Do you know the difference between the weather and your mood? You can’t control whether it rains or not, but you can definitely decide how it affects you.
This is what the circle of control means. Essentially, it teaches you to focus on the things that you can actually do something about to increase your resilience, productivity, and success.
In this article, I discuss the circle of control in more detail and situations where you can use it to experience its full benefits. Teaching your kids and students this concept will give them the ability to cope with strong emotions and difficult events in their lives.
What is the Circle of Control?
The circle of control is a visual representation of the things people can and cannot control. For example, negative events like the pandemic, how others treat you, and the past are things that you have no power over. On the other hand, you have the ability to:
- Take care of yourself
- Behave well
- Work on your personal goals
- Set boundaries to protect your peace
- Decide what you prioritize
The list goes on.
Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” was the one who introduced this framework to boost personal and interpersonal effectiveness.
What’s great is that the circle of control can be used by people from all walks of life, including kids who may be anxious and upset. Whether they’re feeling stressed due to academic demands or other reasons, this will help[*].
Understanding the Circle of Concern, Influence, and Control
Stephen Covey presents three circles of control and each circle represents a group of things or situations that get our attention. More often than not, we worry about about them, but the difference is that only one circle deserves the majority of our time and energy — that’s the innermost circle. Learn more below:
Circle of Concern
This is the outermost circle and it shows things we often worry about but cannot control no matter what we do. It includes the weather, a family member’s health, war, politics, climate change, violence and school shootings, and celebrity habits.
Focusing on them can make a person feel powerless and frequently worried, because truth be told, there’s an infinite list of things that we care about but are out of our power.
Circle of Influence
After the circle of concern, we go a little deeper and enter the circle of influence. It’s an area where we have some impact, thus the term “influence.”
Take, for example, a classmate who’s always behaving rudely. You know that you cannot control when he stops behaving that way, but it may be possible for you (and everyone else in the room) to inspire him to be more kind by serving as an example!
As you can tell, the circle of influence includes your relationships and connections. When you’re in situations where other people are involved, understanding and developing this circle helps you to become more proactive.
Circle of Control
This is the innermost circle, which consists of all the things that we can directly impact. It’s where we have full control, regardless of the events that transpire under the circles of concern and influence.
I’d like to call this circle your “inner life” simply because it involves you and only you. Some circle of control examples include your attitude, what you read and watch, how you respond to others, and where you put your energy. Mastering this circle takes practice, especially that we’re faced with a lot of things that affect us emotionally.
Tip: If you’re a parent, teacher, or mental health professional helping kids overcome negative emotions, help them gain perspective by having them answer this My Circle of Control Worksheet.
Why Focusing on the Circle of Control is Important
Focusing on what you can control allows you to master yourself, which leads to increased happiness and success in life. As the Irish poet Oscar Wilde puts it, “A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure.”
It promotes a proactive mindset
Being proactive means that you make a conscious and repeated effort to improve yourself. Research suggests that it boosts your performance, well-being, and physical health[*]. The circle of control helps an individual realize that yes, they can create positive changes by actually taking responsibility for themselves (their inner lives).
Improves mental health
There are plenty of things you can do to be mentally stronger. What’s great about these mental health strategies is that they fall under the circle of control. Practicing gratitude, exercising, getting enough sleep at night, setting personal goals, and joining a supportive community are some of the things you can decide for yourself no matter what you’re going through[*].
Allows you to become more flexible in life
Feeling disappointed over events can mean that you have a strong attachment to certain results. You always want things to happen your way and unfortunately they don’t.
Understanding that you can only control yourself allows you to become more open to different outcomes. In other words, you continue doing your best while being more accepting of the things that cannot be changed.
How to Apply the Circle of Control in Your Life
Try to identify day-to-day situations where you can exercise self-control. Usually, these are challenging situations or triggers that cause anxiety, sadness, doubt, and other negative emotions.
A sample scenario would be a teacher who’s playing favorites, causing a child to feel inferior. Using the circle of control, that child can focus on working hard in school instead of his teacher’s favoritism. Furthermore, he can control his goals, mindset, and how he treats his peers.
This Circle of Control handout is a great source of encouragement for kids of all ages. You can guide them further by mentioning specific examples for each thing they can control. Let’s say, for example, “My Goals.” You can suggest goals like “Completing my homework” and “Learning how to make [food/object].”
Expanding Your Circles of Control
As your circles of control and influence expand, your circle of concern shrinks. This does not happen overnight and will require daily practice.
It’s important to catch yourself getting worried when the uncontrollable happens, then you redirect your focus back to the innermost circle. Over time, you’ll worry less about these circumstances and life becomes a lot better.
The Bottom Line
I hope this article motivates you and a child you’re trying to help focus on your circle of control. We all yearn for inner peace, increased productivity, and success — and it’s what we put our attention to that often gets in the way.
The circle of control isn’t just beneficial for overcoming constant worrying. It’s a powerful tool that can help you have a proactive mindset, improve your mental health, and develop flexibility, which gives you the ability to overcome life’s struggles.
- Pascoe M, Hetrick S, Parker A. The impact of stress on students in secondary school and higher education. 2019 April 11
- Wolsink I, Den Hartog D, Belschak F et al. Do you feel like being proactive today? Trait-proactivity moderates affective causes and consequences of proactive behavior. 2019 August 13
- Prakash J, Chatterjee K, Srivastava K et al. Role of various lifestyle and behavioral strategies in positive mental health across a preventive to therapeutic continuum. 2021 March 15