Our brains are wired to expect familiarity, so when the future feels out of our control it’s natural to feel stressed and uneasy.
Stephen Covey’s ‘Circles of Influence’ model can help us refocus our thoughts on the things we can control, making future problems seem less overwhelming and easier to manage.
You can use this model to help you break down a problem into areas that you can accept, influence or control. It can be used for both individuals and teams, and could be used in 1:1s to help coach colleagues who are feeling overwhelmed.
How it works
Covey suggests that you try to let go of concerns that are out of your control and focus more of your time and energy on those factors that you can influence or control.
Sort your worries into three categories depending on how much control you have over their outcomes. This helps you take action in a deliberate way and put more energy into improving the things you can control while worrying less about the things you can’t change.
Categorising your worries in this way can help the problem seem less overwhelming because you can build your plan of action around the things you can directly impact.
The circle of control
Ask yourself: what factors can I control?
Make a list of the things you already have control over. Remember you have control over the way you act and behave, so there might be more than you think. This might include:
- Your behaviours and actions
- How you speak to others
- Choices about your health
- Who you follow on social media
The circle of influence
Ask yourself: If I can’t control it, can I influence it?
While it might feel like there’s not a lot you can directly control, there’s likely to be more that you can influence. These are things where you can’t guarantee an outcome, but you have at least some sense of control. For example:
- Your relationships with other people
- How you plan your day
- Who you spend time with
- How often you say ‘no’
The circle of concern
Ask yourself: If I can’t influence or control it, can I try to accept it?
The circle of concern contains everything that you’re worried about in relation to the issue at hand. When you’re able to focus your energy on the things you can control, this circle should feel less overwhelming.
If it feels like there’s a lot in this category, you could try sharing your thoughts with a third-party — such as a friend or colleague — to get a fresh perspective on which items might fit into the circle of influence instead.
Your circle of concern might include things like:
- The economy
- The weather
- Other people’s actions
Download the cue cards
This PDF of quick-reference cards helps you use Covey’s Circles of Influence to manage stress for yourself and your team.
You can also visit our Understanding the Mental Health Puzzle page to read the latest research about mental health and stress in the workplace, including advice for managers and leadership teams.