Circles of Focus

The circles of focus tool, adapted from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, can increase an individual and team’s effectiveness. Here’s how.

First, let’s define each circle:

  • The circle of control incorporates what you say, do, think, and feel.
  • The circle of influence includes how you use your strengths, knowledge, network, and relationships to affect an outcome or an issue.
  • The circle of concern is everything else. These are the things you care about but cannot control or influence.

Notice the size of the circles.

This visual reflects how little we can control or influence versus the multitude of concerns that surrounds us daily. Our American culture encourages a focus on the circle of concern. Our 24-hour news sensationalizes each story and is generally focused on the negative and thrives on pushing us into the circle of concern.

If we stay focused within the circle of concern, it creates frustration and overshadows our perspectives of the things that are actually going well for us.

We recognized is not always easy to shift your focus to what you can control and influence. Yet, if you don’t you will feel stuck, unsatisfied with work and life, unmotivated and unhappy.

Here are a few examples of things you can control:

  • How I talk to myself.
  • How I react to others.
  • Knowing the when, where, and how to say yes – the same goes for no.
  • Whether I forgive myself.
  • Whether I seek help.
  • My priorities.

When you’re new to using  this tool, this framework for living, there is a tendency to underestimate your capacity to influence. For example, global warming; you may think “I’m just one person, I can’t change it!” This is reactive language that absolves you of responsibility and direction. The truth is that each of us can take action that does affect global warming, even if it doesn’t eliminate it. “How can I make a difference?” This example of proactive language helps us notice where you may be unconsciously giving up your power by automatically placing an issue into the circle of concern.

Here are a few questions you can ask of yourself or your team to keep the focus within the circles of control and influence:

  • Do I have direct control, indirect control (influence), or is it out of my control?
  • If I have direct control, what choices could I choose?
  • If I have influence, how much do I have? What’s the evidence?
  • How much time and energy makes sense to devote to trying to influence?
  • Can I still keep the focus on my/our needs, so I/we don’t get burnt out or obsessed with influencing?
  • If I have no control, what can I use from my circle of control to help me accept what is?

Asking these questions helps you remain proactive. Being proactive is about taking responsibility for your life and career. Proactive people are response-able – they choose their behavior and actions. Proactive people focus their time, energy and effort on the circles of control and influence.

Using the circle of focus tool when dealing with a challenge improves our internal and external communication, working with others, perspective taking, and emotional intelligence. Because where our focus goes, our energy flows.

Written by: Christine Noffz