For many, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the most significant period of uncertainty in our history. From both a personal and global perspective, there is an unprecedented level of ambiguity. We face a lack of clarity about what is happening and what will happen over the coming days, weeks, and months. At the same time, there is no lack of information. Anyone with a smartphone can access seemingly endless amounts of news, information, data, and opinion, much of it is conflicting, and some of it flat out false.
In the midst of this uncertainty and while facing overwhelming amounts of information, for most, there is one thing lacking: a sense of control. Many people are living in areas that are locked down, facing limitations to the rights we take for granted. We can no longer go where we want when we want, and we may have trouble finding food, paper goods, and other necessities.
While we can protect ourselves, wash our hands, keep our distance from others, this pandemic has taken much of our control away. This is filling many with a sense of powerlessness and even desperation. What can we do?
This might be a good time to look at the concept of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence developed by Steven R. Covey and originally featured in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The concept is relatively simple. A Circle of Concern includes everything we tend to worry about. On a personal level, this includes things like our health, job, kids, income, and housing. On a broader scale, it may include concerns about the environment, the government, or even a global pandemic.
A Circle of Influence is a smaller circle within the Circle of Concern. It includes those things we actually have some amount of control over. Covey then compares the two competing attitudes he describes as “proactive” and “reactive.” He defines being proactive as taking responsibility for the things that are under our control. This includes seeing our outcomes as features of our decisions, not just the conditions we face. People who are proactive focus on the issues within their Circle of Influence and deal with the things that they can control.
On the other hand, Covey describes reactivity as the attitude of neglecting those things that can be controlled and focusing instead on matters outside our Circle of Influence. The difference between the two postures is dramatic, especially in uncertain times. Proactive people attend to things within their Circle of Influence. They also have more positive energy, accomplish more, magnify their impact, and even see their Circle of Influence grow. Those with a reactive attitude instead find themselves stuck in a place of powerlessness and hopelessness.
If there is something we can take away from the current crisis we face, then perhaps it is a chance to reflect again on what things in our world are within our power to change. At this moment, when most of the world shares a common problem that falls mostly outside of our sphere of influence, maybe it is time to begin focusing on some other issues that we can impact.
There are many other issues facing our world, such as climate catastrophe, the adjustment to globalization, and the growing gap between the wealthiest and the poor among us. Many of these issues can feel like they are outside of our Circle of Influence. But they aren’t really. If we all take this time to rebalance our understanding of what we worry about and what impact we can have, perhaps we will begin to find ways to expand our Circle of Influence. Then we can start to regain some control over and take a proactive approach to other forces in the world that make us feel powerless.
Stop being too much concerned about things you can not control and focus on things you can actively do to create a positive impact in your circle of influence. You can not control a pandemic, but you can protect yourself and help prevent spreading the virus to others (+ spread a bit of happiness and optimism instead). Maybe this will help you to take your mind off things and restore some sanity. What do you think?