Finding Clarity in Simplicity. How to stop reacting and focus on what’s in your control.

By Brad Beckstrom

Have you noticed a big drop off in any part of your life?

I’ve been noticing a real drop off in the number of (non political) blog posts I’ve been seeing since November of 2016. At first I thought it was the election, the holidays etc. People have been distracted. I figured at some point we would stop discussing politics and get back to talking about anything but that. Well, the drop off has continued. You see, I don’t follow any political blogs or news publications in my feed reader. So, a lot of the blogs I do follow have dropped off, from maybe a post a week to less than one post per month. This is across a wide variety of blogs I follow, personal finance, photography, financial independence, minimalism, small business, creative writing etc. What’s going on? I feel like I already know the answer because my own writing has dropped off at about the same level, from once a week to once a month. It has a lot to do with many people, including myself, being totally distracted by all of the stuff outside of their circle of control.

The Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Control

A circle of concern is simply a big circle with all of the things you’re concerned about scribbled inside of it. Inside of that circle is a circle of control. The circle of control is things that you have direct control over, what you read, where you live, what you eat, essentially your actions and thoughts.

image credit Jamesclear.com

Focusing inside versus outside the circle of control

Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits series, said that people with a large circle of concern become reactive.

 A person with a large circle of concern often spends a great deal of time and energy reacting to issues they can’t control. For example, the news, sex lives of celebrities and politicians, terrorist threats, the economy, political scandals. The list could go on and on. The one thing that all of these broad concerns have in common is that regardless of how much time we spend worrying about them or reacting to them, we cannot impact them directly.

When Stephen Covey created his version of the circles, the Internet was in its infancy and social media did not exist. While social media has been effective at building awareness of good and bad things around the world, it’s also greatly increased the number of things people think about, worry about, and naturally want to react to. For instance, if you looked at many social media feeds from a few years ago they look completely different than they do today. Funny videos, vacation pics, snarky comments have been replaced with a very large spoonful of politics and doom. Regardless of what side of the issues you are on most people would agree that this is a direct result of the actions of the 45th president and the U.S. Congress.

Reeling it back in

How do we keep from getting so distracted? How do we keep from clicking on and worrying about bad news, often things we have little or no control over?  I think it comes down to asking yourself a simple question: Is this something that I can control?  If it’s not then it’s in your circle of concern.

The good news is inside the circle of concern, there is a smaller circle called the circle of control. Inside the circle of control are things you have direct control over, what you’ve read, what you buy, where you work, people you interact with. The goal is to reduce the size of the circle of concern and focus on the circle of control. Many mistakenly think that this is a self-centered approach. Selfish in the sense that if you suddenly stop giving a shit about politics, wars, world hunger, then you’re only thinking only of yourself.  That’s not the goal here.

The goal is to focus only on things you can directly impact. In order to start moving in that direction we need to reduce our circle of concern.  Here are five steps to move in that direction.

  1. Write down everything you worry about, are angry or concerned about. Take a look at your social media feed for clues.
  2. After you created your giant circle of concerns, start putting lines through things you can’t control. This could be anything from the neighbor’s dog to North Korea.
  3. Identify things in this big circle that you could have an impact on. For instance, if you’re worried about healthcare you could decide to write your representative once a month.
  4. Put the important things in your circle of control, like what you read, how you treat people close to you, places you’d like to visit, a skill you’d like to learn.
  5. Put yourself on a high quality, low information diet.  We have the tendency to use social media and technology as a funnel to capture all kinds of things. Instead, we should be using it as a filter. You don’t need to unfriend people to hide (or mute) their posts on Twitter or Facebook. You can also use RSS feed apps like Feedly to only follow writers or subjects you enjoy versus visiting news websites and clicking on anything that catches your eye.
  6. Reduce the number of “things” in your circle of concern. If you can lighten the load and reduce the number of possessions you own, that’s less things to worry about. Travel light.
  7. When you’re done, your circle should look more like the one above on the right than the one on the left.  

If you take these steps, you’ll find that you’ve probably been wasting a good amount of time thinking, worrying, arguing about things that you have no control over.  Now you can take that time and spend it on something you have 100% control over, like going for a long walk daily, or finding something to read that will inspire you creatively, or improve your health.  All of a sudden your concerns start to look more like this.

  • Your personal economy versus “the economy”
  • Your personal health versus “healthcare”
  • Your personal political actions versus “politics”
  • Your personal relationships instead of “scandals and gossip” in the news
  • Expanding your mind versus the list of things you own

In the end, the ideal circle of control would simply focus on your thoughts and actions, Finally letting go of all those things in the world that you have no control over and realize that it’s not all on your shoulders.

The Frug

This post was originally published by Brad Beckstrom on the TheFrug.com
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