How to quit spending time and energy in things you have no ability to change.
There are situations in life that can feel overwhelming.
They are frustrating, preoccupying. Situations that make us angry, upset, sad and even depressed.
- They are situations like those tent vacations last October, which were supposed to be sunny and mild around the Mediterranean sea. However, we got rain and stormy weather most of the time.
- Another example is the situation I messed up even while only having the best of intentions.
- Or that Saturday morning, when I needed some groceries for the weekend, and there was a long queue in front of the cash register.
- This traffic jam, due to an accident, right when I am in a hurry.
- My husband, doing things in a very different way I would do them.
- That important answer I am expecting via email for a few weeks already.
I am well aware that similar situations happen to everyone.
As I said, one could feel like I’ve described above. Frustrated. Angry. Upset. Sad – or even depressed.
- One could blame the weather for a miserable vacation.
- I could blame myself for having messed up that situation– and be angry at the people who reacted a little exaggerated to it.
- I could be upset at this grocery shop to not open more checkout tills in order that I don’t have to wait so long to get to the cash register.
- I could be angry to wait in this traffic jam, because of such a “stupid” accident.
- I could get frustrated at my husband for doing things very differently.
- I could spend my days (and minutes) being preoccupied, hoping that this important email is going to arrive today.
If I would tell you about those situations, you would probably understand my complaints.
However, S.R.Covey, in his Book “The 7 Habits of highly effective Families” talks about the circle of influence and the circle of concern.
“The circle of concern is a large circle that embraces everything in your life that you may be concerned about.
The Circle of influence is smaller circle within the circle of concern that embraces the things you can actually do something about.”(S.40)
So the outer circle includes everything that affects us indirectly, without us having any control over it.
- The weather.
Unless you have very special super powers, it won’t matter how much you wish or complain, the weather is just going to do what the weather is going to do!
- The past.
You may have just spilled the milk. You may have had some relationship-issues that went wrong, you may have made some decisions that then took a wrong turn or you may have experienced a situation where you didn’t live up to who you want to be. Fact is, everything that has already occurred, even if it was five minutes ago; it can’t be changed. You can’t go back in time.
- Other people
We cannot control other people’s behavior, attitude, opinion, words or action. We cannot even control what they think of us or the expectations they have on us, which we can’t fulfill. We cannot control gossip from others, even if this gossip is about us.
- There are many more subjects in our circle of concern, let me name a few:
Sex life of celebrities and politicians, what Miss Sonandso writes on her personal blog, the news, the political views of others, natural disasters, wars, weapons and terrorist threats, people driving bad on the street.
Think about how much time and energy people tend to put into zero control circle things.
Life in that circle of concern is pretty exhausting.
Frustration, anger, sadness or even depression due to the experienced powerlessness are predictable emotions when you spend your time, focus and energy into something you have zero abilty to change or even affect.
Powerlessness, because you will never be able to directly influence them. You just don’t have control over them.
Of course, as a Christian, I absolutely believe that we can pray about these matters and that our prayers will definitely affect situations that look unchangeable. However, even when we pray, there is often that time of waiting until our prayers are answered. What do we do in the meantime? Do we continue to be anxious and concerned about them or are we able to leave the handling of the situation to God, while we’re having complete peace about it?
My husband Benny is a great example to me concerning this. He will move his car repair shop out of the current location by the end of the year. Even though he doesn’t yet know where he’s moving to, he is completely at peace about it. He says long prayer sessions, where he experiences some kind of perceptible breakthrough often bring a deep peace into his heart about matters like that.
When I read about the circle of concern vs. the circle of influence some years ago, I found myself pretty much trapped in those emotions. I recognized myself having lots of emotions about things I have no direct control of. I found myself talking to people around me about the bad weather, the insane traffic that morning. I found myself worrying about what that other person might think of me or the opinion they had about me.
The good news is that there is a place you have 100% influence of and that is you. Your body, thoughts and actions can only be controlled by yourself. The best place to start: Within yourself. Being in your circle of influence is doing things you can do instead of complaining about things those you can’t influence.
Places to start:
“Your attitude and enthusiasm, your own self talk, what you buy, where you work, what you read, what you believe, your words, behaviors, actions and efforts, the friends you choose, the ideas you have, the leadership position you hold, the way you transmit to others what your beliefs and opinions are, the business you start, the places you travel to, the skills you learn – and the consequences of your own actions.”
Entering this process, your circle of influence grows bigger as time and energy spent in the circle of concern diminishes.
Now… change is like becoming a professional piano player: It takes time, effort and practice. This is what I spent my last few years for, and I can say there has occurred a great change inside of me, a release of those emotions connected with things I have no direct power to change.
And as I said above, my circle of influence grew.
Because I don’t spend my time and energy into something I have direct ability to change anymore. I have found many proactive ways to handle things I can’t change… and this allows my personal growth to increase. I focus on my actions and choices. And I grow in my trust in God, that he has my life in his hands. That I can give him those things I can’t change myself and trust him that he does care about them.