positive manner.

Take a minute to reflect on some of the elements of your own life that may fit in these circles. Have you convinced yourself that you don’t have the power to impact something that perhaps you do? How long have you been reactively stomping out fires? Maybe it is time to take a proactive approach. Dr. Covey explains that most of us greatly underestimate the things we have some ability to change. Often, through making small changes, we can build momentum that allows us opportunities to restructure larger and more complex areas of our lives. By taking inventory of the circumstances in our lives we can affect today and taking small, gradual steps toward improvement, we become empowered.

Many of us know the requirements of our lives can sometimes feel consuming, demanding and even overwhelming. If you would like to obtain assistance with the topics covered here, please
call us at the Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 for a confidential consultation or appointment. You can also obtain additional information by visiting our intranet site at
Take care and be well.