Frankl relays to us that we have the ability to choose our thoughts, our emotions and our actions. Did you catch that? A man, imprisoned in a concentration camp was able to find an element of control. We can all learn something from this principle.
Allow me to tell you something shocking; as an adolescent, I had an attitude. Unbelievable, I know. I would get all up in arms over referees, decisions made by a teacher, unfavorable rules by parents and all sorts of things that were outside of my influence.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this before. Just the other day, I caught myself expressing frustration and irritation over something I have no control or influence over, whatsoever. The weather seems to be one such example.
One secret I have learned to deal with this frustration is to focus my time, energy and efforts (some of my most precious resources) toward the things that I can control. One of the best ways to understand this is through what author Stephen R. Covey calls “Circle of Influence.”
The idea is to shrink the circle of concern. Those are the things that are stressful, frustrating and worrisome. Simultaneously, expand the circle of influence. These are the things on which I can have a direct impact or control.
How It Works
To put it simply, moving things from your circle of concern into your circle of influence is about choice. We choose to identify what we can control or influence in a given situation. Then, we act on those things and accept or cope with what’s leftover.
For example, my wife and I have a friend who recently found out she has cancer. We can’t control the disease or the outcome. However, we can control offering support, going to visit and helping in any way we can. Or another example: an unidentified large expense shows up on your financial statement. It’s obviously a concern, so you take steps of action to contact your bank and gain clarity as to what happened. That’s moving the concern into influence.
For me and many people I’ve worked with, this is a game-changer. And it can be for you too.
I’ve found that when you focus your energy on the things you can control, there are 3 main benefits that you stand to gain:
When you’re focused on the things you can’t control, it’s like a drag race driver pulling the emergency brake just before the light turns green. We end up spinning our wheels and blowing smoke. Doing so is a complete waste of energy.
In contrast, devoting your attention and efforts towards the things in your life that you can have an impact on really increases your return on investment (ROI). I see this as getting really good fuel efficiency; the gas you’re using goes much further when applied to the things you can influence. As I shift the ratio of items in my circle of control, I get more ROI.
For many of us, it isn’t the things we control that cause us the most stress. We get worked up the most when we believe we don’t have any control at all. We think the stresses in our lives just happen and there isn’t anything we can do about it. Viktor Frankl would disagree with such a statement. In fact, we can choose our response.
Searching for the slightest control, even in the darkest circumstances, gives us a sense of autonomy, hope and a direction in which to take purposeful action. When I start to take purposeful action toward the things I can control, even if it is just my emotions, that act alone puts me in the driver’s seat. When I’m in the driver’s seat, I don’t feel helpless anymore. Instead, I’m doing what I can and focusing on expanding my circle of control.
If you’ve made it this far, it is likely no surprise to you that when energy is up and stress is down, productivity sky rockets. Magically, when I’m not wasting my mental and physical resources on my circle of concern, I can ramp up production.
Regardless of your set of tasks, you’ll accomplish more during your workday if you are maximizing your ROI and have more fuel in the tank for facing the unexpected challenges and embracing the opportunities that will undoubtedly come your way.
Whether you’re a front office executive, construction worker, homemaker, student or elite athlete, this strategy can change your life. As a teenager, I began to realize that I was spinning my wheels and the only impact I was making was on myself. I was stressing myself out with frustration and worry but having no effect on the situation.
I continue to build awareness of my two circles, concern and influence. There is much to gain by being deliberate about how we use our precious resources of time, energy and effort. Spend them wisely.
Question: What keeps you from focusing on the things you can control and influence? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.