Posted on 1 Apr 2020
Franklin D. Roosevelt said this at his first inaugural address in 1933, four years into the Great Depression when Americans faced not only a depression of the economy, but also a depression of the spirit. Roosevelt recognised that the former was intrinsically linked to the latter, and made it his job to revive the country’s soul as well as its industry.
We do not have control over everything
No one needs reminding right now that there are some things in life over which we have little control. The Covid-19 pandemic and all that it brings has put health absolutely at top of the list for all of us, closely followed by serious money worries for many people who up until recently were running or working for thriving businesses.
The hard truth is that it is futile to worry about things we can do little about. This is easier said than done and I am not trying to argue that there is a quick-fix way of eradicating all our worries, least of all the impacts of Covid-19. Its effects are real, heartbreaking for some people and will be felt by all of us for many years to come.
Our thoughts produce our feelings
Now more than ever, it is important to remember that it’s our thoughts that produce our feelings and influence how we respond. Things over which we have no control can all too easily take on a life of their own and get all out of proportion.
In his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey talks about the Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern. The things we have no control over are located in The Circle of Concern whereas those we can do something about are found in the Circle of Influence.
The circle of concern
People who live their lives in the Circle of Concern allow things to happen to them. They feel stuck and powerless to work out the best solutions for themselves because their emotional well being depends on external events beyond their control and the behaviour of others, empowering the idiosyncrasies of other people to control them.
The circle of influence
Proactive people focus their attention on their Circle of Influence, on the other hand. They work on the things they can do something about and as a result their Circle of Influence increases in size whereas their Circle of Concern diminishes.
Which circle are you in?
Stephen Covey put forward a way of finding out where you sit – by thinking about your self-talk – is it about the have’s or the be’s?
The circle of concern is filled by the have’s:
- ‘I’ll be happy when I have paid off my mortgage.’
- ‘If only I had a manager who’d make a decision.’
- ‘If I had more confidence, I’d….’
- ‘If I had my time over again I’d…’
The circle of influence is filled with the be’s:
- ‘I will be more careful with money so I can increase my mortgage payments.’
- ‘I will be clearer in how I communicate with my manager to try to speed up decision-making.’
- ‘I will read a self-help book to help me to become more confident.’
- ‘I cannot turn the clock back, but I will look for ways to behave differently from now on’.
When we find ourselves using ‘have’ language it signals it’s the actual thought that’s the real the problem. The thought alone may empower the problem to control and debilitate us, allowing the Circle of Concern to shrink our Circle of Influence.
We all flex between the two circles depending on whatever else is happening in our lives, the severity of the problem and what’s at stake. We have all seen apparently indestructible individuals temporarily knocked sideways by bad news and needing the support of others to get them through. However, we all have a bias, which is worth knowing about, particularly if we lean towards the Circle of Concern because the path to freedom lies in our ability to proactively minimise its detrimental effects.
To set expectations
To completely and permanently eclipse our Circle of Concern would be an unrealistic expectation because some things are very much worth worrying about. We would lose all empathy by being totally immune to worry and would effectively become dehumanised. Then we really would be consigning ourselves to a whole lifetime of self-isolation.
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