The Circle Of Concern Explained
The Circle of Concern is filled with the have’s
“I’ll be happy when I have my house paid off.”
“If only I had a boss who wasn’t such a dictator.”
“If only I had a more patient husband.”
“If I had more obedient kids.”
“If I had my degree.”
“If I could just have more time to myself.”
The Circle of Influence is filled with the be’s — I can be more patient, be wise, be loving. It’s the character focus.
Anytime we think the problem is “out there,” that thought is the problem. We empower what’s out there to control us. The change paradigm is “outside-in” — what’s out there has to change before we can change.
The proactive approach is to change from the Inside-Out: to be different, and by being different, to effect positive change in what’s out there — I can be more resourceful, I can be more diligent, I can be more creative, I can be more cooperative.
I know this idea is a dramatic Paradigm Shift for many people. It is so much easier to blame other people, conditioning, or conditions for our own stagnant situation. But we are responsible — “response-able” — to control our lives and to powerfully influence our circumstances by working on what we are.
If you have a problem in my marriage, what do You really gain by continually confessing your wife’s sins? By saying I’m not responsible, You make myself a powerless victim; I immobilize myself in a negative situation. I also diminish my ability to influence her — my nagging, accusing, critical attitude only makes her feel validated in her own weakness. My criticism is worse than the conduct I want to correct. My ability to positively impact the situation withers and dies.
If You really want to improve your situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control — myself. I can stop trying to shape up my wife and work on my own weaknesses. I can focus on being a great marriage partner, a source of unconditional love and support. Hopefully, my wife will feel the power of proactive examples and respond in kind. But whether she does or doesn’t, the most positive way I can influence my situation is to work on myself, on my being.
There are so many ways to work in the Circle of Influence — to be a better listener, to be a more loving marriage partner, to be a better student, to be a more cooperative and dedicated employee. Sometimes the most proactive thing we can do is to be happy, just to genuinely smile. Happiness, like unhappiness, is a proactive choice. There are things, like the weather, that our Circle of Influence will never include. But as proactive people, we can carry our own physical or social weather with us. We can be happy and accept those things that at present we can’t control, while we focus our efforts on the things that we can.
The Other End of the Stick
Before we totally shift our life focus to our Circle of Influence, we need to consider two things in our Circle of Concern that merit deeper thought — consequences and mistakes.
While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions. Consequences are governed by natural law. They are out in the Circle of Concern. We can decide to step in front of a fast-moving train, but we cannot decide what will happen when the train hits us.
We can decide to be dishonest in our business dealings. While the social consequences of that decision may vary depending on whether or not we are found out, the natural consequences to our basic character are a fixed result.
Our behavior is governed by principles. Living in harmony with them brings positive consequences; violating them brings negative consequences. We are free to choose our response in any situation, but in doing so, we choose the attendant consequence. “When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other.”
Undoubtedly, there have been times in each of our lives when we have picked up what we later felt was the wrong stick. Our choices have brought consequences we would rather have lived without. If we had the choice to make over again, we would make it differently. We call these choices mistakes, and they are the second thing that merits our deeper thought.
For those filled with regret, perhaps the most needful exercise of proactivity is to realize that past mistakes are also out there in the Circle of Concern. We can’t recall them, we can’t undo them, we can’t control the consequences that came as a result.
The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct it, and learn from it. This literally turns a failure into a success. “Success,” said IBM founder T. J. Watson, “is on the far side of failure.”
But not to acknowledge a mistake, not to correct it and learn from it, is a mistake of a different order. It usually puts a person on a self-deceiving, self-justifying path, often involving rationalization (rational lies) to self and to others. This second mistake, this cover-up, empowers the first, giving it disproportionate importance, and causes far deeper injury to self.
It is not what others do or even our own mistakes that hurt us the most; it is our response to those things. Chasing after the poisonous snake that bites us will only drive the poison through our entire system. It is far better to take measures immediately to get the poison out.
Our response to any mistake affects the quality of the next moment. It is important to immediately admit and correct our mistakes so that they have no power over that next moment and we are empowered again.
Circle Of Influence
At the very heart of our Circle of Influence is our ability to make and keep commitments and promises. The commitments we make to ourselves and to others, and our integrity to those commitments is the essence and clearest manifestation of our proactivity.