Are you one of those people who are constantly bickering over things like news, weather and traffic? Or those who don't really care about those things because you have so much to do that you don't have time to worry about climate change and world hunger?
Stephen Covey describes these two types of people by a very powerful metaphor of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence in his best-selling book '7 Habits of highly effective people'.
Circle of Concern includes all the things that we are concerned about; things that worry, bother and frustrate us. Like the economy, stock market, the weather, increasing taxes, increasing prices, increasing traffic, our government and the dirty politics, cricket, opinions, actions, words and mistakes of others, and fretting over questions like Why is my boss always picking on me? Why did my favorite team lose the match? Why is there so much poverty, hunger, crime, war and terrorism? Why is my nose so big? Why was I born with straight hair? Why am I not an inch taller? Etc. All of these things are out of our control; we can't really do anything about them.
Circle of Influence lies within circle of concern but includes things that we can actually do something about, like what kind of job we do, how hard we work, how we care about people we love and the kind of people we surround ourselves with, what we do for our mental and physical health, how much we save and invest, what we study and learn and what we do with it, how we respond to situations and circumstances, etc. These things are under our direct control. If something's wrong in these areas of our life or something's bothering us, we can change it.
So, reactive people have reactive focus and negative energy i.e. they focus on their circle of concern which only adds to stress and frustration. This enlarges their circle of concern and shrinks their circle of influence because a lot of their time and energy is wasted reacting to things they can't control, so they are left with little time to work on their circle of influence. They blame others, criticize everything and everyone, use reactive language and engage in self-pity and have feelings of victimization.
Proactive people, on the other hand, have proactive focus and positive energy i.e. they focus their time and energy on changing what is in their control. This enlarges their circle of influence and shrinks their circle of concern, which helps them grow and live happy, fulfilling lives because they take control of their lives, they change what can be changed, they don't blame others and accept personal responsibility.
If you're tired of feeling bloated and unhealthy all the time, start exercising and eating healthy to feel better, instead of worrying that you’re gaining weight.
If your relationships are suffering because you're workaholic, start spending more time with your family, instead of seeing your relationships deteriorate.
If you think you lack some skills essential for your job, enroll in an online course, instead of thinking that you’re good for nothing, incompetent or a loser.
If you're concerned about world hunger, you don't have to just sit and complain that the government isn't doing much to solve these problems, because you cannot really end world hunger alone, but you most definitely can do your part and contribute a portion of your earnings to feeding the poor in your own neighbourhood.
If you’re concerned about climate change, you can start conserving water, switching off lights and other electrical appliances when not in use, using environment-friendly appliances and products, managing your waste and reusing, reducing and recycling whatever can be recycled, donating to organisations dedicated to environmentalism, etc.
Like the Serenity Prayer says,
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
That is basically the essence of circle of concern and influence as well as the key to most of our problems.