Circle of Influence, Circle of Concern

There’s a diagram in Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that I always try to keep in mind. It looks like this:


The circles represent the two areas where you can focus your time and energy. The vast majority of people focus too much time and energy outside of their Circle of Influence, in their Circle of Concern. Such people typically worry about things they cannot control, such as the weather next weekend or war in the Middle East.

Preoccupying yourself with issues like that is a huge waste of time and energy.

Covey notes that highly effective people think and act primarily within their Circle of Influence. They forget about the things over which they have no control, preferring to focus their time and energy on issues where they can actually make a difference. By doing this, they gradually expand their Circle of Influence as they earn more power and respect.

Where do you spend most of your time and energy?

If all you do is sit at home each evening, shaking your head as you watch crime reports on the local news, wondering what the world is coming to, you’re way out in your Circle of Concern.

If you were working within your Circle of Influence, you’d be busy attending community action meetings, or volunteering to coach youth sports, providing leadership and guidance to build a better future for your community.

I used to worry a lot about public speaking, afraid I’d stumble over my words or just generally sound like a fool whenever I’d address a group of people. I’d get worked up at even the thought of raising my hand at a conference; my heart would be pounding and I’d have to try convince myself that I wasn’t about to ask a stupid question. I was very much out there in my Circle of Concern.

Eventually, I decided to step back into my Circle of Influence, which I did by joining Toastmasters five months ago. Now I’m able to speak and communicate comfortably in front of 25-30 people each week. Earlier this month I took part in my club’s humorous speech contest, standing up there without notes and telling everyone about the first time I tried to “chat up” a girl.

It went very well (the speech, not the chatting up).

Giving a speech like that was something I could never have done six months ago when I was out in my Circle of Concern.

Let me list some common things people worry about (Circle of Concern), followed by an example of something they could do to improve the situation (Circle of Influence):

  • The environment – recycle your plastic
  • Personal finances – learn new skills to find a job or earn a promotion
  • Physical health – exercise for 20 minutes daily
  • Being single – work on your social skills so you can meet more potential partners
  • The future – build a time machine 😉

Whenever you’re getting worked up over something, ask yourself, “What can I do to change this situation for the better?”

Figure out some good ideas and act on them. If you really can’t think of anything, realize that you’re wasting valuable time and energy worrying about the issue. Let it go, and redirect your resources to an area where you can actually make a difference.

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  1. Thanks, Cathal. The whole concept served me well this morning when my car wouldn’t start. There was no worry. I left a note for the maintenance guy who works at my apartment building, asking if he could help me jump start the car when I get home later (he since called and told me he’d be happy to). Then I jumped on the streetcar and got to work on time.

    The worry and stress fades when you’re busy taking action to fix the problem.

  2. Niall,

    I really like this, and plan to check back from time to time when I feel that I am getting caught up in non-essential details. Keep writing, because I want to keep reading….

    When we worked together — you were always very positive and upbeat, it is interesting to find out more about the inside that is reflected on the outside….

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  13. Vinay Pathare

    Dear Mr. Niall Doherty many thanks for your thought-provoking post. Examples of turning from reactive (Circle of Concern) to proactive (Circle of Influence)given in your post are very good. People many times spends hours and hours in ‘worrying ‘ about something and label that process as ‘thinking’. At the end of ‘worrying’ process solution is not achieved, whereas at the end of ‘thinking’ process at least some kind of solution definitely emerge. Simply keep on worrying process falls under the ‘Circle of Concern’ and ‘thinking’ with some purpose process falls under the ‘circle of influence’. Your post motivated me to think something seriously and this response resulted out of that process. Thanks once again for your thought-provoking contribution – Vinay

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