Sometimes the world can feel incredibly overwhelming. Media — both social and mass — seem to thrive on manufactured Drama and Outrage.
“Isn’t it awful?”
“Aren’t they terrible?”
“Everything is burning down and we need to fight to survive!”
Except that Life is so much richer and deeply complex than drama and outrage and fear. It’s also full of beauty and wonder and laughter and joy. It includes the satisfaction of a job well done and the delicate miracle of a butterfly’s wings.
And yes, it does also include tragedy and grief. So with all these things bombarding us, how can we decide where to focus our attention to maximize our positive contribution to the world?
I’m personally very fond of Stephen Covey’s concentric circles of Concern and Influence. Imagine putting absolutely everything you care about into a circle: that’s your Circle of Concern. Inside all that is a second circle where you put the things that you can affect; this is your Circle of Influence. I personally like adding a third, even smaller circle that’s your Circle of Control.
Here’s the thing: you only have so much attention and energy to go around, and the more you focus on things you can’t do anything about, the less you can influence, and even less you can control.
Say you have 100 units of attention. If 90% of your attention is focused on that part of your Circle of Concern that is outside the other circles, that only leaves you 10 units to allocate to things you can either influence or control.
Conversely, if you pour even 70% of your attention into things that you, personally, can control, you can still care about other things, but you become a lot more effective because you’re focusing your energy on what you can do.
So how can you focus on your Circle of Control?
Here are some things you can not control:
- Big national or global problems
- The economy
- Other people’s thoughts, feelings, experience or actions
Here are some things you can control:
- Your thoughts
- Your actions
One of the ways you can expand your Circle of Control into the larger Circle of Influence is to build on the fact that human beings by nature are social creatures: we take cues from those around us to figure out what is expected of us in a given situation. Your choices of how you want to show up in the world can directly impact those you come into contact with.
Are you being who you want to be?
Is the energy you are contributing congruent with the world you want to live in?
And yes, I know it’s not easy. We have lifetimes of history and habits and triggers and traumas, assumptions and associations and sooo many stories about what things mean and who other people are and the list goes on and on. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn and grow and reclaim the power of our hearts.
Just take the first step. What is one thing that you can do, right now, to nurture yourself on your journey?
Take a step, then another. Focus on tending your garden (actual or metaphorical!} and you may be surprised at how the seeds you sow can flourish farther than you might imagine.